Let’s Rent Another Movie

There was a time in our family when a typical Christmas present was a single VHS blank tape, which cost about $20 back in the early eighties. It was considered a generous gift, equivalent to somewhere between $50-60 in today’s dollars.

There were benefits to those tapes. They did not scratch, could not be so easily lost since they were so much bigger than a DVD, and when you rented a movie, they did not come with any annoying commercials and movies previews.

We purchased our first video recorder when we moved into our first house. We had no cable television, so we were unable to watch anything but what we could view from the antenna—a total of seven stations.

Dad recalls that it came at a hefty price—$600. I do not how we afforded such an extravagant toy back in those days, but I think our rationale was that we had money for little else. We did not travel unless it was on business, nor did we go to the movies. It was a rare treat to go out to eat that first year or two after purchasing that house.

That particular VCR had no scanning capability, so we would have to FAST FORWARD, STOP, PLAY, and continue to do this until we arrived at the spot we wished to view. The scanning feature came with the next model.

The video store in town ran a special. For $100 and for a period of one year, we could rent as many movies as we wanted. The catch was that we could only rent one movie at a time.

Uncle Mart was living with us that year, so he would watch a movie and then walk down to the video store to get another one. (He did not have a car.)

Looking back, this all seems so primitive. Now we can rent movies at our local video store or from a vending machine called Red Box , choose a film from a plethora of cable stations, live stream via so many different services, and borrow as many as 60 at a time from the library. (This is in case the kiddies want to set up their own movie rental stand next to their lemonade stand, I guess.)

I wonder what the future will bring.

Wonderous and Creepy

A lot has changed regarding telephone technology since the advent of this communication device at the end of the 19th century. From the first call made by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, we have come a long way.

My great grandfather had one of the first telephones in town. His phone number was simply “4.” What would he think if he saw all the advancements that have occurred since his death in 1917: from the basic telephone to the cordless phone, to the cumbersome “car phones,” which morphed into the very small cell phones, and now smart phones, which are literally pocket-sized computers which connects the world?

I love my iPhone. Truly I do. I love having conversations with Siri, being able to look up just about any piece of trivial thought that pops into my mind, go shopping, quickly communicate with my friends and family via text, email, or a phone, and easily obtain directions via multiple routes—even warning me of traffic or accidents along the way.

My phone is truly a wonder, but it can also be downright creepy. Take yesterday, for example. Dad and I spent the morning doing a few errands around town and then returned home for lunch. After our bellies were filled we hopped into my car, and while we were still in the driveway, I looked down at my phone and was informed of the number of minutes to Kelly’s house.

“This is very creepy,“ I remarked to Dad.

It was downright disturbing. How did it know? I had made plans to go there on our landline, and there was no mention of any activity that day at Kelly’s house on my cell phone calendar. Was Siri a real person listening in on our private conversations?

I looked this up on my computer, not my iPhone, and was instructed to turn off my GPS on my phone. So I will see if this makes any difference in the future; otherwise, my only explanation is that Big Brother is watching. How very 1984!


Back to the Days of Yore

Technology is great. We can connect with our family and friends in an instant via texts and “long-distance-free phones.” Losing our way is now greatly diminished because of GPS technology, and we can entertain ourselves via an endless array of games, movies, and television shows available on our smart phones, computers, and televisions. If we need a question answered, we turn to the Internet rather than heading to our local library. What would we do without these amazing machines?

However, Saturday night was a prime example of how technology has also robbed us of valuable time we lose because of these great necessities of life. How many hours do we whittle away when we set up our new phones and computers, fix problems with these wonders of modern times, and scratch our heads in puzzlement as we attempt to figure out how to set up a Twitter account?

We have become more impatient. Even three year olds are guilty of this as exemplified by Bryce, when he complained that a video on my phone was taking too long to load.

Last night, as Dad and I were about to settle down for “Saturday night at the movies” in our living room, our aging router decided to kick the bucket. Four hours later, Dad was finally calm, while I was ranting about how an evening on the prairie back in the days of yore was probably far less stressful than how we just spent our night.

I was thinking about a typical Saturday night at the Ingalls household. Caroline and the girls would clean up the dishes and then gather around the fire and sing along as Pa played his fiddle. Perhaps they read a book or took their weekly bath. In any case, they did not have their evening plans wasted by spending three hours trying to figure out how to put their technological house back together.

They did not fritter away an hour of their life getting into their horse and buggy to go down to the general store to pick up a new router. Ma and Pa did not need to deal with a millennial named Brandon who was mentally laughing at them because they just had no idea if they should purchase the $39.99 router or the $299 router. (Brandon, Grandma and Bampa Consumer were able to figure out how to put our house back together without your help. So there!)

I love all these gadgets–I really do. But sometimes I wonder if we all save more time or waste more time because of them. You all grew up with this, so what are your thoughts?

