It took me a second to recognize the Skype ringtone. Knowing it must be Susan calling from New Zealand, I ran to my computer. We talked for a few minutes about the people she met whose home was destroyed in the earthquake. It’s in the Red Zone and can’t be rebuilt. She mentions that everywhere they go, Kiwis swarm around and strike up conversations. “They are so friendly, so unlike your average American! I love it down here!”
The girls told me they baked chocolate chip biscuits (British word for cookies) with their babysitter last night. They told me about other new words, like riding in lifts (elevators), and pushing trolleys through the grocery store.
When we hung up I had goose bumps. My girls are literally on the other side of the world, and we had just had a real-time video chat. Fifty years ago a computer-based video chat was beyond imagining.
I had goose bumps. The girls take it for granted, much like I took telephones, radios, flush toilets and electric lights for granted, but my grandmothers didn’t. What could I do to let these little girls know what life was like before WiFi, iPhones, and Homeland Security?
How can I clue them in that there was a time when anyone could walk out onto the runway to see someone off on a flight? How do I tell them about lighting stoves with matches, and the pleasure of standing on a floor furnace with hot air ballooning out your skirt? How will they ever know about 45 rpm vinyl disks that held only one song? What about typewriters? Or making cakes from scratch?
You already know the answer: I can write stories! I can write stories with detail rich scenes, dialog and tension-laden plots. These kids are not going to read how-to manuals.
"“How do you make a story about getting on an airplane exciting?” you ask. Adventure is a matter of perspective. A question as simple as “What will happen if I make cake icing with regular sugar instead of powdered?” can create tension. Remember how you felt when you first sat down in front of a computer? Use your description skills to convey that awe. You certainly faced plenty of challenges getting it to do things! I once read that many people feared electricity would gush into the room if they unscrewed the light bulb, and heaven only knew what would happen then! Wouldn’t you love to read a story written by someone who had faced that fear?
We live in a time of such change. I moved to Pittsburgh 26 years ago when the Monongahela River was lined with rusty abandoned steel mills. Today that real estate is covered with sparkling research and shopping centers. I never saw this area in the days when street lights were on all day if the mills ran at full capacity.
It’s entirely possible that ten years from now, half of all manufactured items will be made on 3D printers, completely revolutionizing industry and the world economy. Who will tell the story of what life is like now, and what it was like within our lifetimes? Does it matter? I think it does, and I believe it’s up to each of us to save our little piece of that history.
Write now: write a story about an amazing innovation in your life, like getting your own typewriter, or your first computer. Polish it up with description and a little dialogue – write your thoughts if no other people were involved. Send your story to somebody young, or somebody who will love the memories.