Times, They Are A-Changin’!
For those that don’t know, I became a proud aunt once again nearly exactly one week ago today. My sister gave birth to a big, healthy baby boy named Sam, who already has a shock of thick, dark hair and a set of pipes on him that could easily rival Jennifer Hudson. Born in April of 2012, I couldn’t help but be jarred by the year – 2012! Every once in a while, I sit back and wonder something along the lines of “where the hell did time go?” and this was one of them. My mind spun with all of the things, memories of a childhood spent being utterly fabulous in the late ’80s and ’90s, that Sam would never know – Seemingly simple, everyday objects and pop-culture references that would be archaic and laughable to a teenaged or adult Sam.
The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, twisting my stomach, as an eerie chill crept up my spine: “Oh my GOD – Am I OLD?”
As a result, I felt compelled to create a short list of all of the things that my new baby nephew will never know and, therefore, never appreciate or understand the importance of. Hell, by the time he’s 16, he could be learning to drive in a Hovercraft instead of the long, blue, Grandma-style Oldsmobile that I did! Maybe one day, when he’s older and able to fully appreciate his aunt’s fantastic sense of humor, tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and, of course, modesty, he will read this blog. Maybe it will be a true glimpse for him into the past; an era of culture that has had its day and will likely never be replicated. Or maybe he’ll just roll his eyes at me and tell me I’m old and overly dramatic, before heading out in his Hovercraft to catch a movie with friends.
Either way, this is just a short list of the many things Sam, and every other baby born after 2010, will most likely only ever hear their crazy aunt wax poetic on when happily recalling “the good old days”:
1. Shopping Malls
Okay, okay, so shopping malls are still a prevalent gathering place throughout the suburban landscape. But indoor malls have been dying a slow death since the late ’90s and don’t appear to be making a comeback anytime soon. Replaced by open-air lifestyle centers and big-box, one-stop-shop stores, many shopping malls were dealt an additional blow with the struggling economy. A longtime staple of every teenager’s social life (or lack thereof), eager parents have been dropping them (and however many of their friends) at the local mall over thousands of weekends that have made up the last several decades. In a way, the shopping mall was like an adolescent right of passage for myself and my peers. We spent our free time there and the majority of us worked long after-school hours for minimum wage there. A sure sign of coming independence, excitement at being SORT OF our own (at least, for a couple of hours while ensconced within the winding halls of the shopping center while under the watchful eyes of the hired rent-a-cops), meeting and socializing with peers – Integral facets of every teen’s life wrapped up in linoleum floors, neon lighting and an array of stores all eager for
our spending money our parents’ money.
Besides, where else could you gorge on the 2,000+ calories of a Cinnabun without having to worry about what it was doing to your insides and your waistline just yet? While I’m sure Sam will eventually too enjoy the sinful, warm delicious-ness of a Cinnabun, by the time he is a teenager, I suspect that the indoor shopping mall will be a rarity – The occasional exception instead of the norm. 15 years ago, there were 4 or 5 indoor shopping malls within a 20-minute drive of my home – Now, there is just 1. 2 are nearly completely empty. 1 was closed and demolished to make way for condominiums. That said, due to this particular mall’s size, popularity and relative “fame”, it’s safe to say it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon (Woodfield Mall, for those that are interested). I can’t help but wonder what it will be like to NOT frequent the mall as a (future) teen, though – You can’t exactly loiter around with a Mrs. Field’s cookie while goofing around with your friends and checking out everyone else walking by at the local Super Wal-Mart or Super Target (or maybe you can in some areas).
2. Cassette Tapes
My first Walkman was a large yellow monstrosity that was so gigantic, I had to hold it in both hands at all times. But I loved that thing and listened to tape after tape in it until the pieces literally began coming loose, falling out and rendering the Walkman broken. Because of so many insane advances in just a few decades, Sam will never know what it is like to have a Walkman, or even its predecessor, the Discman. He will never spend full afternoons and evenings hovering over the stereo, frantically playing with its antenna to ensure crystal clarity, while waiting impatiently for a favorite song to come over the airwaves. When it does, he will never, of course, be in the other room and have to jump over large pieces of furniture and the occasional family pet to jab at the record button to finally, YES!, have that favorite song on tape for re-play whenever his little heart desires.
iTunes, Amazon, MP3s, YouTube and instant streaming have made obtaining music all too easy for kids today – They simply click a few buttons on their computer and voila! That song, in all of its HD brilliance, is instantly available on the computer, on those newfangled portable music devices known as iPods and anywhere else they want to have their music ready to go for their listening pleasure. Sam, and his future friends, will never have to deal with the frustration that comes with the cassette getting stuck and having to slowly wheel its thin, brown tape back into place nor will they have to listen to an entire album or slooowly fast-forward just to get to the song that they want to listen to. I am glad, however, that he will, no doubt, experience the joy of music throughout his life. Due to easier, faster access, he will enjoy a wide range of genres, artists and albums and constantly feel the thrill of finding a new song or artist that hits his heart in just the right place.
