And Now, A Small Example of What a Generation Gap Looks Like

It looks like this:

Me (carrying the downstairs phone into Athena’s room): I need someplace to put this while the new kitchen counters are installed. Do you have a phone jack in your room?

Athena: A what?

Me: A phone jack.

Athena: I… I don’t know what that is.

(Both of us stare blankly at the other for several seconds in mutual but separate disbelief)

And now you know.

188 Comments on “And Now, A Small Example of What a Generation Gap Looks Like”

  1. A friend’s very small child was recently spotted waving his hands over a print magazine, to make the pictures move about like an ipad…..

  2. I believe a phone jack is what is used to lift up a phone when you need to change the wires, right?

  3. Why would a phone need a jack? Can’t you just use wifi when you lose cell signal?

  4. At some point, we’re going to have to quit using the word “dial” when talking about entering somebody’s phone number into the phone.

    And, what is it with the icon used by pretty much every program to tell it to save your working document? A floppy disk? When was the last time anybody saw any of those?

    Get off my lawn, you kids!

  5. speaking of wall unit phones, my friend’s 17 yo was enamored with an old rotary dial phone we had lying around the office. he couldn’t believe it was a telephone. i stared at him like he was an alien.

  6. A few years ago, my husband’s nephew (who was in college at the time), called him to ask him how to mail a regular letter. You know, in the mail. With a stamp.

  7. My sister’s 18 year old step-daughter was absolutely astonished that our aunt and uncle still have a wall phone in their kitchen. And that they still use it.

  8. Heh. I remember at my grandparents’ place in the 1970s, they still had a party line.

    Kids of today has it easy, I tells you!

  9. We still have a landline 1) because that’s how we get DSL, 2) because I believe in redundant communication systems. If one phone/Internet system goes out, the other one is usually still working.

  10. My son: chatter chatter chatter (inhale) chatter chatter chatter…

    Me: You sound like a broken record.

    My son: What’s a record?

    Me: (heavy sigh)

  11. a moment that has been replayed endlessly over and over since the beginning of the technological revolution. Thankfully, due to the arc of progress, Athena will experience many more of those moments with her own children than you with her.

  12. Tell her it is where some people in cities plug in their routers so they can connect to the Internet rather than using cable.

  13. I can’t remember where I saw it, but there was a series of short videos from France in which they showed little kids old tech and asked them to guess what it was for. Some of the “old” stuff included floppy disks and even cassette tapes!

  14. Ha! My son and I were recently discussing rearranging the furniture in our family room to make room for a chair and I told him that the television couldn’t be moved. He asked why. I said ‘because it has to plug into the cable.’ He asked why. I said…’um, uh, well,’ as light dawned. We’ve been getting television via the internet and running off wireless for years. The television sits next to the spot in the wall where cable used to be delivered but it’s not connected to anything and there’s no reason it can’t be moved. I’ve just been a little slow to adapt to the concept.

  15. I never use them new-fangled phones. The voices coming from that candlestick scare me!

    Pardon me why I go churn some butter.

  16. I do occasionally have to remind the kids that we don’t have wifi in the car…

  17. Friend of mine was unable to call home from the (rotary, wall) phone in my parents’ kitchen because she didn’t know what to do with a phone that didn’t have press buttons. This was in about 1989. We were twelve.

  18. Dialing a phone…
    Going to see a film…
    Looking for a phone booth…
    Listening to a 45…

    Always onwards.

  19. Reminds me of the conversations I had with tech suppot clients attempting to explain what a network jack looks like. Suprising how many of them couldn’t understand the concept that it’s like a phone jack but bigger.

  20. A friend of mine was managing tech at a conference where some younger volunteers reported to him that one of the TV monitors was broken. When he checked on it it seemed fine, but the old VHS player it was connected to had reached the end of the tape.
    The volunteers had never seen a screen displaying white noise before. They had expected it just to turn blue when the presentation was finished.

  21. I told my kids about how when I was growing up we had 4 channels. Then we got cable TV and went to ~20 channels.

    They were horrified that we only had 20 channels.

    They also don’t understand the concept of renting movies – we’ve been using Netflix streaming for years now. Prior to that we had movies mailed to us or purchased PPV movies from our cable provider.

  22. I remember back in the early 80’s astounding my much-younger sister when I told her that
    …Paul McCartney was in another band before “Wings”
    …Edward Kennedy had two older brothers who were involved in politics.

