My daughters makes the same request nearly every night. “Daddy,” they’ll say, “tell me about when you were a little boy.” Every time I hear their expected appeal, I begin trying to cull through all my childhood memories. While there are certainly things about my childhood nearly four decades ago that are similar to the experiences of my two 21st-century children, there are also obviously, many significant and qualitative differences. Consider some facts that my kids won’t ever truly understand:
- Rolling down a car window used to take some effort.
- An athlete in the Olympic Games who wore a red uniform with the letters CCCP on it hailed from a place called the Soviet Union.
- Kids used to not wear bike helmets because bike helmets didn’t exist.
- If you wanted and required gasoline with lead in it, you could get it.
- Happy Meals at McDonald’s used to be determined by the mood of the customer, not a line on the menu.
- Soda used to come in glass bottles.
- After glass bottles came soda cans with pull-tabs that actually came off.
- People used to use machines called typewriters.
- Video arcades at malls used to swarm with pubescent kids playing games for a quarter.
- Changing the channel on a television meant turning a dial.
- Travelers were welcomed at airport gates not outside security.
- Microwave ovens used to be larger than most pieces of luggage.
- Bag phones used to be a status symbol.
- The smell of mimeographed copies at school … unforgettable.
- People used to smoke on airplane flights.
- Interest rates used to be over 20%.
- Home stereos used to be sold in the furniture department.
- There used to be public pay phones.
- There were no value meals.
- There was no drive thru window at restaurants.
- Motel room keys were actually keys.
- At one point the United States implemented the metric system … for about two weeks.
- Rotary dials on telephones.
- The strange tension of the nuclear arms chess match of the 1960’s, ‘70’s, and ‘80’s.
- Diapers used to mean cloth, pins, and pick-up service.
Not all change is bad of course. I’d much rather have the sounds of the ones and zeros of a MP3 file than a chunky 8-track. I’d take a garage door opener any day than have to get out of the car, then back in, then back out. But the more things change the more important it is to preserve foundational elements of life. We should never allow the cacophony of noise that incessantly bombards us to replace time spent in meaningful conversation with friends and loved ones. May the ease of finding nearly anything online never completely substitute for wandering the wonder-filled aisles of a library. And may those handy electric garage door openers never totally isolate us from the people that actually live in those homes or apartments around us.
Sure, times have changed a lot of things. For technology that’s OK. For our character, integrity, and sense of community though, being stuck in the past isn’t such a bad place to be.