6 Things Our Kids Just Plain Won't Get
This article is for my three kids. They will, very soon, start seeing the world through adult eyes, and a lot of things about my generation will just plain not make any sense to them. I'm going to attempt to explain some of it, so that they don't dismiss an entire generation of people as rock-fuck stupid. For instance, the generation coming up behind us most likely won't understand ...
Many of the Phrases and Pictures We Use Every Day
Do you use Skype or Yahoo Messenger? Take a look at some of their icons.
Specifically, the "Call" and "Voice Call" icons.
I know my kids have never used the old microphone that Yahoo Messenger uses to represent "Voice Call" because I raised them, and therefore can safely say than none of them are news anchors from the 1950s. But it won't be long before the vast majority of the people using those programs have never used a phone or mic like that, or even seen one in person. It doesn't take a genius to know that those are just outdated and obsolete versions of modern phones and mics, and you might even recognize them from any movie filmed before 1995, but other concepts might be harder to grasp.
For instance, if you weren't alive during the early 90s, how are you supposed to know what the hell that thing next to the "Save" button on every single program in existence is supposed to represent.
A Transformer talking out of the side of its mouth?
My generation knows that the little square icon is supposed to be a 3.5-inch floppy disk -- the primary means of backing up files or transferring them between computers from the 1970s through about 10 years ago. But even though these things no longer have a purpose or even exist in the computing world, they're still the universally recognized symbol for "save your work."
It would take 111,112 of these to backup your 160 gig hard drive. One of them could hold about one minute of one MP3.
But it's not just icons. There are terms that have outlasted the technology they described. Like when TV programs use the phrase "weekly rewind," my kids never bat an eye because to them, "rewind" just means to look back on something. To review it or play it again. The idea that tape would have to be physically wound around spools to watch something again is foreign to them.
A few people even had video rewinders. These same people own $300 HDMI cables today.
The term just stuck around, presumably because the importance of rewinding videotapes was drilled into our heads by video rental stores with more urgency than AIDS awareness.
We use the term "dashboard" to describe the control panel on a computer program. But everyone in my generation knows the dashboard is actually a shelf in the car that holds all of our cigarettes, sunglasses and speeding tickets. But wait -- that's still not actually what it is.
A dashboard is actually from my great-grandparents' generation, when horse and buggy was the common means of transportation. The dashboard was a piece of wood put up as a shield to protect your face and clothes when the horse took off running and its feet started slinging (or dashing) mud up at you.
Also where you mounted your wicked CD players.
OK, so maybe my generation is just as guilty of not knowing what we're talking about. But that doesn't make it any less strange that my kids will have no idea what I'm talking about when I mention ...
Saturday Morning Cartoons, Late-Night TV or Any Time-Related TV Activity
We used to have to plan our bathroom breaks around commercials because there was no TiVo or video on demand or illegal uploads of the show on YouTube. If you wanted to see a program, your ass had better be in the seat, or it started without you. If you drank a lot of coffee or tea, you were eventually going to have to make a choice between missing crucial plot points or pissing your pants.
Sometimes, that was a lot harder than it sounds.
Do you like cartoons? Not too long ago, those were a valuable commodity for kids because they came only on Saturday mornings, and even then only for three or four hours. Well, at least the good ones did. We had early morning cartoons that came on before school during the week, but most of those were a shitty, poor man's version of the real thing.
Or if you were being punished, there was The Bozo Show.
So since they were on only at a very specific time, if you wanted to see them, you got your ass up early on a Saturday even though you had no other reason to get out of bed before noon. Otherwise, you missed them, and you had to wait another whole week to see them again.
Late-night talk shows were on the other end of the spectrum. Want to watch one, but you have to be up early for work? Fuck you -- you either learned to function on five hours of sleep, or you learned to hate David Letterman.
I tried, but I just can't.
Speaking of TV, if you're watching reruns at all, you probably have a few questions, because ...
Most of the Sitcoms From the 80s and 90s Already Don't Make Sense
There was a time when an entire episode of a sitcom could be, and frequently was, based on one character leaving the room just seconds before another would enter it. The fact that they could never quite find each other was the driving point of the plot.
