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When I Was Your Age (Part 3)

April 1, 2012

Wow – when I started this idea thread (growing up in the 50s and 60s without the ‘benefits’ of technology to get us through), I thought I’d be able to cover it all in one post. But since I try to stay as close as possible to 1,500 words a week – and I hit that number long before I was done – I decided to divide the subject into two parts.  Then last week I reached the ‘magic number’ AGAIN and realized I STILL had more to say.  So – here’s Part 3 (I promise this is it!)

When I look back on it, I’m amazed that those of us ‘of a certain age’ ever managed to find our way when we had to travel by car back in the ‘dark ages’.  Before there were (talking and/or computer aided) GPS systems, or MapQuest / Google / Bing maps, and ‘OnStar’ vehicle assistance programs:

  • Paper MapWe picked up a (paper) map (usually at the local gas station), unfolded and studied it to determine the best route (and calculate the driving distance), to places we’d never been before (NOTE: it was impossible to refold a map the way it came – that was ‘you understood’).
  • If we needed to get somewhere ‘in town’ we asked someone for directions (and if we had bad memories, or the directions were complex, we wrote them down on a piece of paper).
  • If we got lost (travelling either in town or out of town), we stopped and asked a real, live person for help.
  • CompassSometimes we used a compass to assist with directional navigation (and cars didn’t come equipped with built-in ones, either).
  • If you broke down or had an accident, you left your car by the side of the road, hitchhiked or walked to the nearest town, found a phone booth (or – if you were really lucky – an open garage) and arranged for a tow truck to take you back to your car so you could get it towed into town and repaired.

Forty-plus years ago, we knew how to tell time; however:

  • Roman Numeral ClockAll clocks and watches had (at least) two hands that pointed to numbers (1 to 12 or I through XII) printed on the ‘face’. 
  • There was no such thing as a ‘digital’ timekeeping devices (digital clocks / clock radios and watches didn’t come on the market until 1970).
  • Only the military used a twenty-four hour time-keeping system – we had ‘a.m.’ (in the morning) and ‘p.m.’ (in the afternoon/night).
  • WatchWe spent a lot of time in school learning ‘how to tell time’ (for example, we learned that when ‘the little hand’ was on the two and ‘the big hand’ was on the three, it was ‘a quarter past two’; when ‘the little hand’ reached the six, it was ‘half past two’; when ‘the little hand’ made it all the way to nine, it was ‘a quarter to three’ – not ‘two-fifteen, ‘two-thirty’ or ‘two-forty-five’).
  • Watches told you what time it was – they didn’t perform calculations, allow you to measure your heart rate, distance, or calories burned, or keep track of your appointments (they also didn’t talk, buzz, beep, ring, or play music).

Photography is another area that has seen drastic changes over the past 40 or so years. For example, when I was young:

  • Kodak InstamaticYou had to buy film for your camera, and pay for processing (printing of the pictures); neither was particularly inexpensive – so you were VERY CAREFUL about the subject matter, and how many pictures you took.
  • The first camera I recall my family owning was a Brownie box camera; later cameras I personally owned (through my teens and into my early twenties) included a couple of different Kodak Instamatics (simply drop in the film – 126 or 110 – and you’re ready to go), Polaroid (instant pictures – WOW), and a couple of 35mm model (that were a bit more difficult to load, but gave you better quality pictures).
  • SLR (single lens reflex) cameras were pricey and owned only by ‘professionals’ (or photography students – I knew a few); they allowed you to adjust the exposure, focal length, focus, etc. – but YOU had to do it (nothing was ‘automated’).
  • Photo Album‘Archiving’ your photos meant you either kept them in the envelopes they came in (and carried them around with you so you could show them to your friends) or you put them in ‘photo albums’ that were then left on your coffee table, or shoved in a cupboard somewhere (but you could take them out and look at them any time you wanted – no ‘technology’ required).

One of my very favourite places growing up was the local public library.  It was a magical place where you could discover just about anything you wanted to know on just about any topic you could imagine. 

  • Old Oakville Library (circa 1950)Getting your ‘adult’ library card was a rite of passage; we went on a ‘field trip’ to the (old) main library in Grade 5 (the ‘children’s department’ was in the basement and most of us had been there, but children were NOT allowed upstairs unless accompanied by an adult); after the ‘tour’ we were given the necessary paperwork for our parents to fill out so we could get our own library card.
  • When you checked out a book, the librarian took an identification card out of the back of the book and wrote your name and the due date on it (for later filing); she replaced that with a ‘due date’ card (for your reference). If you returned a book late, you paid the fine (a couple of cents a day, as I recall) on the spot or you weren’t allowed to take any more books out.
  • When you wanted to find something in the Library (NOTE: there was NO INTERNET so any research you wanted to do had to be done in the Library – unless your parents were rich enough to be able to afford a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica (which cost approximately $350 – or almost 10% of the average annual income – in the mid-70s) – you looked it up in a card catalogue – a manual ‘search’ system that indexed each book by author, title, and subject; you also had to have a pretty good understanding of the Dewey Decimal System (still used today to organize books on library shelves).
  • Card CatalogueIf you wanted to ‘copy’ something from a ‘reference book’ (i.e., one that couldn’t be borrowed), you wrote it down on a piece of paper, using a pen or pencil (there were no photocopiers!)
  • ‘Plagiarism’ (also commonly called ‘cheating’ ) certainly happened, but it was far more infrequent than it is now – back then you had to write out (by hand) whatever it was you planned to ‘steal’ from the source (i.e., you couldn’t ‘google’ something, then use copy and paste to flip it into your word processed ‘research paper’); teachers were very good at ‘sussing out’ work that wasn’t written by a student!
  • Because you put a good deal of time and effort in locating information for a school project (or just our own interest) you remembered more about it.
  • Yes, there were less ‘resources’ available (compared to the volume of content currently available online) but you never had to question its veracity or authenticity (i.e., published books were written by subject matter experts, not ‘Joe Average’ with something to say about something s/he may have no real knowledge about – e.g., Wikipedia ).
  • And I’m not sure if this ‘fits’ in this section, or should be a section in and of itself, but we learned what we needed to know in a classroom with a teacher at the front (who knew quite a bit about a lot of things) to guide and direct us, tease us and test us, encourage and press us.  There was no ‘online’ or ‘self directed’ learning, no PowerPoint presentations, no movies or ‘videos’ (we did watch the occasional filmstrip – although, come to think of it, the only ones I recall were about the male and female reproductive systems), no computer ‘games’ designed to drill math or language concepts into us.  We learned practical lifelong skills by actually DOING things that mattered (and yes, we had to memorize the alphabet, the times tables, the national anthem and the Lord’s Prayer).
  • SlideruleOh, and we didn’t have electronic calculators until Grade 12; before that you used a slide rule for all calculations in your math and science classes (although for the life of me, I can’t remember how one works!)