  23. But– but– you still need a jack to plug in even a cordless phone, regardless of who’s supplying the connection. Does Athena simply never use the landline?

    (I’m with you on the benefits of redundant communication systems. We NYers have had a bit of experience with what happens when the biggest cell tower in the area goes down while everyone is trying to make calls. I was pissed off when Verizon insisted on replacing my copper wire with their fiber optic system. 8-hour battery back-up is not the same as permanent phone power!)

    In fairness, though, I’m not sure I knew what a phone jack was when I was her age. Our phones were plugged into the wall more or less permanently. In the early 90s I spent a day going around my parents’ house and replacing all the old phone connectors (4-prong box-like things; google “old phone jacks” for pics) with modern plug-in jacks.

  24. I have a perfectly usable white rotary dial phone that we bought from Sears for $25 back when the phone company was forced to allow people to buy (rather than rent – supposedly for repair purposes, but these things were sturdy and never broke down) their own phones.

    It is plugged into the upstairs bedroom, and works fine – I used it just the other day. It only has two wires, but the connector to the wall jack is the same (IT only uses two wires, but the designers had plans for four even in more ancient ones).

    It has the best voice quality of any phone in the house, plugged in, wireless, or cell (we have all kinds).

    Now THAT’S backward compatibility for you.

  25. Smartphones use an image of a “classical” phone handset as an icon for the phone function – typically green to answer, red to hang up (wait, “hang up”??). I’ve often wondered when folks would not understand the icon, or question why this odd shape is used as a phone symbol.

  26. Saith Our Gracious Host, “I believe in redundant communication systems. If one phone/Internet system goes out, the other one is usually still working.”

    Furthermore, cell towers typically have battery backup for about 6 hours; the central offices that provide dial tone on a standard landline have honkin’ big diesel generators that will run essentially indefinitely, provided the zombies haven’t cut off the supply of diesel fuel.

  27. –E: Many years ago, my inlaws bought an old country house in rural TX that was built a little more than a hundred years ago. My husband also had to go around the house replacing the old four-pronged jacks. When they updated the wiring, they donated the original breaker box to the county historical society :-)

    In other news, I still remember reading about how a woman’s teenage daughter said to her one day “I wish phones had cords on them that were attached to something–that way you’d never lose them!”

  28. I recently had my credit card replaced and the numbers on it were not raised like they used to be. Remember how they used to make carbon copies of the numbers with a special device at cash register at the end of a shopping transaction? Christ, I’m only 27 and I feel like I should be walking around with a CANE.

  29. When we bought the house we now live in, we found phone jacks all over the place. There are two in this room, one in each of the other bedrooms, two in the kitchen, and at least two in the garage. We only ever use one, as we have one of them whiz-bang multi-handset cordless things. My wife still does have an old rotary desk phone, but I am pretty sure it wouldn’t work with the VOIP setup.

  30. When we built our house in 07, they wired it for phones, using CAT6 cable. I’d already planned on using phone over cable (Comcast) so I just put Ethernet jacks on the cables and plugged in a switch where they all converge outside be house. I don’t use it for desktop systems but it keeps my servers and backup systems connected.

    Yeah, daughter (12) has no idea about wired networking until high winds knocked out cable, phone, and TV. She was confused cause wireless router and stuff in home were working: just no YouTube or Netflix. Ended up drawing diagrams.

  31. A phonejack is like a lumberjack, only geekier. Sadly, this artisanal profession is vanishing, along with the rich cultural and technical history behind it.

  32. Reminds me; need to get up attic and install HDTV antenna. We’re line-of-sight for transmission towers. Can at least get news and PBS during zombie attack.

  33. The city brought in buses when I was 2 but the family often said “street car” I have never had anything but a refrigerator but the family called it the “icebox”. I still use those terms, its a hard habit to break!

  34. @Brian: I told my kids about how when I was growing up we had 4 channels.

    I always love it when I get to the part where if President Nixon made a speech, your whole TV viewing night was shot!! ;-)

  35. We still have a couple of touch-tone phones with RJ11 connectors — but the actual service is fiber-optic cable. When the power goes down, we have a backup battery to provide service for a day or two, but that’s it.

    Hasn’t Athena seen the RJ45 Ethernet connectors? They’re easily mistaken for phone jacks.

  36. Some years back, I pulled up some image similar to this: and showed it to my older daughter, Molly, and we had the following conversation.

