Technology of the Future: A 1970’s Perspective

punchcardWhen I was in the 7th grade I took a computer science class. Computer science in 1976 resembled technology today about as closely as Morse code resembles texting (well, actually the differences there are not that extreme). But for the most part, the advances in technology have been monumental, yet it was still exciting to be learning about computers during their nascent stages.

When we weren’t busy creating “if yes, then” flowcharts or punching zeros and ones on our blue computer cards, our teacher showed us movies about technologies of the present and  future. We saw examples of computers that were  so big they probably wouldn’t have fit inside Alexander’s department store and we learned about computer scanners that would one day be used at store check out counters to track inventory. In one of these films, the prediction was made that one day everyone would have their own portable phone, which was preposterous to me. First of all, wouldn’t they run out of number combinations in about a week and second of all, did I really need to deal with a phone cord that would constantly get tangled up in all the other shit I kept in my bag, which by the way would now need to be a really big bag because a phone weighs like five pounds.

In addition to having portable phones, these phones would have both voice and picture. This was all well and good when it was depicted on the futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, but did I really want this in my actual life? How  would I lie to my parents about where I was if I was ever lucky enough someday to have the sort of social life that warranted fabricating my whereabouts? (by the way, that day never came)  What if I had told a friend I couldn’t hang out because I was home sick and then got a call from this friend where she could see I was actually at the Queens Center Mall with someone else? Would this technology make us all painfully honest with no hopes of ever getting away with anything? Count me out.

In addition to not being able to fathom some of these new technologies, many existing technologies changed over the years in a way I never thought was possible. In 1974 my brother got a Texas Instruments hand-held calculator from our grandparents for his Bar Mitzvah. At the time, this calculator was as cutting-edge as  Google Glass is today (except for the fact that the calculator actually worked). Calculators were very expensive then and the assumption was they would always be so. Last time I checked, you could get a fully functioning calculator for something like 99 cents at Staples.

When Pong came out in the 70’s, I never expected the explosion of video games that would follow and always assumed everyone would be happy just hitting that little electronic ball back and forth until the end of time. Who knew we’d soon have games to help us learn math, improve our golf stroke, guide simulated people on how to manage their lives, become experts at killing people, and basically eliminate any form of human interaction with anyone ever.

Right around 1980, the Walkman was released in the US. I’d never imagined having a portable device for listening to music and once I got one I took it everywhere, even though it wasn’t exactly lightweight and its portability was questionable. Luckily, the first mobile phone that wasn’t the size of a brick was still a god ten years away, so I never had to carry both at the same time or invest in a handbag with wheels.




What the F#$*???

question markWhen my brother Jeffrey wasn’t busy impressing everyone with how special he was, he behaved like any other older brother, wielding his power and authority to teach his younger sister stuff she was too young to understand.

My most vivid recollection of this occurred one afternoon at the Saxon Hall playground as Cha-Cha and I did flips and hanging tricks from the tetanus-producing bars underneath the sliding ponds. We had recently expanded our vocabulary to include the “F word” and we were busy trying the word out in different sentences and perfecting our language arts skills by using the word as a noun, verb, and adjective.

My brother was in earshot of this and exclaimed, “You don’t even know what the word means!” to which we retorted with our ten year old logic, “Of course we do; It’s a way to tell someone to leave you alone because they are stupid.” My twelve year old brother went on to explain, in explicit detail, the act that the word actually referred to. His description was met with WTF? looks from us, followed by disbelief. The whole thing made absolutely no sense, but what was harder to comprehend was how the heck my brother could have come up with such an explanation. After much deliberation, we decided that my brother must be telling the truth, because even though he was the smartest 6th grader in school and was about to receive his engraved dictionary to prove it, he was not clever enough to make this shit up.

I spent much of the next several months trying to figure out how this act was even humanly possible. To this day, tasks that require any spatial aptitude have always been challenging for me. I suck at jigsaw puzzles, I can barely figure out how to change a vacuum cleaner bag, and you definitely wouldn’t want me putting together a piece of your IKEA furniture.

So at ten, I was asking myself questions like, “How are the bodies arranged? How does it stay in? I imagined that for the parties involved, the only possible position was that they both  be lying flat on their backs with their heads at opposite ends of the beds which meant someone in the equation needed arms that were at least six feet long to even make the mechanics of this possible. I continued to ponder.

