Sunday, January 3, 2016

Back in My Day

Back in my day we didn't have Tinder.

My kids are currently 5 and 3. And the older they get, the more it stands out how their user experience for life will be much different from mine. So I made a list of all the things that would be different, and I imagined a conversation between myself and my girls about 10 years from now about those things.

Me: Oh wow. I found my box of old VHS tapes.
Daughter: What's a VHS tape?
Me: It's a cartridge they used to put movies on so people could buy them and watch them at home. You played them through a player that was connected to your TV.
Daughter: Like Roku?
Me: (Sigh) No, not like Roku. We didn't stream anything. There were no data clouds to pull content from and you had a dedicated player for your physical tapes.
Daughter: Wow. Did you at least hang your TV on your cave wall?
Me: Ha ha, smart ass. We didn't live in a cave. And no, no one hung their televisions back then because they were all too big and there were no flat-screen monitors.
Daughter: What's this Dinner Party II movie?
Me: Put that down! Don't look at that!
Daughter: Uh huh. So, how did you watch these VHS things on your cell phone? Did you have to hook it up with cables or something?
Me: Phones didn't play videos.
Daughter: (Gasp) So, if you couldn't stream anything directly to your TV and if your phones couldn't play videos, what did you watch Netflix on?
Me: Netflix didn't really catch on until I was out of college, honey, and when they started, they sent you DVDs that you could exchange through the mail via the US Postal Service.
(Her mind is blown and she can't comprehend any of this.)
Daughter: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. What's a DVD? What's the US Postal Service?