    Me: Do you know what that is?
    Molly: It’s a dish of some kind.
    Me: Do you know what it’s for?
    Molly: Uhhhhhhh……. candy?
    Me: No. That’s an ashtray.
    Molly: THAT’S what an ashtray looks like? [peers intently at image with sudden new interest.] I always assumed they looked more like a TRAY.

    She had read books that mentioned ashtrays, but she’d been envisioning them as, like, cookie-sheet sized flat things, not little dishes. She did have one friend at the time with a parent who smoked, but he always smoked outside, and his butts went into an old tin can.

    (This is the sort of generation gap that fills my heart with joy, actually. Some change is good.)

  37. John, Athena is welcome to intern with me this summer while I go around county extension offices taking out old RJ11/12 jacks & 2-pair or Cat3 wiring for the new stuff. I need someone small to crawl through attics and walls. She’ll learn all about telecommunications. :-)

  38. We still have an old rotary dial phone on the wall in the garage. Total power fail, it still works, and it does, indeed, have the best audio quality of all of the phones we have.

    She does know that self-coiling handset cords are a “modern” invention? Wait, does she know there are handsets with cords?

    Card dialer phones? I had one of these in the 60’s, cool gadget but it needed more space for dialer card storage. Card Dialer Image

  39. My daughter will know what a floppy disk and CRT monitor are, but only because I’ll show her relics of my childhood computers. Most of her cohort won’t. The next generation of kids won’t know what a DVD or Blu-Ray is either and will think of physical media as a quaint idea.

    Thanks to the city fathers having their heads up their behinds, she might not know what a sidewalk is. :(

  40. The comments here are pure gold!

    a different phil: Last week I found a bright yellow 3.5″ disk in an old briefcase my boss was throwing away. I also found $1.38 in change, which was a tad more exciting. :-)

    John Winkelman: Same for “carbon copies.”

    ABE: I also still have my first phone, purchased when we were finally allowed to own our own and not rent from Ma Bell. The design was called “Genie,” and it had buttons arranged in a circle, like a dial; you can google it to see a picture. Wish it still worked – graceful design, like a sculpture.

    Lots of commenters: The fact that we still use a graphic of an old-fashioned handset on cell phone buttons is constantly debated by the usability people. The cool thing is that there are now “retro handsets” you can plug into your cell phone’s 3.5mm jack. These will make a HUGE difference for elderly folks who don’t have the dexterity to hold a cell phone without pressing buttons unintentionally; wish it had been available for my mom.

  41. Progress, eh? Talking to one of my daughter’s teachers, they’re starting to get kids whose only experience with computers at home is tablets. Confronted with a PC with a separate keyboard at school, they start poking at the monitor and get confused when nothing happens :-)

  42. I looked at a house a while back where the wiring wasn’t insulated. It was “post and tube” where it was strung tightly from ceramic posts and when it had to go through a wall or beam, there were ceramic tubes they put the wire through. No other insulation at all.

    We passed on it. I like insulation and didn’t want to rewire the place. This was in the middle of Silicon Valley.

  43. @Laura, let me help with that: one summer, when I was home from college, I worked at a 7-11. Not only did we use a credit card imprinter (complete with asking people if they wanted the carbons), but we had a price book to use when pricing items, because we didn’t have a barcode scanner. (I don’t remember if products had barcodes at the time or not.)

    And I’m only one generation older than you … but in retail terms, it feels more like three generations, and I don’t even do that work any more. (Did I mention things like $1.25/gallon gas? $1.25/pack cigarettes?)

  44. Don’t worry. Once the youngins perfect assimilation, there will be no more confusion. Just put your head into the machine over here, grampa…

  45. Electronic book readers are dead.
    Kindle was introduced in 2007 (Yes there were a a couple of tiny examples in 2006.)
    Less that 6 years later, the category is dead.

  46. @Laura: Apropos of the credit card, how many people Athena’s age know that the “cc” address line in their e-mail came from “carbon copy”…and know what a carbon copy WAS?

    (You scare me a little: I recently had to do a credit card transaction for a Federally-issued credential and their computer system was down for the day, so the clerk had to use the old-style imprinter and carbon slip. If I’d had the type of card you’re describing, I’d have wasted a four-hour round trip and have to make a second one the next day.)

  47. Typing paper became copier paper and printer paper. So some of the labels change over time.

    Dial a phone (and get them on the line). Sure the word describes an archaic process, but the meaning has changed to mean placing a phone call. Make a call or place a call or call someone have started replacing dial. But, like soda, pop and coke, dial might hand around forever as a regional version.

