I just ordered a new cell phone. It is an iphone and I am sure that I will have to have my granddaughter show me how to use most of its features. Why I ordered a phone like this is one of the true puzzles of the universe. I am pretty confident that the phone I currently have, a Blackberry Curve, does things I have never thought of asking it to do.
But technology is seductive. Think back with me to the difference in my relatively short –if you consider it in historical context–life in available technology. I missed the era when radio was the entertainment. By the time I came along television was the big draw in the living room. Granted the television screen tended, in the early days, to be about 12 inches square and in black and white.
There were, when I was a child, approximately 5 channels and the programming was not generally for children. There was no Sesame Street, as far as I know there was no Public Television, or if there was they did not program for children. The shows for children tended to be locally produced with a few notable exceptions. Bozo the Clown, Howdy Doody,and later Captain Kangaroo and the Mickey Mouse Club. In Xenia, actually Dayton and Cincinnati, we had two local shows for children. Dayton offered us Uncle Orrie, a kindly old grandpa like man with a droopy mustache who played the banjo and had a sidekick named Ferdie.
Cincinnati had the Uncle Al show, starring Uncle Al and his wife Wendy. Uncle Orrie and Ferdie did some skits, but primarily showed cartoons. Uncle Al’s show was more like Howdy Doody, with Al, and sometimes Wendy singing and dancing and in some cases having guests that put on acts or skits.
Needless to say there were no black people on either show, no black children either. As a matter of fact in later years, when I had children of my own and Uncle Orrie was still on the air, as was Uncle Al I wrote both shows and their television stations and took them to task for their monochromatic audiences and actors. I am not sure anything was ever done, I certainly never received a response to my letters, but neither show lasted long after that time period. I think they had run their course.
Now I have about 500 channels in not just living color but in high definition and there is still very little to watch on television, and very little representation of black people that reflects the way most of us live. A case could, of course, be made that television is not a good reflection of reality period.
Back to the telephones. Our first phone that I can remember did not have but 5 digits. I can remember when we had to add a prefix. Ours was not a number it was “Drake” so my phone number was 2-6547, after Drake was added it was 372-6547. I think Drake may have also been the death knell of the party line. I remember people talking about party lines and some of my friends said their families had party lines, but by the time I was old enough to use the phone we did not have one.
Party lines sounded wonderful to me. You could listen to other people’s conversations and the gossip mill depended on them heavily. I can remember overhearing adult conversations where people shared what they had heard on the party line and it was frequently pretty juicy information.
Very few families had more than one phone in the house. Ours was in the entry hallway by the stairwell on its own telephone table. An essential accessory for the telephone was a pad with a place for a pen or pencil so that you could take messages. It was considered a serious infraction to remove either the pad or the pencil from the telephone table.
It was also considered a serious infraction at my house to receive calls after 9 at night. I can remember as a teenager that my father would answer the phone if someone called me that late and tell them ” She is in bed and you should be too.” If the phone rang after ten at night somebody had better be dead.
Think about the difference in a teenager’s room in the 1960’s and a teenager’s room now. If you were a very advantaged child you had a record player and radio in your room, probably a transistor, of course. Other than that your amusements would consist of books, puzzles and board games. No computers, no video games, no phone. I remember being fascinated with a movie that came out in the 1960’s, I do not remember the name of the film, but the teenage girl in the film had a phone in her room! I decided, as I usually did, that if something like that was presented in such a matter of fact manner that it was because white girls routinely had phones in their rooms. I did not have one because we were black.
Because the entertainment offers in my room were limited, but I did like spending time in my room by the time I was 12, I became a voracious reader. My parents did not believe in censorship or limiting access to books, so I read a lot of books that I could only partially understand.
My parents, like many other of the time, had bought sets of books. My folks had bought a table that was hexagonal mahogany with a leather top and had spaces for books all around it. The books on the table all matched and were part of a series called, I think, Six Foot Shelf of Books. It consisted of classics like Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter, but it also branched out a bit and had some other books that might have been considered semi racy for the time, like Jane Eyre, my favorite romance book ever that I read first when I was 11 . I think I took French in high school partially so I could see what Mr. Rochester’s ward, Adele, was saying in the book.
I wonder if I had had the internet in my room what I would have read and thought and done?