Inside: Top 20 Surprising Things Kids Today Will Never Know
I’ve become my father is so many ways it’s scary. I never thought I’d be uttering the words “turn off the lights if you’re not upstairs, we don’t own stock in the electric company”, but I do constantly. In between bad dad jokes I like to “wax poetic” to my kids on the simpler times of when I was a child. From what I can remember, I had a decent childhood. It’s hard to tell from pictures because the second child always has fewer pictures of their childhood than the firstborn. My second daughter reminds us of this all the time.
I didn’t have all the technology that the children of today have but I seem to have come out the other side unscathed. There are so many items from my childhood that the kids of today will never know and most likely couldn’t recognize in a multiple-choice test.
Allow me to take you on a trip back in time to the 1970s, 1980s and even briefly the 1990s. These are the times I grew up in where bell-bottoms and corduroy pants were all the rage and life was less complicated with technology.
The cassette tape was the successor to the 8 track tape which in and of itself was a disastrous form of media. What the cassette tape offered was the flexibility to record your favorite album and take it with you to play in the car. You could also save a ton of money by recording all your friends’ albums and they record all of yours. It makes me laugh how nowadays there is such a push against “stealing” music, and rightfully so, but kids today will never know how easy it was to get your hands on any music you wanted with one blank cassette tape.
You haven’t lived until you had a tape deck “eat” your cassette tape and you had to wind it back up.
TV without a remote
Kids today never have to leave the couch when watching television. I remember tv before the invention of the remote control. I also remember tv when it was 5-7 channels but that’s another story. When you watched tv at night you watched what was on or you got off the couch and changed the channel. There was no channel surfing in my youth. It took too much energy to channel surf and felt like you were doing squats. Up and down off the couch repeatedly.
If you want to have fun for an hour give a teenager a rotary phone and tell them to dial a friend. I guarantee it will be worth the hour it will take for them to figure it. We dialed by electrical impulses, basically sparks. You put a finger in the hole for the first number and rotated the dial clockwise until it reached the guard rail that stopped your finger from going any further. You then pulled out your finger, and the wheel went back to the starting position. This motion was repeated until you dialed each number and you were connected.
I’m old enough to remember when phone numbers had letters in them. Growing up we were AR1-1289. That was Arlington 1-1289.
My friend Jeff had the first-ever VCR that I can recall. It was a giant unit that had knobs on the front that allowed you to tune in the channel you wanted to record. It was a feat of modern technology for 1977. You were able to record your favorite television show when you weren’t home and watch it whenever you wanted. Most of us still had VCR’s later in the 90’s and even 2000’s. I still have VCR tapes but I don’t have a player to view them on.
There may still be some fax machines floating around today though most people prefer to send an email attachment instead of a fax. The fact that you could put a piece of paper in a machine, it would scan and send it via a phone line anywhere in the world was pretty miraculous. Faxing still seems to be big in the medical industry for some reason but it is rare to see a fax these days.
In the early days of computing, the floppy disk was our only means of transferring information from one computer to the next. The amount of data that could be held on these disks was 1.44MB or the equivalent of a small document. Compared to today, you can purchase a removable USB drive that is 1 or 2 terabytes in size. 1 terabyte equals 1,000,000 megabytes (MB). You can back up multiple computers on one of these small devices compared to its ancient predecessor.
Does anyone remember America Online (AOL)? It was the end all be all at the dawn of the internet, but with it came certain challenges. The main one being speed. Kids today will never know what it was like to wait 30 minutes for a picture to download or three minutes to be connected to the internet. My first computer, a Compaq Presario which probably cost $1,500 back then had a dial-up modem. To connect to the internet you had to unplug the phone line and plug it into the back of the computer.
If a call came in during the time you were on the computer there was a good chance you got booted offline. It was a really frustrating experience compared to the blinding speeds that fiberoptic and cable modems reach today. If you want to reminisce a bit click the short video below.
Though not from my childhood I did have a beeper at my first real job. At the time the only people who carried beepers or pagers were doctors and drug dealers. For some reason, my job working for a sporting goods store, required me to have a beeper and I loved it. It made me feel important when it went off. Because the cell phone had yet to take over our lives the beeper was the only way to know that someones wanted to speak to you.
Usually kept on your waist, the beeper would vibrate when someone wanted to reach you and you’d see a call back number appear on the screen. You then needed to find a payphone (see below) or borrow a phone to call the person back.
The invention of the cell phone all but made the beeper obsolete. Kids today will never know the excitement of receiving a page or having everyone think you were selling drugs.