3. Film Cameras
Remember when cameras has actual film in them? And you had to wait excruciating DAYS on end for your photographs to be developed by the pimple-faced high school stoner behind the counter of the grocery store’s film processing area? Unless, of course, you had the extra cash for the advanced “one-hour photo processing” (which I never did). And the crushing disappointment when you realized, for all the money you spent, half the pictures either didn’t come out, were too dark or too bright, or you had some ridiculous look on your face? Wait – Maybe that was just me.
Luckily, Sam will never have evidence of a horrible photo of himself in his life. Digital cameras let you view the photo right after you take it and easily delete the more forgettable ones until you have the perfect pictures to display in your memory books (or on your social networking profiles). There will never be a blurry, partly-in-motion shot of him eating his first birthday cake with a giant, menacing smile and red eyes from the flash making him look like a devil baby. When he gets old enough to take his own pictures, he won’t have to hold his breath in anticipation for days and actually TRAVEL to and from an outside establishment to simply see and print his photos. He will have his vacation photos readily available, possibly while still even ON the trip, so long as he has a laptop and USB cord. Better yet, as he becomes a teenager and later an adult, he can instantly harass us all with text photos from his phone of any number of useless objects, crazy street signs or whatever his heart decides must be shared with us all AT THAT VERY MOMENT. Technology – Such a double-edged sword.
4. Answering Machines
The day that Sam wrinkles his nose and asks me “Hey, what’s an answering machine?” will be the day I officially declare myself geriatric. And it’s comin’ sooner than you think. Back in the days of if-you-weren’t-home-then-people-just-had-to-leave-a-message-and-wait-to-hear-from-you, answering machines were all the rage. Cool idea, right?! A machine that answers the phone FOR you while you’re out and about, AND lets people leave you a message so you know who called and to phone them back! There were good days with the answering machine, and there were bad days. Little Sam will never know the excited anticipation at seeing the blinking colored light on the machine when expecting good news. He will also never know the nervous chewing at his stomach when seeing that same little light when, say, he misbehaved at school and the teacher
promised threatened a phone call home to your mother.
He will never have to sneak away upstairs, praying to every higher power that it was a sales call and NOT Ms. Van Haitsma of Woodland Elementary School, while said mother listens to the message. I’m not sure what’s worse though – Although I can’t be sure, these days it’s pretty much a given that teachers have your parents not only on speed-dial but also have their e-mail address and direct cell phone numbers too, right? At least in my day, I had the afternoon to run errands with my mother after she picked me up at the bus stop and DAMN, did I know how to use that time wisely! I became the most complacent, agreeable human being under five feet tall on the planet, and I’d even throw in a compliment here or there – In the chance that, after hearing about my latest tribulations at school, she’d remember that I told her that her earrings were “way cool” so maybe I’d be grounded one less day. Nowadays, Sam doesn’t even get that luxury – My sister will immediately know when things go awry while he’s at school and have no choice but to trudge home and face her wrath (which I know firsthand can be a bit scary – I am the younger sister, after all) head on.
5. Being Able to Hide Out
Poor Sam will never be able to truly take a break from the world and hide out when time calls for it. Although it seems like an insane notion now, at one time home phones were the norm and cellular phones were the strange, brick-sized exceptions. Not very long ago at all, if you were out running errands or visiting a friend – Guess what! People didn’t reach you! If you weren’t at home to take their call, well, then they were shit out of luck and their best bet was to leave a message on the aforementioned answering machine. If you felt like avoiding people for days or weeks on end, you could do it quite easily! Not constantly being within reach of the world is now a luxury that people fly to faraway locales for a few weeks’ worth of paid vacation to achieve when, at one point, if you weren’t at home or at work, you weren’t gettin’ found without some serious detective skills.
On the flip side, there was a darkness (there always is, isn’t there?) to this. When you WERE home, you didn’t have the luxury of immediately knowing who was on the other end of that incoming phone call, so if curiosity got the best of you (and it SO often did!) you had better be prepared to deal with any number of people who might be on the line. And if it wasn’t someone you were particularly interested in conversing with? Well, then, YOU were the one who was S.O.L.
Still, having a few seconds to prepare yourself for whatever weirdo the world may throw at you is a small price to pay for living in this world that has caused anonymity to become extinct. Sorry, Sam – Between social networking, cellular phones, apps, text messaging and whatever other nifty little advancements they have in the works, finding you and getting a hold of you will be second nature; not just to your parents, but to friends, acquaintances, colleagues, family, your workplace, strangers and salespeople. Start saving now for frequent visits to the above-mentioned faraway locales.