NOTE: some of you might notice that I have not included a section (in any of the three parts of this series) about computers.  That’s because PERSONAL COMPUTERS HADN’T BEEN INVENTED YET (when I was growing up).  Businesses were only starting to use them in the 1960s, and ‘microcomputers’ (what we now call ‘personal computers’) didn’t come on the scene until the late 1970s, and weren’t considered common in the home until the late 1980s (and that’s why I also didn’t include anything on computer games and/or gaming systems – we didn’t have ‘em, didn’t need ‘em, probably would have had little use for ‘em – we went OUTSIDE TO PLAY and/or used our IMAGINATIONS).  Oh, and the World Wide Web (that indispensible compendium of billions of pages of both useful and useless information) wasn’t around until the late 1990s.  How on earth did we ever manage!?!?!?

So, there you have it – my view of life in the pre-technological dark ages.  Did I miss anything? (Probably – send a comment my way and I’ll add it.)  In any case, it was fun to think back on how things were and consider how far (???) we’ve come – and while I certainly couldn’t imagine getting along without a computer, email, voice mail, CDs, DVDs, and the Web, I wouldn’t mind a little less electronic ‘noise’ in my life, and a more civilized and respectful approach to television programming (and wouldn’t it be great if ‘going to the movies’ was still a grand experience?!?!?)  

Technology certainly has its advantages – and has most definately changed the way we live – even if its sometimes hard to keep up for those of us on … the other side of 55.

What Does The Future Hold

  1. Richard Shiell permalink
    April 8, 2012 7:39 pm

    I was at University friom 1957-1964 and only “rang home “about 10 times in those 7 years. As “trunk calls” via an operator they were so darned expensive in Australia. I used to to write a letter home every Sunday night and have it down to the post box by the pick up time of 9 pm. It would be delivered to my parents home, 250 miles away, on Tuesday morning . We found that we could speed up the process by getting a Post Office Box where my Mother could get my much-awaited letter on Monday night at about 8 pm.

    • April 9, 2012 2:35 pm

      It’s amazing how things have changed in such a short time, isn’t it?


  2. Richard Shiell permalink
    April 8, 2012 7:30 pm

    What have you got against Wikipedia? I am a doctor and use it all the time as it is much more up-to-date than most text-books and sometimes even better than the journals (which often have a 12-18 month delay for “peer review” before publication). It is also great for historical matters and biography. I pensioned off my “Britanica” 5 years ago and moved it down to my basement.

    • April 9, 2012 2:37 pm

      The ‘problem’ with Wikipedia is that ‘some’ of the material is poorly written and/or put up by people who really don’t have the knowledge or expertise to be writing about the subject in the first place. I, too, use it as a starting point for some things, but I always (ALWAYS) check the references at the bottom and double check ALL facts!


  3. April 2, 2012 11:09 am

    Yeah we did use our imaginations and this is where it has led us. There was a gap in the market.

    • April 4, 2012 5:50 pm

      I suppose imagination begat technology … not sure where it’s going to lead, though.


  4. April 1, 2012 10:12 pm

    I can remember going to the bank (this was in England) when they wrote, by hand, the amount of your deposit or withdrawal in your bank book and then entered it, by hand, in the bank ledger. There never seemed to be quite so many mistakes in those days and the bank certainly didn’t run up the charges like they do today!

    • April 4, 2012 5:51 pm

      It doesn’t seem all that long ago that you got personal service in the banks – and, yes, there were fewer fees. Some things haven’t improved with advancements in technology, have they?


  5. April 1, 2012 7:08 pm

    And looking back, don’t you think life was so much more enjoyable and simpler and kids were more innocent , yet we actually had a life! Thanks for the memories.

    • April 1, 2012 9:38 pm

      It sure was simpler back then! I think technology has hindered more than helped up (especially with respect to having ‘more’ time).


  6. April 1, 2012 6:44 pm

    The only thing I envy was the ability of kids in your day to take a walk ten feet away from a phone and be completely out of touch.

    Nowadays I need to give several highly complicated and innovative excuses as to why exactly I didn’t answer the phone.

    “i just didn’t want to talk” is practically a swear word. I have a cell phone and thereby instantly available to all.

    • April 1, 2012 9:39 pm

      We used to be able to just ‘not answer the phone’ – no one was expected to be ‘always on’. It gave you a lot of extra time for yourself, that’s for sure.


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