Before Netflix, YouTube, Apple TV and every other source of video, we had the neighborhood video store. In my neighborhood that was Blockbuster video. Blockbuster stocked every movie imaginable and when a new one was released they had upwards of 15 copies of each movie. Kids today will never know the feeling of waiting a week for someone to return the movie you wanted to see or that infamous directive “Be Kind. Rewind”.
Before the iPod, iPhone, AirPods and all the other fancy Apple devices out there we had the Sony Walkman and Discman. The Walkman and Discman were portable devices that allowed you to listen to your favorite cassette tapes and compact discs while you were out of the house. These devices became useful for people who liked to jog or listen to music when they were out and about. I remember the Discman being especially finicky when you were jogging as sometimes the music would skip if you jostled the device too much.
Kids today have it easy with iPhones and Samsung phones that store thousands of tracks of music at their fingertips. We had to listen to the same album all day or carry around extra cassette tapes or CDs to vary our music selection.
The first cameras I remember as a child were clunky devices as was most technology back then. Many of these cameras didn’t have a flash built-in and as a result, you were required to carry around flashbulbs with you. The bulbs would click into the top of the camera and when you took a picture would almost explode internally emitting a flash of light. It was a very strange invention but it was effective at lighting up a room and making everyone’s eyes red in the photo.
There were no computers when I was growing up which meant there was no Google, Alexa or Siri. If we wanted the answer to a question the only means of research we had was the Encyclopedia. A set of encyclopedias lettered A-Z provided information on many subjects. Every school and library had a set of encyclopedias and people even sold them door to door. Many supermarkets would give them out letter by letter when you spent a certain amount of money in the store. I would sit for hours looking through each volume in amazement.
If you wanted to travel when I was a kid and you had no idea where you were going, you had to use a paper map. Maps were printed for every state and contained all the roads and highways necessary to take a trip. They would fold up nicely and fit in your glove compartment or trunk. To navigate the map was a bit of a chore because you first had to find out where you were to find out where you were going. Charting a trip using a paper map often caused arguments in many homes besides just mine.
If you owned a pair of roller skates (ones that had four wheels) you needed a tool that would help tighten the skate and allow you to get in and out of it. This tool was called a skate key. Without one your skates were useless. Kids today have it easy. Strap on a pair on inline skates and you’re out the door. That’s if kids today even roller skate at all!
TV going off the air at night
Television didn’t always consist of 24-hour news cycles, infomercials, Friends and The Office reruns and ESPN. There was a time when I was young that television stopped broadcasting and “signed off” for the day usually by playing a series of random test pattern noises followed by the Star-Spangled Banner. From that point on there was no television until the morning. If there were any late-breaking news we didn’t hear about it until the next morning. Kids today just hit the remote or open a cell phone and have thousands of channels at their fingertips.
Record stores and book stores are more a novelty these days. Amazon has all but destroyed the book store the way music streaming services have done with music. There are still some random mom and pop book stores and maybe a few Barnes and Noble but for the most part, gone are the days of spending hours combing the bookshelves for the next great read.
The same is true for music. As a child, I couldn’t wait to get to my local music store to search through countless albums. Gone are Sam Goody’s, Tower Records, Camelot Music, Coconuts and more. Vinyl is making a comeback of sorts but not to the level it was growing up.
If you were outside your home and needed to make a phone call when I was growing up you had to track down a payphone. It wasn’t hard to do and they were everywhere you looked. Outside many stores, you would find rows of payphones. The cost was $.10 to make a phone call until the mid-eighties when it was raised to $.25. When they were introduced it was only $.05. Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find a payphone since everyone has a cell phone. New York City is removing it’s last remaining payphones as I write this – marking the end of an era.
A real alarm clock
Kids today will never know how annoying it was to be woken up by the basic alarm clock we had as children. I’m not talking about the fancier clock radio that woke you up to music. I’m talking about the standard-issue alarm clock. The one with two bells on top. The one you’d want to throw across the room when it went off. There was no easing into waking up with this alarm clock. It instantly jolted you out of bed.
The Phone book
Growing up, finding a phone number meant scanning through your local white pages name by name until you found the number you needed. Forget it if the person’s last name was Smith or Jones. You could be making calls all day until you found the right person. Kids today can just use Google and find out everything you need to know about someone with the click of a thumb in under 10 seconds.
Kids today will never know the struggle of taking a picture and waiting three days to have the picture developed. You had no way to know if the picture you just snapped was good or not. You just clicked and hoped for the best. Advances in film development led to chains like Fotomat, Motophoto and One Hour Photo offering a quicker turnaround but not the immediate gratification of today.
Growing up when I did wasn’t necessarily better it was different. Though there are things that kids today will never experience as they aren’t necessary anymore I’d like to think they made a simpler time a bit better for us all.
What did I miss on this list? Let me know in the comments below.