Generation Last

This Sunday I wrote my paper’s weekly column, and it actually ties in pretty well with my last blog post about the 90s. I didn’t intend it to be that way, though. I wrote both around the same time, so I guess I was just feeling generally nostalgic.

Anyway, here’s the column (with pictures!):

Previously, I’ve lamented the near extinction of mix tapes as well as my fear for the disappearance of a personal pastime, backyard baseball. Recently, I realized those thoughts are becoming more common for me. I think it’s fair to say my generation, those born in the mid to late 80s, will be the last generation to experience many things.

The most obvious example is phones—more specifically, a time before everyone had a cell phone. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was about 17, which likely seems preposterous to any current middle-school or high-school student.


I’m probably part of the last generation that knows what it was like to memorize friends’ phone numbers or, at the very least, keep a phone book. Although in my case, it was more like a crumpled piece of notebook paper with some chicken scratch scrawled on it.

I also remember when a person was occasionally unreachable. I would call a friend’s house, and his mom or dad would answer the phone and tell me politely, “Nick isn’t here right now.” I then had to leave a message and hope he got it, call back later or, God forbid, actually walk over to his house.

It was a simpler time.

I also remember something called—I think I’ve got this right—a “pay phone.” They used to be everywhere, movie theaters, schools, McDonalds, etc… I used to use them frequently, too (remember no cell phone). But now I rarely, if ever, see those hard-wired emblems of decades past. Stores have removed pay phones to make room for Redbox video vending machines. Speaking off…

With the rise of Redbox, Hulu and Netflix, there seems to be little chance future generations will experience going to the video store. As a movie buff, I know I should be grateful for the convenience and affordability of these innovations, but it’s just not the same.


I liked going to video stores for the same reason I like going to record stores, because it’s not just about the end result, the movie. It’s about taking laps around the store, hunting for just the right selection. It’s about the tactile sensation of picking up the box and looking at the back of it. It’s also about interacting with other people—talking about actors and directors, asking for recommendations and, sometimes, secretly judging others’ selections. Yes, Netflix makes finding a movie easier, but it also makes it less of an affair and more of a passing thought.

I also remember when the Internet was more novelty than necessity. As a kid, it wasn’t necessary to communicate with friends or complete school work; it was just kind of there as an occasional distraction. I wasn’t constantly tethered to it, maintaining various profiles, checking in-boxes or refreshing news websites.

Remember this?

However, those activities are practically a necessity now due to my profession, and I imagine current students are hard pressed to keep up with social or scholastic endeavors without a high-speed Internet connection.

This phenomenon doesn’t extend just to media, either.

It used to be standard to learn basic woodworking, car maintenance and, perhaps, even some metalworking in school or at home. But now, fewer and fewer kids are learning those skills. Maybe it’s because shop and auto classes are no longer required curriculum in many schools; I don’t know. But I do know when something goes wrong now the prevailing instinct is to pick up a phone instead of a tool box.

I am by no means a carpenter, mason or mechanic. My dad on the other hand, built our front porch and installed my mom’s new windows with his bare hands and the help of a family friend. However, I still know how to do what I think is required of me as a 24-year-old man.

I can change a spare tire easily. I know how to check my oil. When the kitchen sink is clogged and Drano won’t cut it, I know how to unscrew and clean out the J-trap. I can fix a loose doorknob. I’m also fairly certain I could paint, sand or stain anything asked of me.

Someday, this will be advanced reading.

Unfortunately, I believe a time is not far off when even those simple tasks will be undoable by the vast majority teenagers and twenty-somethings. I have to think that’s not a good thing, seeing as it lowers the standard of one’s self-reliance.

It’s arguable that my generation is a generation of firsts, but it is also a generation of lasts. We can only hope the benefits of those firsts outweigh the benefits of those lasts.

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4 thoughts on “Generation Last

  1. rtik13 says:

    I agree with you completely. The way things are now, no one is really required to -know- anything. You can find any information you need quickly, mostly just by using Google. It doesn’t hurt anything that we pretty much all have internet access in our pockets at all times. It’s convenient to be sure, but I still think that we’re rapidly heading in the direction of Idiocracy.

  2. kayroger says:

    There will always be a generation of lasts. I personally do recall a time when the only way to meet someone was in a bar. Perhaps online-dating will hail the end of the divorce rate. Who knows? I’m probably one of the last to marry someone I did not profile online. And now I’m with someone I did, and I’m very happy.
    I read your post with a smile on my face. My generation had walkmans. And I recall my sister having an 8-track. We were moving from records to tapes to compact disks. To us, smaller was fascinating. Other than that, I really can’t say that technology ruled our lives. We depended on the telephone — I keep insisting we retain our landline as a connection to the past. You were cool if you had an answering machine. When my friends told me about their smart phones and all that these devices could do, I sheepishly said, “Well, MY phone has VOICE capabilities.”
    I didn’t have a cell phone until I was pregnant and even then, I rarely turned it on (powered it up, booted it, etc). It was only for emergencies. It wasn’t until just last year that I relented and bought something brand new (iPhone4). I had no idea what I had in my hands.
    I learned how to use a computer (for transcribing — a word processing program) when I left university and got my first job as a closed captions editor. Perhaps I am of the generation that was one of the last to make it through high school and university without a computer!
    Anyway, every generation will be the last to do something. You’re just not aware of the lasts that came before you.

  3. veehcirra says:

    Hehehe this is very interesting, funny thing is if you want to know someone’s age ask them do you remember when we used to queue at the pay phones, depending on the reaction you get them right on..get my drift. Enjoyed reading it was like a comfortable stroll down memory lane.

  4. Nick says:

    It’s all so true. I remember the first time I used a DVD — being able to navigate around the screen with a remote to make selections, and no rewinding!? It was mind blowing.

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