So much classic comedy has been sacrificed for the glory of progress and not needing to understand a map.
One of the most popular episodes of Seinfeld, "The Bubble Boy," was based on this. Jerry gets lost trying to follow George into upstate New York, and zany antics ensue. And for the time, it worked just fine because people could relate to it. Everyone had at one time or another tried to follow a friend without knowing where they were going, only to have that friend drive too fast or blow through the ass-end of a yellow light, leaving them in the dust.
And we've all had the odd game or two of Trivial Pursuit with a terminally ill boy in a bubble.
Today, it just doesn't work. We could simply fire up the GPS and tell it where we're headed. Or pull out the cellphone, call the person and say, "Hey, dipshit. Slow the fuck down or I will dick-whip you in the goddamn eye. I'm eight blocks behind you because you don't know how to fucking drive, Mom."
"Are you spending all your glasses money on fucking Ambien?"
In the same episode, George plays Trivial Pursuit with the boy in the bubble, and on what would be the winning question for the boy, George discovers a misprint that saves his ass. The answer was supposed to be "Moors," but they misspelled it as "Moops" on the card. That triggers a heated argument that just simply wouldn't last more than 10 seconds today. My kids don't know a world where a quick Google search on your phone couldn't clear everything right up.
For the same reason, lovable bullshit-artist characters like Cliff Clavin don't really make sense anymore. Our older readers remember Cliff as the beer-swilling mailman on the sitcom Cheers who sat at the corner of the bar and rattled off bullshit claims out from under a stunning mustache. Our younger readers would recognize him as "that dude we can shut down before the second word makes it past his stupid child-molester mustache." Everyone knows at least one guy like this in real life: "I have a cousin who played a stormtrooper in Star Wars."
Really? Let's pull up IMDb real quick. What's his name, again? That's what I thought. Shut the fuck up.
The Office recently had an episode where Michael got lost, and the gang from work had to find him. But before that plot got into full swing, there had to be extra setup scenes explaining that he had left his cell in Jim's car, and showing him attempting to call the office, unsuccessfully. In the old days of TV, as soon as the characters got physically separated, the audience immediately recognized the situation as one that has fucked us all. No extra explanation required.
"No need for wacky hijinks today, Tom! We've got Google Latitude."
And let's not forget about the old plot setup where one person picks up his phone and finds someone else already talking on another phone in another room. He catches part of a conversation, which leads to a miscommunication or gives him vital information that moves the story along. That's not just something that happened on TV. If you grew up in a household with two phones, at least once in your life, you went to make a phone call only to plunge into a private conversation mid-stream. But my kids will never experience that. Hell, they'll probably be baffled by ...
Pretty Much Anything Having to Do With Nonmobile Phones
You just finished a big job interview. They said they'd call you by the end of the day to let you know if you got the position. You get back home to find someone in your house engaged in a two-hour phone conversation about who they think can end Bill Goldberg's winning streak in the WCW. And suddenly, your immediate career depends upon the speed at which that debate can be resolved. So you have to ask them to "hang up."
"I'll call you back in a few. Yeah, my son's being a pussy."
Everyone knows that means "get off the phone, asshole," but do you know why that seemingly unrelated phrase is used? The base for the phone used to be mounted to a wall. When you were finished talking, you hung the receiver on a hook attached to that base, and the call ended. You literally hung up the phone. Now, you just push a button or close it.
In the future, you'll unplug the guitar cord from the back of your head.
It was only about 20 years ago that those landlines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich kids had and superdorks took second jobs for, so most computers connected to the Net using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.
If you were waiting on an important call, you didn't even consider getting on the Internet, because the caller would be met with a busy signal every time he tried to get through. Even when you weren't waiting on one at all, it never failed that one of your jackoff friends timed his calls exactly when you were trying to spend some free time dicking around on the Net. Every time he dialed your number, you'd get booted offline, and the two hours you just spent downloading a 30-second video clip would have to be started over from scratch.
