2018-01-18 / Around Town

A Kid’s Life, Then and Now

By Amy Martin

Amy Martin is a columnist with a background in family chaos, laughter and a lot of laundry. She writes from a perspective of passion, reality and humor. Amy Martin is a columnist with a background in family chaos, laughter and a lot of laundry. She writes from a perspective of passion, reality and humor. I saw a commercial that prompted me to burst out laughing and then call my sister. An Amazon Alexa advertisement depicted a woman sitting on one side of a sofa, becoming exasperated when she realizes that the remote control is on the other side of it. Horrors. Thank God Alexa has been invented to now prevent us from having to extend our reach a foot and a half to physically pick up the demanding, button-studded beast. Just ask Alexa to change the channel and this terribly strenuous task of manually using a remote control will be eliminated.

The call to my sister was to remind her of the television channel turning behaviors of our youth. We used a highly devised strategy to decide who would get up, walk over to the TV and turn the knob to one of our diverse 13 channels. We’d throw sofa pillows at one another with our eyes closed, and the first one to hit the other one (rules dictated we couldn’t dodge) got to stay seated. We also used this method if the screen was fuzzy (back then called “snowy”). The resolution for this problem was to bang the side of the TV with your hand or move the antenna until the picture improved. Today’s version of that is for kids to remain in full supine mode and yell out to whichever adult is close enough to unplug and then re-plug the router, “What’s wrong with the Wi-Fi?!”

Remember VCRs and video cameras? Our cutting-edge technology. All those determined dads who showed up to school performances with what looked like a mini refrigerator hoisted on their shoulders to record on a VHS tape… and before that, if you’re over 50, a Super 8 movie camera. Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube would cease to exist if our only means of recording a moment was to strap a camera the size of a Mini Cooper across our torsos.

Teens today will never go to a video rental store hoping that one of three copies of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “Dirty Dancing,” or, before that, “Alien,” will still be in stock. Children today can’t possibly understand the significance of “be kind, please rewind.” They simply swipe a finger across a device, and instantly “binge watch” a series or movie without fear of a storewide rewind stigma. For God’s Sake, the word “binge” itself was only associated with drinkers, postbreak up overeating, or eating disorders when we were young. Ask someone under 25 what word comes to mind when you say the word “binge.” If they say drink or eat, I owe you.

For some of us, as tweens or teens, a socially make-or-break weekend hung in the balance of whether or not we were allowed to go downtown to the movies or to cruise the shopping mall for hours, no money in our pockets. But of all the adventures that will never be experienced, what’s saddest is that children will never suffer the humiliation of a parent picking up the “extension” and telling them to get off the phone, a momentous childhood indignity that we all suffered.

Remember telephone busy signals, emergency break-throughs, or how about telephone dials? What about just good old prank calls? These don’t exist anymore because George Orwell apparently predicted the coming of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and thus presented, in "1984", the eradication of anonymity.

Other obsolete aspects of our childhood include “head gear,” which wrapped around our heads to hold our braces in place; magnetic board games for road trips; learning to drive a stick; and the desperation to get our driver’s licenses on our “license-age” birthdays.

Getting a driver’s license was the utter turning point in a teenager’s social life. That little plastic card represented the cutting of our own apron strings with a mere keychain as we reached one of the first social milestones of our lives. Today, teenagers don’t crave their driver’s licenses so they can have a social life. They don’t have to, as social media fills that gap and fills it long before their 16th or 17th birthdays. No need to drive away from mom and dad to socialize, when you can do it right in front of them without their knowledge. Picking up a smartphone, however, is nothing like the rush of picking up a friend in a car by yourself.

What’s next in our world of extinct experiences? Chewing food before we swallow?

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the old days of youthful persecution, you can tell your children about how difficult you had it then. If that doesn’t satiate your pining, you can just watch their faces as you make them physically pick up the remote control to change the channel.

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