Me: DVDs were discs that replaced VHS tapes. The US Postal Service was an independent agency within the federal government whose sole purpose was to deliver physical tax documents, junk mail and American Girl catalogs to your residence in something called a mailbox. It got to the point where it was losing a few billion dollars per year so it was poleaxed in 2020. Your generation is welcome.
Daughter: Well thanks. So if you didn't have Netflix how did you watch shows?
Me: We had an antenna on the roof that pulled in local channels that broadcast network TV shows. It was free for us, but the networks made money off of the commercials they sold that came on about every 10 minutes. You also had to wait a week before the next episode of a show was released and it wasn't possible to binge-watch new episodes of any shows. Also, if something moved the antenna, you'd have to climb on the roof and readjust it.
Daughter: That sounds rough. You could have been killed, either on the roof or from the stress of having to wait a week between new episodes.
Me: Those were dark times. The final season of Lost was a very stressful time for your mother and I.
Daughter: You obviously couldn't video chat. Could you play games?
Me: No. That wasn't possible until cell phones, and I didn't get a cell phone until I was in college, and even then the only game on that phone was called Snake. When I was young we only had landline phones that plugged into a jack in the wall. You could only use them to dial a number to call people and talk to them. Most phones didn't even have any screens, and most people only had a few phones located throughout their house. Also, if you wanted to call someone you had to look up their number in something called a phone book. You couldn't just ask Siri to find a number for some place and two seconds later she farts it onto the screen. You had to work for it.
Daughter: I don't know how you survived. Snake sounds cool, though. Did you slither through a jungle, eat smaller creatures and fight monsters?
Me: No. It was in black and white, and it was a black line that you had to move away from a black dot on a 1-inch by 1-inch screen.
Daughter: That sounds lame.
Me: It was actually awesome.
Daughter: If most people only had a few phones in their house how could you have a private conversation?
Me: You really couldn't.
Daughter: I had a nightmare where I couldn't have a conversation in private once. It was awful. How did you listen to music? Did you have Pandora? Spotify? Amazon Music?
Me: We had things called radios, and you tuned them to stations that played specific genres. If you wanted to hear a specific song you had to either wait for them to play it, or you called into the radio station and requested that they play it.
Daughter: Oh my God.
Me: Or you could go to the store and buy the CD or the cassette tape.
Daughter: What are those?
Me: Similar to DVDs and VHS tapes, but for music.
Daughter: Why did you have to go to a store and buy them? No one goes to a store any more. You couldn't order them through Amazon Prime and have a drone bring them the next day?
Me: We didn't have Amazon Prime or drones. We had to drive places to buy things.
(She runs to the bathroom and violently throws up at the thought of a world without Amazon Prime where she has to drive somewhere, talk to people and purchase things.)
Daughter: (Still visibly disgusted.) Did you use some form of Apple Pay or Android Pay at the stores?
Me: We didn't have those. You had to use a credit or debit card, cash or a check. If you wanted to be an asshole, you paid with a check.
Daughter: What are cash and checks?
Me: Cash was a physical form of our currency that you could carry around to buy things at places like stores. Our government did away with physical currency when you were little. I wouldn't even know where to begin how to explain what a check is to you. Your generation doesn't even know what handwriting is, and that's fundamental to writing a check, so we'll skip that.
Daughter: Whatever. So, if you didn't have smartphones how did you access the Internet?
Me: We didn't have access to the Internet at our house until I was almost in high school.
(Daughter passes out. She comes to an hour later and the conversation resumes.)
Me: And even then we accessed the Internet through a dial-up modem and our speed was measured in kilobytes -- not megabytes, and definitely not gigabytes. It once took me three hours to download Chumbawamba's song Tubthumping.
Daughter: What is that?
Me: It was a flaming pile of musical poo that made its way across the pond in 1997. It's not something I'm proud of.
Daughter: But what did you access the Internet on?
Me: A computer.
Daughter: What is a computer?
Me: Think of your tablet broken into four separate pieces: a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and a tower to hold all of the components for running the operating system, and processing and storing data.
Daughter: That's sounds like a lot.
Me: It was. Computers could take up an entire desk, and because of their size it was difficult to even move them, and you definitely couldn't move with them. And we didn't have touchscreens. We didn't have truly functional tablets or smartphones until Steve Jobs showed us all how stupid we were and how we'd been doing it wrong, but that came after I was out of college.
Daughter: Thank God for that. How about Facebook? You must have been able to communicate with other people through Facebook on these giant-sized machines you had after you got plugged in to the Internet.
Me: No, we didn't get Facebook for a long time.
(Daughter stares at me in disbelief. She doesn't blink. She walks away and comes back 10 minutes later, still visibly in shock.)
Me: After I went to college we had a social network called MySpace that people used for a while, but it turned into a raging dumpster fire relatively quickly.
Daughter: How did you socialize with people? What did you do for fun?
Me: We went to movies, rented movies, hung out at parks, went bowling, hung out at each other's houses, went out to eat and things like that.
Daughter: Did you have Fandango for movies?
Me: No. We couldn't buy our tickets in advance and reserve seats. If we wanted a good seat, we had to show up early and wait in line. And there were no fancy leather recliners and food service.
Daughter: You mentioned renting movies. What is that?
Me: Well, if you wanted to see a movie after its run at the theaters but you didn't want to fork over the $15-$20 to buy the DVD or VHS, you could go to another store and pay a couple of dollars to borrow it for a few days. Netflix forced them to fold relatively quickly.
Daughter: How did you meet women? Didn't you have Tinder?
Me: No, we did not have Tinder. I had to talk to women in person to get to know them, and if I didn't like them I had to physically move them to the left to talk to the next woman.
Daughter: Is that how you met mom?
Me: No. I met her in graduate school, back when colleges and universities had physical buildings where students met up and even lived. We also had physical textbooks, and if we needed additional information we had to go to a library, which is where you had access to a whole wealth of information.
Daughter: So the library was like Wikipedia?
Me: Kind of but not really. It was more like a warehouse where you could access books, government documents, older magazines and journals, and more. If you wanted to take a deeper dive into something historically to learn more about it that's where you went.
Daughter: Like Wikipedia.
Me: I feel sick.
Daughter: I would never do that. You went out in public a lot. Weren't there a lot of guns back then? Weren't you afraid of getting shot in a robbery? You know, like when they burned your stagecoach and took your horses or something?
Me: That was low. I wasn't scared, but you're right, it could have easily happened. There were a lot of guns back then. Almost any idiot could buy a hand cannon and carry it around. They just had to pass a half-assed background check, take a test, and they were licensed to kill. It was scary.
Daughter: That sounds terrifying. But President Obama took away everyone's guns, didn't he? Executive order or something? I think I remember reading that in our history books.
Me: He did. And you're right, no one really has guns any more.
Daughter: Did you live through the pot prohibition?
Me: I did. It was illegal when I was growing up.
Daughter: So when you were young virtually any idiot could walk around with a gun but people couldn't smoke pot?
Me: Yep.
Daughter: Unreal. It's funny how things change. Now, even the police don't have guns, crime is down because there are virtually no guns, pot is legal, and the taxes on the legal pot sold have made a lot of states solvent again. What do you think will change when I get older?
Me: Oh, you'll probably tell your kids that back in your day you didn't ride stable hoverboards. You rode hoverboards with lithium-ion batteries, and you knew that every time you got on there was a fifty percent chance it was going to burst into flames, but you didn't care because it was just so cool that you were able to ride a fucking hoverboard!
Daughter: I could see that.
Me: If you hang around long enough those things happen. Just promise me you'll never dig out that Dinner Party II movie again, alright?

Please drop some thoughts in the comments around ways you feel that the world will be different for your kids.

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