No, we still didn't pay for porn, even back then.
Now, the biggest thing you have to plan around is battery life, because your mom is now having a two-hour conversation about the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak and just sucked all the juice out of the phone. There's nothing quite like hearing that warning beep in mid-conversation, having to quickly explain that your phone is about to die, and then waiting for it to charge back up for the next hour before you can finish telling your friend exactly what kind of a bitch your mom is.
On the other side of that coin, using the phrase "my phone is about to die" as one of the greatest excuses for ending an unwanted conversation ... well, that's about to die, too. In 2009, scientists invented a battery that could be recharged in 10 seconds, giving you material for your own article in just a couple of years.
You'll have to come up with a new excuse for ignoring your family, though.
As hard as it probably is for my kids to get what a pain in the ass the phone used to be, it's probably even harder for them to grasp ...
Anything Having to Do With Physical Mail
I remember when my best friend moved away for college, we would plan out our phone calls a week in advance because long-distance fees were charged by the minute -- and those fuckers racked up fast. There were no all-encompassing plans or flat fees at the time.
Mostly, we sat alone in the quiet and prayed for a day when the Internet would rescue us from the madness. And also bring us streaming HD porn.
Of course, there was always snail mail. Back then, it was just called "mail" ... the term "snail mail" only came about after email was invented. And believe it or not, mail used to be a primary form of communication. That's why the icon associated with your email is a little envelope. It represents the letters we used to send to each other when calling was too expensive.
They were delivered by the Pony Express, if memory serves.
But imagine your instant messenger working the same way as snail mail. Every time you said something to one of your friends, you'd be charged a quarter, and your friend wouldn't be allowed to read what you sent him until next Friday. It's hard to keep a friendship going through that.
For those reasons, having a pen pal was a big deal when I was a kid. It was the only realistic way we could meet and regularly talk to someone from another country. It was mind-boggling, knowing that you were actually talking to someone who lived on the other side of the planet. But if I were to walk up to someone right now and tell them, excitedly, that today I talked to someone from Australia, they'd look at me like I was shit-sculpting crazy.
Australia, Japan. Same thing.
Hell, the vast majority of my friends now are not from the United States. But if I couldn't talk to them instantly and free, that number would be reduced by 100 percent because foreign people are cheap, horrible monstrosities.
They had to be. Otherwise, they couldn't afford to go to college, where people were regularly ...
Paying Tens of Thousands of Dollars to Learn Now-Common Skills
Today, pretty much every single person I know can build a computer from scratch. What used to be considered the work of "computer geniuses" is now as common as changing your own oil or making your own porno. But not too long ago, people would spend several years and many thousands of dollars getting college degrees in a skill that has become so common that kids learn it right alongside their multiplication tables.
Of course, these classes still exist. It's just that now, instead of being specialized intro courses meant for future programmers and software engineers, they're required for pretty much any degree in anything whatsoever. My fourth-grade son has taken two computer intro classes -- the exact classes offered to me when I was in college 15 years ago.
If you're going to beat Koreans in StarCraft, you have to start training early.
Want to get a book published? There used to be -- and still are for the time being -- tons of classes in college that teach the proper routes to publication, from getting an agent to shopping your manuscripts. People spent years learning the exact format that wouldn't get their novels thrown in the trash, unread. That is, until my kids' generation came along and showed us that we could easily do this ourselves without having to deal with pesky little annoyances like editors and publishers.
Spell-check is all the criticism you need.
So I guess what I'm saying here is basically, congratulations. The world used to be a much more annoying and ridiculous place. The next time you use a word, phrase or image that my world gave birth to, all I'm asking is that you take a moment to realize how hard your old man had it. Oh, and that you not complain when I ask you to show me some cheats to help me get away from that Korean kid who keeps killing me in StarCraft.
And be sure to get our book, because we're sure paperbacks will become fossils soon enough.
For more from John, check out 5 Ways Video Games Are About to Get Way More F#@kable and 12 Things You'll Wish You'd Never Seen Under a Microscope.