The Times They Are a Changin’

So, my daughter-in-law called the house this afternoon, and said that Carson (grandson #2) wanted to talk to “GrandmaGrandpa”. In his mind, we are a single unit, and either word can be used for either of us. I’m “Grandma” from time to time, if he’s excited or not paying attention, or he’s asking me so I don’t feel left out, but he really wants Grandma’s opinion. So, if you get the collective noun “GrandmaGrandpa”, he’s serious.

Grandma was out saving the universe, but I said if I was good enough alone, I was happy to talk to him. So, my daughter-in-law said, “Call us back!” and I said “Facebook Messenger?” and she said “Yes.”

A little less than nine minutes later, we were done. Everybody was happy. Thirty seconds after we disconnected, my iPad chimed. My granddaughter had just realized she missed GrandmaGrandpa, and she wanted a turn.

A couple minutes after that, all the grandkids were heading off to bed, and I was waiting to go to dinner.

That’s when it hit me – just how much technology has changed just in my lifetime, and how my grandchildren’s assumptions are wildly different than mine were as a child.

When I was growing up, it never would have occurred to me to call either of my grandparents – one set in Providence, Rhode Island, and the other in D’Hanis, Texas. I’m glad it never occurred to me, because I can only imagine what it would have cost, paying AT&T by the minute to talk long distance. (Then, I can only imagine what my Dad would have said.)

I started thinking about how Carson called me today, and how he takes a lot of things for granted that still seem a bit magical to me – and I’m in IT.

First, his Mom called our house phone, which isn’t even analog any more – it’s Voice over IP digital. She called on her cell phone, because my kids don’t have a home phone at all. I’m not sure they ever have. If you want my son, call his cell. If you want my daughter-in-law, call her cell. Better yet, text them.

We keep our house phone because we tend to use our cell phones for data more than talk, and because it’s handy to have one number that can get either or both of us (sometimes.) We really don’t need it any longer, but it’s a representation of GrandmaGrandpa.

So, phone service has completely changed, not only in my lifetime, but in the last thirty years or so. (I would have to look up when the cell phone became widespread.)

So, in one generation, we went from analog dial service to Voice over IP and cell service. Some people dropped their home phones completely.

Carson doesn’t want to “talk” to us. He wants to see us. When he says, “Call GrandmaGrandpa”, he means “video conference”, he just doesn’t know that is a thing.

I remember when we got video conferencing equipment at work – it was very expensive, very fragile, and worked somewhat, as long as you were talking to a matching system in one of your other offices. (I had a job interview a couple of weeks ago that was a video conference with some managers in Chicago. I had to go to the Dallas office, and be ushered into a special room where I could see myself on one screen and the interviewers on another. I remember thinking, “Well, it did make me dress up and get out of the house, and they won’t hear my dogs, but what’s wrong with Skype?”)

Carson’s assumption is that you can look at Mom’s iPad in Ohio and see GrandmaGrandpa in Texas and there’s no magic at all – that’s just how it works. Everyone knows that. “Call GrandmaGrandpa”.

So, in less than a generation we went from voice being the norm to video being available to anyone with a cell phone or a tablet with WiFi and a Facebook account.

Wait. When did WiFi show up?

I remember my first Internet account – which I got so I would have an email account. I pestered the admins until they told me where to put web pages and how to get to it, so they hosted my first web site. It was a dial-up account on a system in Massachusetts. I used to pay long distance to edit my webpages and collect my email every day – not that I got much. I learned a lot of basic Unix, because it was the only way to get it to work.

Then, we had Prodigy and AOL, and we could dial a local number to get to the Internet. Man, that was high tech. When you heard the right scrambling noises, you knew you were connecting. You were about to be online. Modems were cool.

(My Dad was still paying for AOL account access even though he had DSL at the house and unlimited Internet. I converted it  to a free account after he passed away. I had to keep the account because my Mom still uses her AOL email. I turned my old address back on, just for old times sake.)

So, we’ve had a lot of technology appear in the past few years that the current generation assumes was always there. We’ve suffered through a lot of early versions and failed attempts that they will never see.

I had a flashback to a discussion with my son when he was young, and I was trying to explain to him that I didn’t have video games when I was growing up. I’m not sure he ever believed me. (I still need to find him an electric football game.)

So, Carson, remind me to send you an email about the good old days, and phones you had to dial with a dial. You could ask GiGi Mary about having to pick up the phone first, to see if any of the neighbors were already using it. In the meantime, if you need me for anything, just say, “Alexa, call GrandmaGrandpa.”