I was cleaning up my daughter’s smudgy, sticky fingerprints from my laptop screen today, it made me think about how my 7 year old not only has internet and touchscreen as her birthright but she cannot imagine the world without the basic technology she grew up with since her infancy. It comes so intuitive to her that she instinctively goes for my laptop screen and is surprised to see that her touch creates nothing but smudges and the screen serves no other purpose but to project an image. She wants to make things happen with a swipe, but my laptop is already too primitive for her ingrained expectations.
I was born in 1970, in former Yugoslavia. short of a television set, and a red rotary phone, which was carefully guarded by my grandmother, who epitomized the caller ID, call waiting and voice mail of my youth, there was not much technology available to me at 7. You can guess how simple, yet chaotic and messy social networking of my teens used to be, and how open to sheer chance getting together with someone was. It all depended heavily on my granny’s ability to comprehend, hear and write down messages, or phone numbers, especially during her favorite black and white movie, which she was watching real time and without the ability to rewind.
It was during my early teen years that I was introduced to my first Walkman, cassette boombox, VCR player, stereo tower, cordless phone etc. and I was always eager to hurry up and acquire everything shiny, new and exciting. Although I lived in a capital city of my country, new hot technology just wasn’t sold in stores, it wasn’t available to everyone, only to connected, resourceful, privileged ones, the ones who knew someone who lived abroad, or who traveled internationally, or who knew a black market seller, the thuggish neighborhood petty criminal, who they met on the street, between cars, in building vestibules or hidden stairways. Buying the latest VCR player was like a secret drug deal. It helped if you knew or were related to a pilot or a stewardess, someone traveling frequently or visiting somewhere outside of our borders. Satisfying our teen gadget desires was a nuisance to say the least.
The harder it was to acquire something hot, the more it was an overblown, superficial privilege and reason for serious envy. Being first to get something cool was a thrill, it was laden with desire, wishing, begging, saving, patiently waiting, biting nails and anticipating that moment when you finally get to hold in your hands, smell the plastic, peel off the protective cover, paying homage to packaging, to design, the more we appreciated the long road that brought this shiny new cause of envy, through risk, crime, theft or customs, into circulation, and into our hands, hopefully before anyone else in our school.
The competitive nature of the latest 80’s brand acquisition turned my generation into a super eager and resourceful peer group, driven by desire, capable of creative, out of box thinking and problem solving. One of the great examples of this was when Commodore 64 came into our hands. It was our first computer and gaming system. It consisted of a screen, keyboard, cassette player and a joystick (controller). If you were lucky, someone who had it before you has copied an audio cassette of games for you to play on your computer. Otherwise you were SOL, and left with a brand new computer without a thing to do on it. (no internet) Video games were not sold anywhere, it may have been more challenging to get parts and “accessories” for our gadgets, then gadgets themselves.
This is where the genius of my generation came out to play. Someone tried playing the cassette with Commodore 64 video games on their stereo, I presume. They heard nothing but endless composition of screechy, computerized modem noise. So it did not take long to put the two together, if the computer reads these sounds played directly into it over a cassette player, why can’t we broadcast the screechy games over the radio, and make them available to all. There was one, weekly radio show at the time, that reviewed the latest computer games and equipment. During this show, there was a 20 min segment that solved this problem. Producers of the show got a hold of the games, such as Manic Miner, PacMan, Hover Bovver, etc. and simply broadcasted the screechy modem sounds over the radio. On our end we recorded the noise on cassette tapes and then played them on our Commodore 64. Of course it wasn’t as simple as it sounds, it depended on your radio reception, if you had radio static messing with the sound, if your tape was old, heated and stretched. It had a 50/50 chance of play success and that was more then enough to keep us happy, entertained and feeling on top of our little 80’s, quasi socialist world!
So when I think about this new generation of kids, who I feel live in the most interesting, powerful, thought provoking and paradigm shifting time yet, when revolutions that took decades, now take months, when I see how far these kids can stretch, or how far their sophisticated programmer’s brains could reach, and how readily available and at touch of their finger making things happen is, I don’t feel a sense of nostalgia rubber-band me back in front of my first keyboard and screen, for more then few sweet minutes. I don’t long to be back, to touch and feel. I am content to keep that time, and place and my awesome first Commodore 64 and it’s faulty, shorting joystick, that ripped my fragile developing nerves into shreds, back where they belong, in my heart, as my first love, Edgar the I, and the “Electric Dreams” of my youth.