THE BLOG

Technology for 70-Year-Olds: Catching Up, Keeping Up -- Or Not

03/10/2014 04:32 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2014
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The digital world tugs at us, like it or not. Our generation of pre-baby boomers is sandwiched precariously between World War II's "greatest" seniors, many of whom refuse to have anything to do with the Internet, and the boomers close on our heels who embrace everything electronic and ether-based.

We've witnessed an incredible swath of this technological evolution. Successive generations of devices both amaze and unnerve us, with new and newer ways to gather news, read books, record ideas, contact friends and listen to music. I scan the ads of the local mega electronics store every week just to see what new devices exist and what they're called. Items proliferate weekly, with sometimes mysterious uses or applications, while flea markets and antique fairs display our long-beloved sewing machines, desk phones, typewriters, vinyl records and radio consoles.

Our generation fondly remembers the days and nights of radio. Jane and her Dad would lie on the couch listening to "The FBI in Peace and War" each Friday night at eight. It would end with resounding music, to which she would march to her bed. Ellen still feels shivers (the good, scary, kids' kind) when she recalls the introduction to a popular radio crime show "The Shadow": Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! And then that menacing laugh... We all had favorite programs, after school, evenings and on days we were sick in bed.

We didn't get black and white TV in our homes until, if we were lucky, we were 8 or 9 years old. Remember those big consoles, with small screens topped with rabbit ears for reception? There were few channels and few shows -- Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, and The Hit Parade were weekly favorites, with the Lone Ranger and Howdy Doody our daytime pals. Sometimes, when there wasn't a scheduled program, we'd stare at the "test pattern."

Music was a shared event in our teen years. Victrolas and then stereos played vinyl records -- 78's for popular songs and dancing, 33 1/3 for albums of singers or shows. Music filled our rooms for everyone to enjoy; no isolating headphones back then. We endured occasional scratches and slides on the records and had to change needles when they wore down, but we knew the words and sang them joyfully with our friends and family. Then, we witnessed the evolution to tape decks and then 8-tracks. Compact Discs with digital sound came much later and changed the way we heard and listened.

Our tape recorders of the '60s were reel-to-reel machines the size of small suitcases. They gradually reduced in size until, by 1970, they morphed into tiny reeled boxes. Then the change to digital recording left our old tapes stranded on their shelves. How to ever retrieve the voices of our children... the recordings from our work places??

Our grandchildren have probably never heard of typewriter ribbons, those spools that supplied the ink for our trusty Royal and Olivetti typewriters. We inserted sheets of carbon paper between pages of Corrasable Bond as we typed our term papers. That slippery surface allowed erasures without a smudge, especially if you used a soft gum eraser. The old carbon paper blackened our hands and created a major challenge when corrections needed to be made on sheet after carbon-copied sheet. We found it easier, many times, to just start the page anew, instead of fighting with the blackness.

As we graduated to each succeeding generation of typing devices, from manual to electric to computer-controlled, we felt modern and advanced. It became faster and faster, for one thing, to put our thoughts on paper. Little did we know how much time we would eventually spend on these attention-consuming devices.

We were content to wear eyeglasses before the advent of contact lenses, but saw hearing aids on our elders as bulky, body worn boxes with external wires leading to the earpieces. We've ridden the tide as such assistive devices have become small, digitalized, and streamlined--nearly invisible in some cases.

Our homes seemed complete even without the eventual microwave ovens, electric stoves, garbage disposals, built-in dishwashers, washing machines without wringers and that noisy contraption under the kitchen sink that actually grinds garbage away.

And what about telephones? Gone are our classic landline icons with long wires attached to the wall. We no longer say "Who's this?" but rather, "Where are you?", for caller ID leaves no mystery about identity. There is no "dial," although the term lives on as we tap those buttons or just utter a name to call friend. And have you noticed that even youngsters hold their pinky and thumb to their ear when they describe a telephone conversation? Some things never die.

But the digital world continues to pull us forward, both the resistant and the eager among us. It won't be long, it seems, before all those screens merge into a single receptor for TV, movies, videos, music, photos, books, phone calls, social networking, web searching, world mapping and app-ing. Should we wait for that...or jump in sooner? Do we want to keep with the pace? Can we?

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