  48. “If I’d had the type of card you’re describing, I’d have wasted a four-hour round trip and have to make a second one the next day.”

    Nope. If the card is worn, you can fill out the slips with a pen. Not everyone had a imprinter. I worked in a greeting card store in the Sears Tower, where we filled slips out by hand.

    How soon before greeting cards die??

  49. My daughter asked the other day how stamps worked…
    And because I grew up in a rural area, when I talk about having a party line as a kid, even people my age are like “omg, my sister racked up so many charges on a party line until my parents stopped her” and I have to say ‘no — a shared phone line. Not that $3.99/minute talk with other teen thing that cityfolk had in the 80s.’

  50. Peter, could you offer some evidence that “electronic book readers are dead”? That’s a pretty strong assertion without much to back it up. Personally I use an Android phone, an iPad, and a Kindle, and if I’m going to read for more than a few minutes I’d much rather use the Kindle. The e-ink screens beat the heck out of backlit LCDs for eye strain.

    For whoever asked above, my mom just bought a brand new house and it does have phone jacks. I was almost surprised to see them when we first looked at the house. But the cabling run to them is all Cat6 and they run back to a central box inside the house, so they could easily be changed to network jacks in an hour or so.

  51. @Laura: I recently stayed at a hip, modern hotel in NY and they took an imprint of my card in addition to running it through the reader. I wonder what they’d have done with a perfectly flat card?

    Also, doesn’t that make them easier to counterfeit?

    I have a candlestick phone with the 4-prong plug which still works (with an adapter for modern jacks). The sound is abysmal, but it looks neat.

  52. @Peter: True, but I seem to remember that many banks stopped accepting completely handwritten slips some time ago.

    I worked retail in the same era: I also remember having to look up any credit card for purchases over $50 in the printed bulletins of stolen/suspended card numbers that came out every week.

  53. The house I grew up in didn’t have phone jacks; the phones were hard-wired to the wall, and if you wanted a new phone, you had to have the phone company install it for you*. (And I am younger than our host, and so is that house.)

    *Not because it was difficult to do, but because the telco owned the equipment and would not provide support for “bootleg” phones.

  54. Don: how many people Athena’s age know that the “cc” address line in their e-mail came from “carbon copy”…

    I thought it was short for “credit card”. Isn’t that how you pay postage for email? By credit card?

  55. I still fill in the slips by pen. Many of the art shows I do process credit cards for me; for the ones that don’t, I fill out duplex paper slips by hand, no knuckle-buster imprinter, then run them through the Saturday Market when I get home.

    But I’m seriously considering getting a cell phone and Square(TM) one of these years…

    What? I’m a potter. I’m still using cutting edge 6th century technology…

  56. @Martin: We’ve been saying for years that the “sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” won’t mean the same thing for younger readers, but hearing of it happen is still scary.

  57. The thing that gets me shaking my head is, remember when we couldn’t tell if the photos we took were any good until we got them developed? And it was a big trade-off to take extra shots just in case because you would fill up the roll? And developing was expensive. (Or conversely, taking extra shots to finish the roll so you could get it developed?) And you had to order extra prints if you wanted to give extras to friends or family, and you had to find the negatives and look at the numbers on the edges to pick which prints to order, and leaving them with the camera store or drugstore for days? Heck, as an amateur photographer I was so proud of mastering the skills to wind film on a spiral reel for developing in a darkroom, and printing my own, just the black&white, of course. I even had a special marker to fill in the redeye on prints by hand.

    So, so different now.

  58. *giggles* I remember replacing all of my mother’s old 4-prong phone plugs with jacks in the mid 80s. I had just taken stage lighting so I “knew about electricity”. Also installed a couple of dimmer switches over that same vacation.

    I recently was asked to explain “wireless” to my mother – she wanted “one of those ipad things”. I had to draw pictures.

    I don’t think my condo has any phone jacks, and now that I have a wifi router I don’t even have a cable input. I do, however, still have the old natural gas connector in the kitchen if I ever want a gas stove.

  59. A land line is essential. During hurricane Ike, it was the only thing that worked.

  60. @George E. Mitchell – The claim was, I think until the MCI lawsuit that broke up the Bell System, that connecting any non-Bell-approved device to the network risked degrading service. (Which gave us another piece of now-unrecognizable technology: the acoustic-coupler modem, which was “legal” since you weren’t connecting it to the line, just plonking the handset into it and letting the computer talk/listen.)

