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.
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.
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.