I'm getting to an age where I'm telling a few more "When I was young..." stories. The 60s, 70s and 80s are far enough in the past that they have ripened to the same antiquity that the Great Depression had for kids of my generation (and then some) and enough time has intervened to give me some material. The impact, however, in terms of, "My god, those were hard times," doesn't really carry the same gravitas in terms of pain and suffering.
When my parents wanted to expound on the selfishness, wastefulness, spoiled-ness and general going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket-ness of us Boomers, they could resurrect truly epic miseries of their youth. They could use several wars, genocide, poverty, tuberculosis, unemployment, displacement and hunger as devices to embroider their story.
If they needed more fuel to drive the story over the top, my father had labor riots, strikebreakers, blackballing and McCarthyism to throw in (although there was no indication that he actually suffered from these injustices – just that they made him very, very angry).
Likewise, my mother had an infinite reserve of refugee hardships from which to refresh the general theme of "people of our generation are noble and strong - people of your generation are indolent and weak."
While I hold to a philosophy that we all enter civilization at a point in history and must confront life with whatever resources are available at the time, I can grudgingly appreciate that the stories I tell reflecting back on the early 1980s (and my twenties) are light years removed from my parents' struggle for simple survival. I concede that we mid-century Caucasian types don't know diddley about real adversity.
Last night I was sharing with my teenager a story that I thought she would find engaging...a little vignette about Apple-life back when and the difficult challenges I faced Computing in the Stone Age. Rose is a polite person, and made some effort to look engaged even as we could hear her iPhone pinging upstairs, demanding her attention.
"When I was young," I began, "personal computers had just come out and we had an early Macintosh back in '86. We were still using the bigger floppies back then and if you wanted any kind of software, you had to drive all the way downtown by the university to the software rental place. Why, I remember that I was studying for the Graduate Record Exam and I was thrilled to be able to practice taking the test on a computer with rented software instead of with a book. And ya-da and ya-da and ya-da."
The dear girl shook her head sympathetically and commiserated on how hard that must have been for me, although I detected a thought bubble hanging over her head posing the question "Did you have to fend off any pterodactyls on your way to the software rental place?" Then, having indulged me and fulfilled her obligation to me for giving her life, Rose evaporated to answer a higher calling - her text messages.
Obviously, the contrast between my memories of being 24-years-old and playing with my first Mac and my parents escaping Nazis and waiting in bread lines at the same age is a hard one to bridge. There's no comparison between the experience of struggling for your life and the experience of being inconvenienced by the limitations of your home computer.
But, I was trying to convey my astonishment and wonder at how quickly we had moved from renting software to downloading almost any form of media with just a couple of mouse clicks. I thought we would have some bonding with that story since Rose has had a lifetime of interaction with computers and I had no comparable common experiences with my own parents' stories.
Naturally, I was immediately reminded that it's almost impossible to bring the past forward to your children because, of course, they weren't there and they have no personal resonance with the event. Rose did not give me any signals that she wanted to hear more amusing stories from the 90s like when I got my first internet service or when I saw my first laptop.
It did make me wonder, though, what stories kids coming of age in the Apple Age will tell to their children. Our parents had the cataclysmic wars and economic depressions. We had the social revolution for equality and a shift in consciousness that has slowed from time to time since its beginning, but never regressed, despite opposition. And, while it’s hard to articulate, my sense is that our kids' stories will revolve around a bundle of technologies rather than radical social changes.
Will Rose tell her kid(s) about her getting her first iPod Nano in a chartreuse green so electric that she named it "Kiwi"? Will she laugh when she remembers that her mother managed to send not one but three Shuffles through the wash before they became forever banned in the household? Will her entire memories of her childhood and youth be bookmarked by releases of one kind or another, be they movies, DVDs, apps, games, software or iStuff?
I imagine Rose at 35 telling her kids, "You should have seen the phones back then. Apple had one called iPhone4s that came out when I was a freshman in high school. It had this primitive voice recognition interface named Siri and I remember that your grandmother suggested that I tell Siri to call me "Mr. Popper's Penguins" instead of my name. It was hilarious!"
This isn't keeping me up at night. The Industrial Age, the Age of Aquarius, the Information Age, the Golden Age of Radio...they rise out of society and are transformational. So it will be for the Apple Age, while it lasts. Just something to think about.