Remember, There Were No Remotes!
At seventy-two, my grandmother Linda recounted her memories of old with eager ease. The questions I asked triggered a flood of reminiscences of a young girl and her experiences with a now-very-distant world. The life Linda knew as a little girl is merely a distant memory of days gone by, and after our interview together, she realized just how far gone that world is today. Not better or worse—just different. Of course, I could pick up on the inflections of fondness in her voice when one of the questions elicited a story rather than a pat answer, a fondness that wished for those days once again—at least for a moment, but don’t we all, no matter our age, wish for the “good ol’ days” every now and again? Linda was born in 1944, before TV and FM frequency radios, Millennial readers.
Where and when do I get news? My smartphone. Where and when can I find a good piece of entertainment? My smartphone. Where and when do I listen to music? On my smartphone. Every one of these answers above are nowhere near the same as how my grandmother Linda answered them. When she was a girl, the news aired on the radio only a couple of times a day. Her technological entertainment aired on the radio once a night for an hour or two. Every song she listened to was on the radio or from a record player. There was no Apple Music or Spotify for instant streaming of any one of the millions of songs available on those platforms. Instead, she shopped at the five-and-ten-cent store that was within walking distance. Records sold for twenty-five cents and had one song on each side. There were no ear buds for her to listen to her newly-purchased songs as she made the walk back home, let alone a means to portably play them. Her version of a portable music player could not fit into her pocket like mine can, and it was not rechargeable, or battery operated for that matter. She told me that it was “the size of a hard leather brief case that plugged into the wall in my room or in the living room.”
When she was eight years old, the first television came out. “They were huge pieces of furniture with six-inch screens at first.” Only once in my lifetime have I seen one of those television sets in person. Today, we think that a fifty-inch screen is small. The programs she watched each night came on at about seven in the evenings on weekdays. She specifically recalled a show called “Winky Dinky and You,” which had children solve various puzzles during the show. Another stark contrast between her interaction with TV and mine were the commercials. The commercials were much longer and therefore fewer during each program that she watched. There were not five to ten commercials advertising all sorts of new products like today. One or two products sponsored the program, and those were the companies that ran their commercials. Today, TV entertainment never stops, but it did back then. On the rare occasion that she stayed up late enough to see it, my grandmother remembered that all the stations shut down at around eleven or twelve at night and started back up again at seven or eight in the morning. If that happened today, I think some of my friends would have a panic attack and worry that they didn’t pay their cable bill.
Although it was enjoyable to hear stories of how Linda spent most of the day playing outside using her imagination and her evenings huddled around the radio listening to programs like “Shadow” on the living room floor with her sisters, it was not the highlight of my time with her. What was most salient was the content of the radio and television shows she listened to and watched nightly. I asked her if there was any type of vulgarity on the radio shows or television when they first came out, and she said the commercials and shows had “very modest dress and no cursing and [were] very clean and moral.” She told me that when the first commercial advertising for bras came out, the company used dummies to display them, and her teachers at school had all the kids in her class write letters because they said, “It will only get worse.” Someone in my generation would laugh at the idea of a bra on a dummy being considered bad, and to me, that is unnerving. I thought of an analogy while she was telling me this story. If a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out immediately to save itself from the danger, but if it is placed in a pot of room-temperature water and then that water is brought to a slow boil, the frog will never move. We are that frog. My grandma told me that when my dad was a young teenager is when commercials and shows made a shift. Little by little, the water’s temperature was tested as television producers and advertisement specialists pushed the border of acceptable content. Today, the water is boiling over.
People’s interactions with media and its entertainment have evolved vastly over the past seven decades. Whether today is worse or better is a subjective matter, but what I do know is that I live in a different world than my grandmother did when she was young. The question is not whether we should revert to then or accept now as it is, but we have to ask how we will interact with our current environment. Because how we choose to interact with the culture of media will determine tomorrow’s world. At the end of our recent conversation, my grandmother said, “Remember, Chase, there were no remotes!” This may seem like a simple, silly statement, but as I have let it play over and over in my head, I came to an unexpected conclusion. If I am not careful, I will become a product of the remote control times by sitting back and passively flipping carelessly through life. Rather, I want to get up to intentionally and diligently “change the channel” of history’s trajectory one day at a time. Remember, there are no remotes in life. Get up and change the channel.
Chase Windebank is a Colorado native who skydives and climbs. He grew up adventuring through the wilderness, often writing poetry about its beauty and searching for new creative challenges. He is passionate about family, the Christian Bible, writing, and keeping Colorado beautiful.