...My high school class recently celebrated its twentieth reunion.
...I have fond memories of the game Adventure, which I played and mastered when I was 13 years old. I remember every experience the article describes: being robbed by the bat, being zoomed through the game by the bat while in a dragon, visiting the Easter Egg room, everything. For all the realism and detail and epic backstories of massive multi-player games today, this simple, doofy-looking game where a box grabs an arrow to kill a seahorse remains tops in my mind.
...I had a Texas Instruments computer that used the computer language BASIC (10 Print "HI THERE" 20 Goto 10) and recorded such coded text programs on audio cassette tape.
...I remember arcades in every mall, the only way the common feller could play video games. They cost a quarter, no more. Arcades barely exist any more.
...I was nine, ten, and eleven when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was developed, and it changed how I played games with my friends. In short, my geekiness was complete.
...I had a word processor in college --- not a PC, but a real word processor, basically an electric typewriter. It stored a whopping one line of text in its memory before printing. I got extremely adept at extemporaneous eloquence in my research papers.
...For most of my childhood, if you wanted to watch a movie, you had to see it in a theater. Cable became widely available when I was eleven or so, but again, you had to watch what HBO chose to air (usually the same blockbuster movies over and over). Then VHS and Betamax slowly took hold, and despite TV stations and movie studios' bemoaning that it would be death of the industry (they can fast-forward over the commercials! And why will anyone ever go to the theater again?), it became possible to watch a wide variety of things pretty much on demand (by which I mean you had to drive to the rental store first). True "on demand" viewing is just now becoming a literal reality --- which is very cool.
...When I was a kid, after the last late-night talk show, the national anthem would play and then you'd get a test pattern. Dead TV air. Doesn't exist any more.
...My home had rotary phones (museum relics today!) until quite late into middle school. My mother got a wireless phone eventually, and it was the size of a brick and had an antenna like a steel pipe.
...I remember answering machines that recorded with cassettes. Yeah, if someone was out, you didn't talk to them. You left a message on their answering machine, if they had one. If you got lost driving, you didn't twitter your friends, call the location, or upload Google street view to your iPhone. You stopped and asked for directions.
...The Internet did not exist until my second year of college, or thereabouts. It was a primitive system of electronic bulletin boards where idiots argued with other idiots about religion and politics and culture. There was no IMDb to settle movie bets, no Wikipedia to vandalize. If you wanted to look up a fact, you had to get a book from the library (or make it up, but without fooling anyone else with your lies). If you wanted the lyrics to a song, and they weren't printed in the cassette or album sleve, you had to listen repeatedly and type fast. I'm a member of the last generation to understand fully just how massively influential the Internet has been, a total paradigm shift in culture; the youth don't know what it was like, and the older don't know what it's like now.
...I saw Star Wars in its first theater run. (There was no other way to see it!)
...I was eleven when Michael Jackson caused a small stir with his then-risqué song "Billie Jean" came out. I was thirteen when Madonna shocked the prudes with "Like a Virgin." Oh, how innocent we all were then! Rap was just barely beginning to make itself felt among the whiteys.
...I was seventeen years old when REM's Green came out, in 1988. I was 23 when Green Day's first major label album, Dookie, came out. I associate them with college life and post-college stagnation, respectively.
...I remember Carter's election, the Iran hostage crisis, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Reagan getting shot, and other things that a college student today regards as the history of a generation ago. I even have vague memories of long lines at gas stations (the 1973-74 oil embargo) and Nixon's resignation (I was three).
I know this kind of post is old hat and boring, especially for the younger people, but trust me --- when you get to be my age, you'll see the appeal of looking back. Which is not to say that I ever want to stop looking forward, too. Bring on the 3-D video phones, teleportation, bionic arms, AI robot servants in every home, and Google brain implants! In fact, where are they? They're late.