Then one day the following school year, the mystery was solved thanks to HBO. Cable was in its infancy in 1975 and my family was too busy trying to adjust the rabbit ears on the free version of television to even contemplate paying for shows with snow.  Fortunately Cha-Cha’s family already had a subscription and even more fortunately, were a bit lax with using the controls that kept their kids from watching age inappropriate television. We happened upon this movie, which was panned by many critics, but got a “thumbs up” from me for not only solving this riddle I’d been grappling with for close to a year, but also for clarifying any lingering questions by showing multiple examples of how it’s done and using a variety of cutting-edge camera angles.

After Jeffrey had shattered my illusion of the F word and while I was waiting for cable to come to Queens and set things straight, he got another opportunity to keep his little sister in line. While with Gaby, my most daring friend, we decided it would be a good idea to steal a piece of candy from a neighborhood store called Burt’s Candy Store. I was quickly caught by Burt himself for stealing a packet of Lick-A-Stix. I’m deeply embarrassed by this, partially because I was stealing, but more importantly because I was stealing bad candy, not even a piece of chocolate. Once Burt caught us, he demanded our home phone numbers and told us he would be calling our parents and telling them what we had done. Just as stupid as I was to steal bad candy, I was stupid enough to give Burt my correct phone number.

I went home and in a panic I told my brother what I had done, hoping for some emotional support and guidance. He offered to answer the phone to try to intercept Burt’s phone call. It was agonizing. For the next few days, every time the phone rang it felt like a scene out of  Play Misty for Me (well except for the fact that Burt, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t psychotic). After a week and no call from Burt, I realized that the chances of him calling were marginal, but my brother now had a piece of information about me that he could use to his advantage. He suckered me into doing all types of crap for him like clean his room or lend him money and if I didn’t do what he wanted he would squeal on me. He milked this successfully for quite some time. I think I was a freshman in college before he officially let it go and only because Burt’s Candy Store had gone out of business by that time.

My parents never found out I was caught stealing which means my brother has kept this secret for 40 years. And in retrospect, I’m sure from day one he never really planned to divulge it. Which makes me a pretty lucky little sister.






$#*! My Mom Says

lunch with Mom July 2010 001In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite “mom-isms.”

  1. I smell grape gum.
  2. Is he Jewish?
  3. This pot is not for cooking; it’s for show.
  4. Leave your brother alone.
  5. Who picked a grape?
  6. More fondue anyone?
  7. We’ll see.
  8. Ask your brother to help you.
  9. Did you send that thank you card yet?
  10. Who’s turn is it to buy cookies?
  11. My pants are too tight.
  12. This ashtray is not for cigarette butts.
  13. He’s not Jewish?
  14. Ask him.
  15. Your father always makes me laugh.
  16. I like your hair better long.
  17. For my 80th birthday, I want a pair of Jimmy Choo red cowboy boots.
  18. Don’t eat your father’s cookies.
  19. Let’s wait.
  20. I hate this kitchen!
  21. Why haven’t you cashed my check yet?
  22. Your father is driving me crazy.
  23. Have you run your Norton Anti Virus lately?
  24. This chair is not for sitting.
  25. You’re late!
  26. Let me show you my new boots!
  27. My pants are too loose.
  28. Ask your father.
  29. Let’s not.
  30. Because he’s the boy.
  31. Everyone gets ONE!
  32. Your hair looks beautiful!
  33. I hate Windows 8.
  34. What did you do to your hair?
  35. Your brother said that???
  36. Who put a glass on this table without a coaster!!!
  37. I have too many pairs of boots.
  38. Your dress is so pretty!
  39. Who ate the last cookie?
  40. No sleepovers here.
  41. Everyone out of the kitchen!
  42. Maybe.
  43. You look beautiful!
  44. Someone help me pull off my boots.
  45. I’ve got to lose weight.
  46. Don’t be late!
  47. Again, he’s not Jewish?
  48. Because you’re the girl.
  49. You’re on time!
  50. Yes, you can go there for a sleepover.
  51. This computer is driving me crazy!
  52. Your dad and I are so proud of you.
  53. I’ve got to gain weight.
  54. Because I said so.
  55. Look at my new kitchen!
  56. Who cares if he’s not Jewish?

For my lovely mom and all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!