    @Not that Frank: Seems I was misinformed, then. (My sister sells her work at ren faires and the like, and went through several iterations of credit-card processing. Not sure what she’s using these days – I know the first electronic setup she had turned out to be something of a scam.)

  61. And, what is it with the icon used by pretty much every program to tell it to save your working document? A floppy disk? When was the last time anybody saw any of those?

    I’ve wondered about that one, but what should replace it? A little picture of an SD card, perhaps a cloud? I’m not sure that a picture of a hard drive would be at all enlightening to those who don’t open computers.

    At this point I suppose we need an icon for “save” that means what it means.

    One area where we don’t have this problem is the icons for devices that play audio & video streams. We’ve gone from cassettes to video on demand, and the symbols for stop, play, go backward (not so much rewind anymore), record and pause are still the same. Some of these are more intuitive than others, but we’ve come to accept them.

    There is some speculation here about what some of them are meant to resemble.

    Little scissors for cut, little pieces of paper for copy, and little pictures of a clip board feature in the edit menu of Microsoft outlook. Did the clipboard ever make sense? I’ve done newspaper paste-up with a cutter and machine to apply hot wax, but to me a clipboard is a thing used to sign for packages and work orders. I’ve never seen it as a place to store things for pasting.

    Top Gear’s James May has pointed out that the standard symbol in Britain for a traffic camera is a 19th century sort of bellows camera and the symbol for telephone resembles what they used to scramble Spitfires in the Battle of Britain.

  62. My family had a real icebox, not to mention a fuse box (not circuit breakers). I also remember when dial phones arrived in my home town (in the 1950s) and you had to look up the number instead of telling the operator who you wanted to call. It wasn’t well known, but after a long enough time, I think it was eight years, you owned the phone and could take it with you if you moved (note that “if” – people often stayed in one home for most of their lives), and in the new place the phone company had to install it. I knew one person who did that in the early 1970s; the phone was so old, they had to send an executive out who still knew how to install that kind from his earliest job as an installer.

  63. …the one that always makes me feel a little sad is that I no longer need to “shoot out the roll of film” when coming home from a vacation.

  64. We use multiple-handset cordless phones in our house to connect to the land line (VOIP now). I love the invention of cell phones, but I’ve yet to use a cell phone that sounds as good, or is as comfortable as a land line. Perhaps if we had better cell coverage at home I could replicate the experience with one of those USB telephone handsets.

    I can easily see how a kid growing up in a house so equipped might be unaware that the bigger charging unit with the answering machine not only has a wall plug but a phone line.

  65. @Peter I agree with Josh here. E-ink readers are more comfortable on the eyes, have a longer lasting battery, and make it possible to lounge on a sunny beach and still be able to read the screen.

    My ‘get off my lawn’ story is that my high school typing class had electric typewriters for us to learn on. It also had a one Apple IIe for us to practice on, as well as one manual typewriter. Most of us encountered the manual typewriter out in the wild before we encountered a computer.

  66. I wonder if kids are more familar with wall phones in areas that are more prone to hurricanes?

    Long power outages are one of the main reasons I’ve never been tempted to switch to my cable company for phone service, much less get rid of the landline all together.

  67. My son was 5 in 1992, and one day he came running into the kitchen…”Mom, Mom! The TV is broken!!” So I followed him into the living room and the TV was…showing a black & white movie. He’d never seen anything but full color.

    I have read that kids today may never have a computer, as such. All their digital access will be done via tablet, smartphone or whatever those devices mutate into in the next few years. I envision something like a small phone, that unfolds into a tablet, that unfolds again into full-size screen w/keyboard. Powered by ambient light like calculators (what?). Either that or internally installed wetware that projects data onto our retinas. You control the mouse by moving your tongue against your teeth, and click the button by hitting yourself in the nose…

  68. I was so proud of mastering the skills to wind film on a spiral reel for developing in a darkroom, and printing my own, just the black&white, of course.

    Some of the stuff that I learned in photography still serves me well and other parts, not so much.

    I took a one-year typing course in junior high. Half of the course was about learning how to quickly type the characters without lookout at the keyboard. Half of the course was about learning how to type columns of numbers by setting tabs, and centering titles by using the backspace key, leaving room at the bottom of the page for the footnotes and other formatting tasks. The first half still serves me very well. As for the second half, software generally does that stuff.

    It must be more than 20 years since I’ve used a typewriter and even then, I was using it to fill out a form with pre-printed blanks. I do shop at a store that uses an Okidata Microline 80 to print carbon receipts. I assumed that it was ancient beyond words, but it turns out that it has a USB port.

