How Will They Ever Know?

Sharon SkypingIt 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.


Linda said...

Great post! I often think about such things, too, and enjoy including them in my stories. Remember when we had to crank down car windows with a handle? Remember having to lock each car door individually? Remember when no one had ever heard of seat belts? Or car seats for babies?

I especially appreciate your challenge to recall my emotions and thoughts the first time I sat in front of a computer. That's an experience that had not occurred to me before.

Thanks for today's inspiration.


Sharon Lippincott said...

Those car memories are definitely golden. Electronic windows are such a convenience, and scary when emergencies happen and there is no power. I'm so glad I don't have to contend with today's car seat laws! Keep writing!

SuziCate said...

Technology is amazing, isn't it. The mother of my godchildren wants me to start skyping...the whole idea sounds so intimidating, but you make it sound great! And yes, by all means we need to write those stories. Changes in my lifetime how been profound, but to think of the first time my dad rode and escalator or viewed a revolving door or hand dryer in a public restroom is mind boggling...I need to write down his versions of these things.

Arlee Bird said...

This is a post dear to my heart. I too like to write about these things that I knew once upon a time that later generations wouldn't think about.

I recall the House of the Future at Disneyland that included the video phone. I lived in Pittsburgh when I was a child in the late 1950s. I have yet to download songs into an Ipod, but I still have a few of those old 45s and a bunch of LPs. There is a disparity between what is familiar to me and what my kids take for granted. The world keeps moving so quickly.

Tossing It Out