“I don’t recall when we got electricity, honey,” my Nana answered. “But I must have been older, because I remember having to clean the oil lamps.” Other new items, like a radio and a telephone, they also got when she was a child. “The radio had three knobs, and each had to be turned to just the right place or it wouldn’t work right.” Laundry was done by hand, dishes were too. Her father and brother would each leave a big, sticky pot of oatmeal early in the morning before going out fishing, and wouldn’t fill it with water to make it easier to clean.
“I remember when we got our first record player,” says my Mom. She was in grade three, maybe four. Their first television was in the mid-fifties. Grandad came home one day with rabbit-ears, hoping to still be able to surprise the family, and she and Betty guessed that there must be a TV coming too. They didn’t always have a phone, and when they did, it was a party line. My stepdad can remember the electricity being “switched over,” from 25 cycles to 60.
When I was little we had a TV, and they were common enough that it was an of-course-we-had-one thing. But I remember the Christmas we got a VCR, and the year my grandparents gave us a microwave. We had the luxury of a dishwasher, and we had “of course”, a washer and dryer. But this was before cordless phones, before cell phones or car phones as they were called, before DVD players. Dad now and then would bring home a school computer from work, a big one, one that used a cassette player like an audio cassette. Heck, there were no CDs. Polariods were still new, and all other pictures were taken with film and big flash bulb packs. I can remember the excitement of getting cable TV.
Now? I’m by no means rich. But I have a CD player, a DVD player, a cell phone, a cordless phone, cable TV. I have a computer that’s tiny by my childhood standards, miniscule compared with the first one my Nana programmed way-back-when. Cameron has a digital camera. I have a blog, using the internet, I do half of my work using the internet. Long distance calls are cheap now, but even better, I Skype or iChat with my parents so they can see Cameron on a regular basis though we live far apart. When Cameron was itty-bitty Mom marveled at the toys and things we had, especially the swing.
What new-fangled things can I live without? Honestly, I have little use for my cell phone. I should cancel the damn thing; I haven’t used it in months. The internet, however, has seeped into every little crevice of my life. All the TV I watch is online; there’s really little reason for us to have cable TV. My telephone line is via the internet. Using the ‘net my parents could see Cameron so often that though they hadn’t visited in months, Cameron spotted my dad at the airport before I did at Christmas and there was no stranger-shyness. Communication with friends and family is often by email. Email is flat-out essential for work – when I have to tell someone something I’ll more often email it than pick up the phone. Instead of magazines I read blogs. I shop online personally and for work. Could I Live without it? Of course. But why would I? I sure wish I didn’t have to live without a dishwasher, though.
Now, I sit in Nana’s livingroom and look around me. While I know it must have happened gradually, I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be in her shoes. A colour HD LCD TV, a gas fireplace, microwave, digital cameras, digital picture frame, heck, an electric bed-warming mattress cover, and a granddaughter writing a blog post on a computer the size of a book, that has no obvious wires connecting it to anything.