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The Technologies We Loved & Why

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Cassette Player

How nostalgia for old technology forms our social bonds

Remember those evenings when you sat by your boom box, fingers ready to leap into action to press the play/record buttons on the tape deck as soon as the song started? You just had to get that latest hit song recorded! You’d hope with bated breath that the DJ wouldn’t talk into the start of the song. And hit stop before the ads came on.

Perhaps you took a computer science course in junior high, and you learned Logos and made a ping pong game? You knew just what to do when the cassette tape got stuck in the player, either jammed up from a rewind or from just playing that tape over and over. Ah, those orange-coloured foam headphone covers. Our parents telling us to be careful walking into traffic.

Today we have hundreds of millions of songs of all genres from around the world in our pocket. Many of us play them on a portable speaker in our home that we talk to, or maybe yell at when it doesn’t get our request right. We call up old movies from a streaming service and we never have to rewind them or take them back before late fees kick in. And we take forever deciding what we want to watch.

Humans have been creating and evolving technologies since we figured out how to turn a chunk of stone into an axe nearly 2 million years ago. Technology is a part of who we are as humans; it plays a key role in our culture and societies. New technologies change our culture, then we use culture to change those technologies. It’s a cycle that’s been playing out for thousands of years.

rotary phone

When we look down at our smartphones today or fiddle with the touchscreen in our car that takes twenty pinky stabs just to turn down the heat, we get nostalgic. Often for what we perceive as a time when things were simpler. In a way they were, but mostly only in retrospect.

retro computer

The times were never quite as simple as we like to think. To our parents, life was already more complicated than it was, seemingly, when they were children. Figuring out how to use a Commodore 64 wasn’t that easy for many. Yet for some of us, it’s bragging rights to say we had one and used one.

Commiserating and telling stories about the technologies we used as kids in the ’70s and ’80s plays an important role in how we see the world today. Our children and grandchildren will never know the hassles of a cassette player and scrounging up AA batteries for your Walkman. How many kids today can use a rotary dial telephone?

Sometimes, new technologies are good. But it also contributes to losing some important moments for bonding with families and friends. The days of cameras and film for example, and family photo albums. We took greater care with the photos we posed for. We considered the cost of printing and we thought about a photo we took because it would tell future generations a story.

We dreaded our parents bringing out the family photo album of our childhood when we brought home a high school love interest. Yet we loved to sit with our grandparents and go through their photo albums. Now we share our kids first and last days of school on Facebook waiting for the likes to pour in.

The technologies of our youth may seem quaint and simple now, but they played important roles in our development. They opened doors to future careers for some, especially those who became software developers, professional photographers, writers, scientists, and engineers. Boomers and Gen X saw exciting new opportunities that could be achieved with these technologies.

Perhaps the best part about those technologies of the ’60s through the ’80s was that they weren’t always on. That they didn’t intrude on every aspect of our lives. That some made life a little more convenient (hello microwave oven!), while others sparked our imagination and creativity.

We still played outside all day, coming in for lunch and dinner. We had adventures and we explored. Technology was around us, not on us. We are nostalgic for those technologies, those days, because they help us bond with one another in our age group and reflect on the kind of world we’d rather create and still can.

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