Now that I think of it, I guess I’m a baby of the Space Age and TV. When I was a little girl, living in rural Ohio, I stalled getting on the school bus for 3rd grade to watch John Glenn’s historic launch into orbit. We held our breath all day, worrying what it would feel like to be circling the earth.
A few weeks after I turned 16, I stayed up with my family in New Jersey to watch another Ohioan, Neil Armstrong, set the first human foot on the moon. I could hardly sit still and listen to Walter Cronkite. We were watching live TV from the moon! Dad kept shushing me. Mother made popcorn. And as the great moment approached, I looked to my Grandmother to share it. Her chin was on her chest, and she was snoring lightly. Granddad was slumped in another chair. I couldn’t stand it.
“How can they sleep, Dad? Shouldn’t we wake them up? How can we let them miss it?“
They were Dad’s parents, and it didn’t seem to be just that Dad wanted to watch the landing that was behind his instruction to let them alone. “How can they be expected to deal with this?” he asked. “It’s hardly real to me. Think of all the changes they’ve seen in their lifetimes.”
I thought of the little gold ring I had in my jewelry box. Grandmother had been wearing it one Sunday morning, running around and around the buggy in the dooryard while she waited for her parents to finish getting ready to go to church. She lost her footing a bit and grabbed the buggy wheel. The iron tire made a nick in the edge of her ring that I could still see and feel.
The marvels of Grandmother and Granddad’s lives had been cars and phones. They could remember making calls with the help of an operator and shook their heads at the wonder of direct-dialing long distance using this thing called an area code. They weren’t quite comfortable pushing buttons instead of swirling a dial. It was a step too far, and certainly to witness that “small step for man” on live TV was too much for them to believe.
We let them sleep. And when it was over and we all shook our heads and turned off the TV, when we woke Grandmother and Granddad up, they barely asked about the event. When we confirmed that the Ohioan had made it, that everything had gone as planned, Granddad simply nodded.
Every time in my life since that I’ve dropped my jaw at some technological advance, I’ve thought of Grandmother and Granddad and the moon landing. I don’t always remember to think of them when I’m screaming at my laptop, or counting to 10 to reset my broadband modem and the wireless router so I can collect my mail from anywhere in the house and all the way out to the pond. I do sometimes wonder what they would make of the folks apparently talking to themselves all over the streets and up and down the aisles of every store. But I don’t think of them so much when I pull out my iPhone to Google something or renew a library book, or read an e-book.
I held out for a while against having a cell phone. I had been writing for an offspring of the Bell System, about telecommunications technology. I was waiting for Personal Communication Services, PCS, when the network would be able to find me wherever I was. My first-adopter friends scoffed and said I’d be waiting forever. I gave in when I was leaving for a weeks-long work assignment in California and would be unable to give my Dad a hotel phone as I moved around. I opened the phone at the first stop after the Mississippi, to reset it for the new time zone. It had gone ahead without me. You can’t imagine what that meant to me.
Now I count on my iPhone and my laptop to keep me and my other clocks set correctly. But the iPhone’s still out on the car seat beside me half the time. It sets a route for me and marks it with a purple line traveled by a little blue dot that holds steady while satellite photos of the surrounding land pass by. PCS indeed. It knows me.
I haven’t yet moved into the TV age of the other big technology change I had written about, High Definition TV. It had seemed for a long time to be too far out in the future. Maybe it wasn’t going to happen. But as with so many technologies, all of a sudden it’s everywhere. It barely needs to be mentioned. I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t have it. But my TV’s still working fine, the built-in VCR mostly. Really.
I’m not missing a moon landing, but I guess I’m not so far from where my grandparents were that night. I’m glad I’m no longer writing about the next technologies coming, because I’m not so sure I could believe myself. What’s easiest to accept is what makes the biggest difference in my life. I’ll never go back to a big desktop computer. I can’t stand it when I realize I don’t have wi-fi. But don’t push me. There’s only so much this old brain can take in.
Now, let me see about setting up that stereo that’ll burn my LPs and cassettes onto CDs.