The other day, my daughter was playing dress up. After crafting a signature look that consisted of a tutu, a hot-pink fleece vest and a construction hat, she paused.
"Take a picture of me!" she demanded, heading toward my phone.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I want to see what I look like!" she said.
I looked at her for a moment, shaking my head. It was one of those moments when I could visualize just how wide the chasm is between my own childhood and the ones my kids are experiencing.
You know what I had to do when I was a kid and I wanted to see what I looked like? I had to walk my ass to the bathroom and LOOK IN A MIRROR.
The voice in my head spoke in exactly the same tone my dad used to use when informing me that instead of getting a ride home after school when he was a teenager, he had to walk. Uphill. In the snow. During an avalanche.
Ever since that moment with my daughter, I've been thinking about the sophistication my children take for granted, in contrast to the severe technological deprivation of the 1980s. Here are four things my kids will never understand about my '80s childhood.
Their eyes were wide, as if this method of procuring photographs was completely incomprehensible. 'So, you were born in …1835?' my daughter asked.
1. There was so much waiting!
Today, our kids can ask Siri for a song they want to hear, and they are magically whisked to the amazing world of YouTube, where all the songs sit, along with a bevy of potentially inappropriate and psychologically damaging images to accompany them. In the '80s , unless you already owned the tape containing your favorite songs, you had to wait by your boombox, holding onto the wistful hope that the DJ would choose to play your song soon (and with your fingers coiled and ready to strike the record button if it did).
Speaking of cassette tapes, my kids will never know the heartache of having a favorite cassette tape (possibly one loaded with dozens of songs that you had to wait for to record) get gobbled up by your evil cassette player. Our children may well experience the horror of a Netflix outage, or the visual disruption of a cracked phone screen, but they will never, ever know the defeat of seeing your favorite tape lying in a pool of its shiny brown, crinkled tape blood (or the pain of rubbing your finger raw while attempting in vain to re-spool it).
3. How convoluted taking photographs were
My kids are constantly either asking me to take pictures and videos of them with my phone, or occasionally sneaking in selfies of their nostrils when I'm not looking. Back in the '80s, if we wanted a photograph, we had to take one and then pray like hell that it wouldn't be blurry, or our subject's eyes wouldn't be closed, or it'd suffer the terrible fate of double exposure (why is there a picture of my cat eerily hovering above that sunrise?). And then we had to wait in suspense for the film to be developed ... and also pay for it. I attempted to explain this process to my kids the other day, again in my "Dad walking home from school in an avalanche" voice. Their eyes were wide, as if this method of procuring photographs was completely incomprehensible. "So, you were born in …1835?" my daughter asked me later that day.
4. How hard it was to get ahold of people
"Can't you just text my teacher?" my son asked me last year when we had a question about school. My kids just assume that I can get ahold of everyone in the world instantly—and mostly they are correct in that assumption. But back in the '80s, when we wanted to get ahold of someone, we had to pick up the (corded) telephone and call them. And if the line was busy or no one was home, we had to keep calling over and over again, in a way that would now be considered stalkerish.
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These are just a few of the many examples of the generation gap that exists between digital natives and the rest of us who were basically born in the early 1800s. I haven't even attempted to explain Encyclopedias to my kids yet. Then again, if I squint a little, I can imagine my kids someday attempting to tell their own children/robots how they used to have to wait TWO WHOLE DAYS for Amazon Prime to deliver a package—because that was way back before drones replaced the post office. On Mars.