I remember back to the early 1990s. Lots of my friends were buying computers. Several of them asked me when I was going to get one. DOS was still the primary PC operating system. Ugh. Being a practical person most of the time, I said I’d get a computer when I had a good reason to have one. And eventually, that reason came.
Being a writer, some of my friends asked why I didn’t have a blog. And again, I answered that I’d start blogging and/or writing when I had a good reason to. And eventually, that also came. So today I’m reflecting on how lucky I feel to be part of a generation to live during such special times. The Baby Boom years and all that has followed. I was born almost right smack in the middle: 1954. If you’re also a Boomer I believe we’ve had a ringside seat for so much ultra cool history it’s actually hard to believe it sometimes.
I’ve always been fascinated with the 1920s. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was a high rolling bootlegger in another life back then. I see the 20s as a time of discovery, of great freedom and innovation. A while back someone posed the question, what time period would you visit if you could choose any one era in history? And for me, it would be the 20s.
So what does this have to do with Baby Boomers? Nothing and everything. It recently dawned on me that people born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boom years, have actually experienced a time that was very much like the roaring 20s. During both periods the United States enjoyed high levels of ingenuity, resourcefulness and prosperity. And during both periods the eyes of the rest of the world watched us from a cultural, technical, and leisure-life point of view. And during both of these American growth spurts, thousands of new inventions and products were introduced to consumers of all types, making life easier for everyone.
Ink Wells, Thick Slate & Roman Numerals
Both periods were rich with social change and what has come to be understood as “game changing” technology, to borrow a common expression. I guess that as a Baby Boomer I took much of this for granted until I compared the marvels I’d personally witnessed with those of the 1920s. When I started kindergarten in the fall of 1959 the classroom looked like a dreary scene straight out of a Dickens novel. There were massive slate blackboards on the walls. The clock displayed strange symbols I later learned were Roman numerals. The desks were constructed from thick oak and stood on cast iron legs that were bolted to the floor. Each desk had a 2-inch hole in the upper right corner that at one time, not so long before my arrival, held a container of ink.
Analog & Digital
I’ve come to think of much of my childhood as the “Analog Years.” Back then my family had what was known as party line telephone service. We shared the line with several other families, which meant we couldn’t use the phone when they were using it and vise versa. I must admit that I occasionally carefully lifted up the receiver and listened in on their conversations. Oh my! I remember one woman becoming really angry and shouting at us and using really strong language. Later that day I asked my parants what the “F” word meant. I also remember taking my lunch to school in large lunchbox designed to look like a yellow farmhouse. My sandwich was wrapped with thick wax paper as plastic sandwich wrap came several years later. I didn’t need milk money because my huge lunchbox came with a four gallon thermos. At least it seemed that big. I also remember how excited everyone was about a chimpanzee at the time. His name was Ham and he was the first primate in space. That was in January of 1961. I found out about it in a publication I looked forward to back then titled, My Weekly Reader.
But the space program was just one of many wondrous things Boomers have to look back on. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine and the disease was all but eradicated. According to a 2009 PBS documentary, Americans’ most formidable fears back then were the atomic bomb and polio. So many wonderful inventions came during my childhood. The first laser was developed in 1960.
During my time in elementary school we also got halogen lamps, cochlear implants, weather satellites, Valium, the audio cassette, felt tipped pens, the Super Ball, the first computer game (Spacewar), the Ford Mustang, fiber optics and by the end of the 1960s a man had placed an American flag on the moon. Americans were steadily moving out of the analog years and creating what would come to be known as the digital age.
Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. During our formative years Baby Boomers saw our military men and women sent to Korea and later Viet Nam. Confusion over why it was important for us to be fighting a war so far away eventually led to passionate and sometimes violent public protests on the campuses of US collages. President Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were all gunned down in cold blood in the 1960s. We also experienced significant social unrest around racial inequality. Growing pains of a developing nation.
Pop Culture On Steroids
And like now, we experienced no shortage of trends and fads. In search of a better life, people exited cities en masse to the suburbs. The Beatles showed up early in 1964 and changed music, entertainment and our society forever. The Fab Four as they were sometimes called got credit for much of the new, impromptu lifestyle that developed in their wake. I’m very much a fan of music of all types. The music that was spawned of the Boomer years is my all time favorite. I’ve been known to say that certain tunes have served as the punctuation marks of my life as I can often recall exactly what I was doing when I hear certain songs playing.
But there’s more. People were rapidly becoming enthusiastic consumers and out of necessity women went to work in droves during World War II and never entirely came home. The years immediately following the war was the beginning of the breakdown of the traditional family. Birth control became readily available and contributed to the trend. America was changing… quickly.
Run For Your Life! Head For The Shelter!
I’ve already mentioned the atomic bomb. I can still feel the trepidation that was common at the time. Americans feared we would one day be the victims of a nuclear attack by the Russians. During this period known as the cold war, I remember participating in Civil Defense drills at school, where we would huddle under desks in the basement of the school. Thinking back on those drills, I find it almost comical how ineffective hiding under a desk in the school basement would have been had nuclear weapons been launched on us. Some Americans actually built private bomb shelters on their property.
And all the while we continued moving into overdrive as consumers. Looking back, I remember first hearing the phrase, “instant gratification” in the early 1970s. My grandfather often spoke of “push button” technology and solutions. Why wait for anything when you could have it instantly? In the decades following World War II most Americans enjoyed a great deal of prosperity and had lots of leisure time. We saw toys like the hula hoop, slinky, the super ball and many others.
The World Got Smaller
Methods of communication improved greatly too. I personally believe it’s communication that’s behind all cultural growth. We also had fake news back then too but almost no one realized that. The first transatlantic telephone cable was put into service on September 25, 1956. Many more followed. And once the space program got rolling we were chatting long distance as our voices literally bounced off of satellites orbiting the earth. And let’s not forget television. Television was the Internet of the 1950s and 1960s. It brought people together. It allowed us to see how others lived. It was the medium that introduced us to new products and technology. There were the early sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Life of Riley. I remember fighting back tears as Lassie finally returned home to Timmy after what seemed like 100 weeks on the road.
When I think about life back then I sometimes find myself wishing I could go back to simpler times. I think folks from every generation feel that way. I know my parents found many of the developments of the Baby Boom years frightening. I guess it’s my fondness for the 1920s that gave me the opportunity to see the contrasts between the two periods though there are lots of similarities. Peace.