  69. We moved in to a new house last autumn that had been rebuilt in 2005. It took us two weeks after moving in to realize there were zero phone jacks in the entire place!

  70. @Josh Cochran The iPad is a iOS device, and the Kindle Fire is actually an Android device. But dedicated ereader devices like the Nook or the older kindles are on their way to obsolete. It’s the multipurpose devices that are winning and the single-purpose ones that are not. (The eink screen isn’t necessarily dead as it’s tech doesn’t have to be tied to those older ereaders.)

    Does anyone remember Wang word processors? A similar single-purpose device that’s long gone.

  71. @Don Hilliard: “The claim was, I think until the MCI lawsuit that broke up the Bell System, that connecting any non-Bell-approved device to the network risked degrading service. (Which gave us another piece of now-unrecognizable technology: the acoustic-coupler modem, which was “legal” since you weren’t connecting it to the line, just plonking the handset into it and letting the computer talk/listen.)”

    Actually, it was the FCC Carterfone decision (not the MCI order) that allowed for connecting devices to the phone network, but even post-Carterfone (1968-1978), the only way to connect devices to the network was acoustically, hence the acoustic coupler. It wasn’t until FCC Part 68 rules were finalized and survived lawsuits (1978) that the RJ11 jack became the standard interface to the telephone network.

    Yes, I am a phone geek.

  72. When I worked in retail, we still had to check the booklet of “stolen” credit card numbers every time we had a credit card purchase to make sure that the card wasn’t stolen or out of date. *Shudder*

  73. “It looks like a baby Ethernet plug.”

    Wired networks are enough faster that we still use ’em for stuff.

  74. I once spent a VERY long time trying to explain why we say “hang up” the phone to a english language learner. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have tried to explain what the old crank handle phones looked like even if my parents do have one in their kitchen.

  75. Oh Kevin, I’m not even slightly sad about the film thing. I’m not much of a photographer, but digital cameras are so much easier to use, take better pictures, you don’t have to worry about the film, it is much cheaper, etc.
    I second many of the comments made above – although my nook ereader works just fine, thank you, and is easier on the eyes than a lit computer screen.
    By the way, I was looking for something on my desk at home the other day and ran across my slide rule that I used in High School and College.

  76. I don’t know about wireless TV. Maybe my wifi just sucks. But I can’t get signal from one end of my house (where the wifi/router is located) to the other (where my TV is located). Or I can, but it just drops all the time. I fished some cat5 through the walls. Now, apparently, I need to run cat5 to my TV?

    that’s crazy talk.

    I got rid of my vinyl records a while ago, but I still have a rather large column of CD’s. I don’t play them much, but when I do, I always hold them by the edges.

    we have a cabinet chock full of VHS tapes.

    I have some floppy disks in a closet somewhere… (3.5″ no 5.25″s)

    I’m still slightly boggled by solid state hard drives. Something that small used to hold data measured in bytes, not gigabytes.

    All we need are flying cars and Rosie, and we’d be in the Jetsons.

  77. Elizabeth, I too have had the experience of having to teach an older kid — in this case a high school senior — how to send streetmail. This included the fact that they sell stamps at the post office and will take cash.

    One of these days I’ll have to get that kid better clued in. Might take her to the movies, maybe even to one of those new “talkies.”

    Sometime a while back I wrote a short piece on InternetEvolution about the likely final outcome: everyone will have one wireless device, which knows it’s you by some biometric identification method, and which allows you to access all the software, entertainment, and information you have access rights to. You’ll buy the device as needed from a vending machine, and probably toss it in the recycler at the end of the day unless it’s more convenient to have it there first thing in the morning. All the specialty machines in our era’s entertainment will be a puzzlement to the youth of that probably-within-my-lifetime; they won’t see why you had one gadget to play music, another to write on, a third one for voice and text communication, a fourth one to cook popcorn, a fifth one that drove the car … my nomination for the does-everything-by-wireless-access device’s name was the “dingus,” but I suspect it will actually be some not yet coined term.

  78. It feels weird remembering that in the same mid-90s year I was teaching an older-generation representative how to use a mouse (“See how the little arrow on the screen moves when you move your hand?”) and explaining to a younger-generation representative what a cassette tape was.

  79. Phil Royce @1.49: I’ve still got my dad’s slide rule– that he was given by his dad– in my desk (I’m 45), the slide rule must be 60 years old now.

