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What's Different?

Questions from a grandchild

By Mellie MillerPublished 5 years ago 4 min read

That was the question.

“Gram, what’s different now from when you were a kid?” asked the ten year old grandson.

Thinking back, I remember asking my dad and my grandfather the same question. It seems inconceivable that things haven’t always been as they are now.

It’s hard to imagine a life where what we have today—whether today is in the 2000s or the 1950s—was not commonplace. We’ve grown up with them, use them every day, and rely on their convenience. If they were suddenly gone tomorrow, we would be lost.

Can you even imagine a time when mobile phones, personal computers, and calculator apps weren’t in every home?


Take a trip with me back to my childhood and let’s see what we didn’t have.

Throw away everything electronic. None of it existed then. Throw away satellite TV and cable. While there was cable available in big cities, it didn’t reach us. And I believe there were only about thirty channels available even then.

Throw out your cell phone. For that matter, throw out your cordless phones as well. Replace them with one—or if you have the money, two—large, clunky phones, which are hard-wired into your house. They remain in one place, attached to the handset. So if you are talking on the phone, you’re tethered. No call forwarding or call waiting. Caller ID? Please...

Until I was in my late teens, we had a party line. This meant four families shared one phone line, so if you picked up the receiver to make a call, you would often hear a conversation already in progress. In this case, you hung up and waited a few minutes for them to finish, and tried again.

TV at our house had two channels— NBC and CBS. Some of my friends could get ABC as well. We had an outside antenna wired up to the set which we had to turn to pick up the signal. After a big wind or storm, we would have to re-adjust it to get the stations back. If you didn't like your choices, you read a book.

Do you like to read? Throw away your Kindle. Everything was paperback or hard cover and required a visit to the bookstore or library. We had no local library, so we relied on the bookmobile, which came around once a week. Their choice could be limited, but you could ask for something specific and wait for the next visit.

There being no computers, there was no email, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media. If you wanted to communicate, you had to phone or write a letter. And if the phone call was long-distance, you were better off writing, unless you had a hefty bank account.

Photos required cameras with actual film, which was sent away to be processed. It would take around a week before you could see them. No preview or instant photos to send to your friends.

Can you make change without the cash register telling you how much it should be? Just curious. A teacher of ours owned a small grocery store, and one of her pet peeves was people not being able to make change. So we spent several weeks in class learning how to do it properly, without a calculator or even a pen and paper.

Girls wore dresses or skirts to school—no pants allowed—and guys wore either nice jeans or dress pants. We still recited the pledge of allegiance in the morning before school and recited the Lord’s Prayer, which was later changed to a minute of silence.

Nearly everything was closed on the weekends, so any shopping you needed to do had to be done during the week. A few of the larger chain grocery stores might be open part of a day on Saturday. A little later, some stores began to open Sunday afternoon until around six in the evening.

In some of the smaller towns, like the one where I grew up, everything closed at noon on Wednesday. I never did understand why, but Wednesday afternoon was dead in town.

How can you experience what life was like back then?

Turn off your mobile phone and put it in a drawer, so you won’t be tempted to use it. Turn off your TV except for the nightly news and whatever is on the three major networks. Close your laptop, turn off your desktop, put away your Kindle or tablet. No CDs or DVDs. No Walkman. No gaming, unless you’re talking chess or checkers. There was nothing digital then. Music? You can listen to the radio or put a record on the record player. Barring that, you can gather around the piano and have an impromptu sing-a-long.

But what did we have then that we don’t have now? Closer friendships with our neighbors and community, I believe. Without technology to keep us in touch, we had to learn to converse, write letters, and speak in front of a group. The art of conversation is going by the wayside, with all our communications done via text. And letter writing is a lost art altogether.

We made our own entertainment, without the distraction of all the online games, phone apps, and social media vying for our attention.

We would walk over to a friend’s house to sit around and chat, or play backyard softball or basketball, with nothing to interrupt us. Hide and seek was always a favorite. You were free to spend quality time with your friends, not shuffle between them and the mobile phone. Some of us from before the digital find it rude to be forced to compete with a phone.

Is technology a benefit?

Yes. It can be.

Is it overused?

I believe it is. It has become a crutch we use to avoid getting too personal, rather than learn how to interact in person or learn how to do things for ourselves.

What is different today from when I was growing up? More than is probably good for us. So go practice your penmanship and write a letter, have a real face-to-face conversation with a friend--no phones involved. Or just sit and enjoy nature for a change. You might find it refreshing.


About the Creator

Mellie Miller

Wife, mother, animal lover, musician, martial artist, writer of fantasy romance with a touch of magic-- I have seven books on Amazon as Mellie and another one as Sultonna Nadine. The cat approves.

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