I just finished reading a book called The Operator, by Gretchen Berg. (I will review the book at a later date. The book takes place in the early 1950s. I was born in 1953, so I was very interested in the time period.
I think Baby Boomers — including me — think about the 50s with a fond nostalgia. We might think, Remember when we could ride bikes without helmets? Or, remember when we would walk home from school and our mothers would be there with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?
Some of our memories are a bit edited, no doubt. There probably wasn’t a single one of us that wore helmets as we rode our bikes or scooters. Heck, we didn’t even wear seat belts. We had never heard of them, in fact. But there were plenty of us who didn’t walk into our houses after school to the smell of homemade cookies.
Lots of bad things happened in the 1950s and 1960s. You had the Cold War. You had the McCarthy hearings. No one had worried much yet about discrimination. Women mostly stayed in the home, even after having filled in for male workers during World War II. And three words: Bay of Pigs.
But lots of good things happened as well. The crime rate was much lower, at least in my small town. We could walk to and from downtown — even in the evening — without fear of getting murdered. We didn’t have much television, so we spent our time outside after we finished our homework. Boys played with their G.I. Joes. Girls played with their Barbies or with paper dolls. Do they even make paper dolls anymore?
I contend that much of what was fun and interesting about the 50s was the mysteries we faced each day. Would I be the last person selected for the recess baseball games? (Yes) Would the metal slide be hot enough to burn the backs of my legs? (Probably) I wonder what’s on the other television channel because I’ve already seen this episode of Captain Kangaroo. (As the World Turns)
Imagine life without Google. Imagine that when you wanted to find out the date of the Battle of Dunkirk, you had to walk over to the bookcase which held the World Book Encyclopedias. Then you had to try and figure out if it would be listed under B for battle or under D for Dunkirk or maybe under W for World War II battles. By that time, you’ve sort of lost interest (unless it was a homework assignment; then you contacted your friendly neighborhood reference librarian.)
Now, however, if you’re interested in the Battle of Dunkirk, you pick up your iPad, call Siri, and ask for the Battle of Dunkirk. Within a few seconds, you have the information right in front of you. Most likely it’s Wikipedia giving you the details of the famous WWII battle.
That’s mostly for the good, isn’t it? But I must admit that I sometimes miss the mystery of not having instant access. Sometimes I will make a remark to Bill, something like I wonder what the age is of the oldest person to climb Mount Everest. I don’t really want an answer. I’m just pondering the question. But he will immediately pick up his phone or iPad, and within seconds I will know the answer. (It’s a Japanese mountain climber named Yuichiro Miura, who reached the top when he was 80.)
The bottom line is that it’s much better that we all wear helmets when we ride our bikes, and that the slides are made of plastic (though they don’t slide as fast). But still, most Baby Boomers lived to tell our grandkids about the days when there were only four television channels.