    It still works, no batteries required. Of course I don’t actually use the thing! Its only value is sentimental.

  80. I’m a librarian at a university. I used to sit at the reference desk a few hours a week, and *more than once* encountered students who didn’t realize the library had books in it! They’d never ventured past the first floor, which contains group study areas, computer labs, and a small cafe. Whatever research they’d done was done online.

    Did I mention these weren’t freshmen? One was a junior!

  81. Or you could just show her the picture from your previous post, in which the phone jack is clearly visible.

  82. @Mike: “Top Gear’s James May has pointed out that the standard symbol in Britain for a traffic camera is a 19th century sort of bellows”

    In some places the sign for a train (say at a level crossing) is an old-fashioned choo-choo train with steam. But the sign for a plane (say, warning of low aircraft near airports) is usually a clean plan view, presumably antigrav as there are no engines.

  83. “At this point I suppose we need an icon for “save” that means what it means.”

    We have one- it’s the disk icon. Meanings of things evolve over time, so that icon has taken on that specific meaning to all the people who’ve never used a floppy.

    Just as we called them floppy disks when they were never, from the typical user’s POV, either floppy or, you know, a disk.

    (Because I know how people are – yes, I know the disk was inside the case, but it’s a rare person who ever saw them)

    This is more common with phrases, quite a lot of which have been divorced from the what the words were referring to. It’s a rare person who knows what a petard is or why it would hoist you.

  84. “At this point I suppose we need an icon for “save” that means what it means.”

    We have one- it’s the disk icon. Meanings of things evolve over time, so that icon has taken on that specific meaning to all the people who’ve never used a floppy.

    I had something a little less fiddly in mind. Perhaps a blue square with a white rectangle superimposed where the “label” goes.

  85. khavrinen:

    “Or you could just show her the picture from your previous post, in which the phone jack is clearly visible.”

    Actually that’s an electrical outlet with a circuit breaker on it, not a phone jack.

  86. @Don Hillard:

    “Apropos of the credit card, how many people Athena’s age know that the “cc” address line in their e-mail came from “carbon copy”…and know what a carbon copy WAS?”

    These are the conversations I have with my nine year old niece. She got a tablet/ereader for Christmas this last year and spent much of the next week sending emails and instant messages to family and a few select friends. I can’t remember why the subject even came up, but I did end up explaining to her what both cc and bcc meant. Which prompted her to start ccing me on the emails she sent to my parents/her grandparents and vice versa for a while. Just to experiment, I imagine.

    What I wonder about are the kids whose parents never learned what any of that meant. Because they never worked in offices or never had reliable internet/computer access themselves.

    @Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I’m still teaching people how to use mice – and not just young kids that have only used tablets. Things I often need to say out loud to people at the library:

    -left click is the default
    -you can pick the mouse up and set it back down if you run out of space on the desk
    -a small movement with the mouse is a bigger movement on screen
    -guide the mouse with the palm of you hand – leaving you fingers free for clicking
    -hold the mouse steady while clicking so that the click doesn’t make the mouse move

  87. Had this conversation with my little brother:

    Me: for my astronomy class, I had to calculate the positions of all of the planets in the solar system, at the precise moment of my birth. It took me days.
    Him: you couldn’t just look it up on the internet?
    Me: Oh, there was no internet.
    Him (horrified): they didn’t let you use the internet at school?
    Me: I mean, there really was no internet at all. Okay, maybe a little. Some people had email addresses. But it wasn’t, you know, widespread.
    Him: …
    Me: …
    Him: I didn’t realize you were that old.
    Me: It was only 1992.

  88. A few weeks ago we packing up all our belongings in preparation of moving. While cleaning out one of the closest, I stumbled upon a set of encyclopedias that were (for reasons unknown) tucked away in the back corner of the top shelf. This discovery prompted a conversation about encyclopedia salesmen and how amazing it was when Encyclopedia Britannic gave its subscribers the entire encyclopedia set on those new ‘compact discs’ for home computers.

  89. Tangozulu, my house has a little bit of knob-and-tube wiring left because (a) the electrician says that when correctly installed it’s still safe and (b) the bits that are still correctly installed are really, really hard to get to, which is why the last 100 years of good-enough renovations haven’t made them dangerous.

