While 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, man on the moon and the Miracle Mets, it is has also been four decades since my 10th birthday, making me reflect on how childhood has changed since then.
Gone: the anticipation of waiting for your favorite movie to appear on television. My favorite was The Wizard of Oz, which was broadcast once a year. Every morning of the week The Wizard was scheduled to air, my father would sing songs from the movie, working me into a frenzy. One year a rainbow appeared the afternoon the film played, and I was certain it was a message from the heavens. Today’s children have DVDs of their favorite movies, so watching them is no longer a special event.
Gone: the crank telephone call. Deepening my voice, I’d tell my victim that they had won $10,000 from WXRB radio’s “listen and win” contest. While some people hung up midway through my ruse, others played along. I hope nobody went on a shopping spree, in reliance on receiving my phantom check. Caller I.D. makes such pranks prohibitively risky today.
Gone: the end of the broadcast day. During sleepovers, my friends and I would watch television until a voice announced that it was the end of the broadcast day. The National Anthem would play, before the screen abruptly broke into static.
As the station went off the air I felt like I was in a suspended state, between yesterday and tomorrow. Nowadays, round-the-clock television programming fills the timeless void that marked my sleepovers.
Gone: ticket stubs. I would keep the ticket stub from every arena and stadium I visited; the torn paper marking my passage through the turnstiles and participation in the action. Scanner devices at turnstiles have eliminated the stub, leaving tickets without a trace of its owner’s interaction with the event.
Gone: library check-out cards. The cards, which were inserted in a pocket behind the cover, listed the names of everyone who ever borrowed the book, along with their due date. When my name was written on a card that had decades-old due dates, I felt linked to the past. Libraries now have computerized record-keeping systems. Bar codes occupy the space once reserved for check-out cards.
Gone: the walkie-talkie. My friends and I would talk through walkie-talkies that had a range of about one city block. Enthralled with our ability to communicate at a distance without the constraint of a telephone, we felt like Dick Tracy, with his telephonic-wristwatch. Cell phones make even Dick Tracy’s wristwatch seem passe.
Gone: the novelty of watching a sports team from another city. Aspiring professional athletes like myself could only see teams from outside New York when they played one of our teams, or were on the nationally televised “Game of The Week.” And sometimes even home games weren’t televised. It was so rare to see teams from the West Coast that whenever a superstar like Willie Mays or Wilt Chamberlin came to town, my friends and I would talk about it for days in advance. Fans can now regularly watch sporting events from all over the country and catch highlights on ESPN.
Almost gone: air mail. My parents sometimes received letters from abroad. The odd looking stamps gave the envelopes an exotic air. It gave me the sense that a piece of a foreign country had landed in my apartment. If email had been around 40 years ago it is unlikely that my parents would have received those letters.
Forever with us: the imagination of children, which finds wonder in everything.
Ben Krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the Upper East Side.
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