6. Actual Books and Physical Bookstores
Although it’s sad to see, bricks-and-mortar bookstores are quickly disappearing and traveling off to that faraway retail megaplex in the sky. Besides the most recent shuttering of Borders, I (born a book geek) remember Waldenbooks, Crown Books, B. Dalton Booksellers, Brentano’s and more. At one point in time, there were THREE different bookstores at the local mall. Now there are none, but there is a Barnes & Noble down the street – And that’s it. That’s your one-stop, better-hope-they-have-it-or-you’re-screwed book shop for an entire suburban metropolitan area. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the many, many independent bookstores that have long been invisible and suffered into obsolesce.
By the time that Sam is of reading age, he will most likely be using online avenues as his main source of book purchasing. While I understand that it’s “the future”, I’m loathe to accept it as a viable alternative to spending afternoons wandering the quiet aisles of a bookstore, picking up the various books, examining the covers and reading the jacket copy, flipping the pages and deciding which adventure might be the right one….Until the next time you stopped by, of course.
In fact, he may never really appreciate holding, reading and flipping through a book because they’ll be the annoying, antiquated objects that he could just as easily find, download and read on his small, light handheld computer device. Do I believe that reading a book that way seems much more impersonal? Yes. Will I eventually give in and purchase a Kindle, or an iPad, or a Nook, or a something else? Probably at some point. Will I miss roaming the bookstore, exploring the different genres, shapes, sizes and art of the physical books and feeling it grow heavy in my hands as I flip one more page because I’m so hooked? Every. Damn. Day.
7. Video Rental Stores & Record Stores
Damn the man! Save the Empire! When I was a kid, the staple of any sleepover was to first beg your parents to drive you to Blockbuster, or Hollywood Video, or Family Video, or any other movie rental store to raid it of all its new releases (and theatre-sized boxes of candy) to ensure a sugar-fueled rager consisting of sleeping bags, the TV and a seemingly endless stack of movies. We had a huge Blockbuster across the street and I was sad to see them go under – They’ve disappeared quickly and even I can admit that I stopped utilizing my Blockbuster card around 2004. I have a Netflix membership and there are multiple Red Box carts within 10 minutes of my house. Additionally, I can rent new releases directly from my cable provider. With quick, easy access, dirt-cheap prices and the ability to hum to my lazy side – You mean I don’t even have to get my ass off my couch to rent a movie?! – it’s no wonder that video rental stores are now a thing of the past.
Sam will never know that, back in the day, if you wanted to rent a movie, you had to put in some work! Not only did you actually have to DRIVE somewhere – no, they didn’t always just directly beam straight through your television or computer with a few clicks of the remote or mouse – but you had to find the video at the store, pay for it, drive home AND pop it into your VCR! And hell hath no fury like me when either one of two situations presented themselves: 1 – I got there just a little too late and all copies of the new release I wanted to see were already rented, teasing me with just the empty case of the movie stacked neatly against the beige shelf. 2 – The dingbat that rented the movie before me did a number on the tape so I have to mess with the tracking on the VCR or hope that only a certain section of the VHS was affected.
Once again, Sam wins. You just can’t beat the instant availability, no matter what, of whatever movie he feels up for that night. And double points to him for never having to screw with a VCR or VHS tape.
8. Countless Historical & Cultural “Phenomena”
Yes, this last one is quite broad. But imagine, just TRY to imagine, only knowing about major events like the Oklahoma City bombings, the OJ Simpson trial, and, hell, even 9/11 from history texts and old footage! Computer and video games (and their graphics) are so advanced these days that Sam will never have to use his imagination when playing them – The same could NOT be said for myself and the Oregon Trail, Dino Park Tycoon, Sonic the Hedgehog and the original Mario Brothers. While his parents and myself will always see the Chicago Bulls as the single greatest basketball team to ever live, Sam will most likely only know of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman and other members of that dream team as aging, retired athletes instead of the reigning kings of the court. Nothing short of a miracle, he will probably never know how exciting “Bulls Fever” was in the ’90s when it gripped all of Chicago.
What else? Just to put it out there, it will likely blow his mind to know that Pepsi was (for a short time) clear, “teen movies” such as Clueless, The Craft, 10 Things I Hate About You and Empire Records were actually at one time genuinely funny and told an original story instead of being idiotic and predictable, he will never dance the Macarena, the Carlton or the Humpty Dance unless he is strictly making fun of myself or his parents and our unfashionable old age, he will never know that grunge music preceded “emo” (and was far cooler, in my humble opinion), phrases such as “Show me the money!”, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”, “Life is like a box of chocolates”, “Run, Forrest, run!” and “I’ll never let go, Jack…I’ll never let go” will likely mean nothing to him.
Sam – It’s a big, wide, crazy world out there and it’s up to you to help shape it for the next generation. I have faith in you, buddy. I can’t wait to watch you grow, become your own person and take this world head on with passion, COMpassion, light and energy.