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Nowadays, no one gives a second thought about picking up their telephone to call someone. It doesn’t matter if they live across the street or across the country. It doesn’t make a difference.

Back in the dark ages when I was a kid, or even in the not so distant past, everyone thought long and hard before making a call.  You factored in the distance, length of the call, and time of day. Everything added to the cost. Late night and weekend calls were cheaper. (Telephone costs were like buying airline tickets: the more inconvenient the time the cheaper the cost.) If you were making a local call, which was in your town or a nearby town, you could chat until someone in the family kicked you off so they could make a call.

When I was in college, no one had a phone in their room. The only way to make or receive a telephone call was by using the phone in the dormitory hallway. Good luck if someone called you, because no one wanted to be the one to answer the annoying ring and then have to track down the recipient of the call. Usually, what would happen was the ring would be followed by a yell. That was how I soon learned there were 3 Karen’s on my floor during my freshman year of college.

Because of the lack of privacy and cost, the calls were short and infrequent. I never called home every day, and when I did call, I had a planned list of topics to discuss with Grandma and Grandpa. To fill in the blanks with less important trivia, we wrote letters home. I remember how excited I would be to receive a letter from Grandma with a dollar or two tucked inside or one from one of my friends also away at school.

When I was dating Dad, he was always on the road, but his company allowed him to call me every day for a whopping five minutes. Again, you didn’t waste words with so little time. (“Don’t talk long. It’s a toll call!”) Kelly, you must understand what we went through because you experienced this when you went to Paris and Casey, you did too when Chris went to Africa.

Now, we call each other without a thought to the time or day of the week. We call to talk about nothing and sometimes fill the airwaves with silence when we don’t have enough to say because we do this so often. You have all become so accustomed to instant communication that, at times, I may receive a call on my landline followed by one on my cell if I don’t answer the call. Maybe I’m in the shower or outside or, since we have caller-id, I know who is calling and I choose to ignore the call.

Although I enjoy connecting with family, friends, and acquaintances on my phone, via email, texts, or Facebook, I sometimes feel nostalgic about the way it was. There is something so nice about receiving a letter–not an email–but an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned letter delivered by my mail carrier. It is great knowing who is calling, but at the same time, there was something fun about wondering who would be on the other end of the line. And since I love surprises, I love picking up the phone to someone I haven’t spoken to in years. That’s when the end of long-distance charges is really a welcome change.

Television- The Good Old Days?

When I hear people say that they don’t watch television because there is nothing on, I think, “Seriously? You are either too young or just don’t remember the days when there was really nothing on.” After the news, and perhaps a late-night movie, the Star Spangled Banner would be played, followed by a test pattern and then nothing but the sounds of static and what looked like snow on the screen until around 6:00 in the morning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHqA83gdBwA

The night of my marathon ten-hour baby-sitting job, I didn’t bring a book because I never expected to be there that long, so I had nothing to do but stare out the window and check on the kids a million times. That was pure frustration and boredom and a moment when I could honesly say “there was nothing on tv.”

Those were the days before cable tv, Netflix, and video rentals. There were not hundreds of stations to watch, but rather three main networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC, or as I still say today, channels 2, 4, and 7, which makes Dad crazy. (My New York friends down here all understand what I mean.)

There was something special about that time which I miss. Growing up, before it was possible to buy, record or rent movies, there were particular shows that were aired only one time each year, so it became a household event. There was no other time you could view those shows and movies.

I remember anxiously awaiting the nights when we would all gather around our television set (and most families had only one) to watch Rudolph the Red-Reindeer, The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, March of the Wooden Soldiers, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz. Those viewings were the watercooler moments of our day, when we would return to school and discuss the movie that we all had enjoyed on the same night.

While it is true that most of these classics are still broadcasted to our homes once a year, I would argue that it is not the same when you can pull out one of these movies from your personal collection to watch at any moment, or turn on a movie channel and choose a favorite to watch. Somehow the excitement is lost when all the kids at school in every home in the country are not watching Dorothy landing in Oz at the same moment.

And while I am mentioning Dorothy, let me walk you all down my lane of memories to the time when I first viewed the Wizard of Oz in color. Uncle Bob was the first family member that I recall who had a color television, and I remember going to his house and being so amazed when Dorothy left her black-and-white house in Munchkin Land and walked into the splendor of red and green and blue and yellow. That moment is etched in my mind. Until that night, Dorothy’s ruby slippers were always just black and white. I am not sure when Grandma and Grandpa were able to afford a color tv.

Do I want to go back to the era of 2, 4, and 7, followed by the addition of channels 5, 9, 11, and 13? No, of course not, but there is still something special about that time–something magical about tuning into a show and seeing the NBC peacock, which indicated that the show we were about to watch was now being broadcast in color. The excitement of that time is just gone. I can’t explain it, but I believe only others of my generation or earlier can understand that special feeling.