    The stuff that *was* easy to get too…. whoo. It’s amazing that the optimistic plumbing didn’t interact disastrously with the optimistic wiring. (Lumber a hundred years ago in Washington State was *really good*, so the house is overengineered in some ways by modern standards. Good thing.) We started to improve the kitchen by taking off a counter that had worn through in spots (thread merge!) and there kept being…. bad stuff made visible with every alteration. Walls went back to the studs. Floors came up. Plumbing stack rationalized! It had original hammered-in-place lead fittings with the pear-shaped cross section that goes right back to ancient Rome!

    Which is mostly fixed now, but we have less money for the pretty than we expected. We did go back to the original 9′ ceilings in the kitchen, and there is no longer a Jacuzzi directly off the dining-room. (That must have been the 1970s.) I am relieved that the Scalzi alteration is unusually bounded.

    Best commiseration: wall rabbits. Neighbors took down a dented piece of drywall and discovered rabbits warrening in the walls.

  90. I tend to re-use computer cases when I build new machines. So I still have computers with floppy drives physically present, even though I haven’t bothered to connect them to the motherboard for years. Yesterday, my nearly 4-year-old daughter was examining one of my older computers and said, “What does this button do?” and pointed at the floppy eject button.
    “That ejects the disk if there’s one in there,” I said.
    “And if there isn’t one in there, the tray comes out so you can put one in?”
    “No, honey. It’s not that kind of disc. That’s for a special kind called a floppy disk.”
    “What’s a floppy disk?”

    Apparently, this mystery left an impression as she asked me again today, “What’s a floppy disk?” So now I need to see if I even have any to show her.

  91. Thinking about the pre-Internet era freaks me out a little because, even though I was well out of college before the Internet really existed, I can no longer remember what it’s like not to have it. The Internet has so thoroughly colonized my imagination that it has sometimes happened that, when I’m trying to remember a personal experience from childhood, I have caught myself starting to form the subconscious thought that I can somehow Google it.

  92. Wang word processors – yes, I do remember.

    And I’m keeping my slide rule (and the instruction manual) (and a magnifying glass to read said manual) – you never know when a global brownout might occur.

    Am I the only one who, prior to the days of MapQuest, used to figure out approximately where addresses were by perusing the yellow pages to see what was nearby? I.e., “Is that shoe store on Main St. closer to the auto dealership or to the custard stand? Which side of the street is it on – same as the Post Office?” Those were the days …

  93. I’ve wondered about that one, but what should replace it? A little picture of an SD card, perhaps a cloud? I’m not sure that a picture of a hard drive would be at all enlightening to those who don’t open computers.

    I’ve read studies on this. (Yeah, someone actually did a study.) Turns out that even though younger folks don’t have any idea what that little icon literally represents, they know it means “Save”. Trying to replace it with other symbols just led to confusion.

    I’m waiting for the day when a student comes to the library reference desk with a VHS tape in hand and asks me what it is.

  94. I’m 42, but I’m in currently in college. Today we were discussing how birthdays aren’t the same once you’re past the age of 21. I said that I did celebrate my “33 1/3” birthday party. Only one person in the group got the meaning! (Zie also knew exactly what people brought me as presents.)

  95. Wang, yes. And CPT. The difference between a floppy disk and a flippy disk, the three sizes and which corners to cut for what. I still have the slide rule I used in high school, that I used in the first class I taught — Slide Rule 101.

  96. A lot of Android cloud apps use a checkmark as their save icon, and a big X as the cancel icon. That seems like a simple enough system.

  97. There’s also bookmarks, which have nothing to do with books when they’re on web browsers or used to mark places on maps in computer games.

    I remember the first time I saw someone order a pizza while we were in the car driving to his house. Up until that point, it had never occurred to me that you could do that – because to make phone calls you have to go to a specific spot inside your house, so you had to get home FIRST and THEN order the pizza. Not order first, and get there at the same time as the pizza. That was mind-boggling to me. It still took me a year or two after I got my first cell phone to grok that I could make phone calls from anywhere, not just my house.

    Went through the same thing when I got my Macbook Air. Suddenly, I could carry my entire online life around with me instead of being stuck at a desk.

    My car still has hand-crank windows. Just in case of being trapped by a flood you know. Though I’ve heard that newer cars have windows that automatically roll down if the car is submerged, so I guess for my next car I’ll have to give up on hand cranks.

  98. So how do kids react to Back to the Future? In a couple years, 1985 will be just as distant from the present as from 1955. I’m trying to remember what goes on in the present and how strange it would seem to younger viewers. I assume that kids don’t really see “Doc you built a time machine? Out of a DeLorean?” as much of a laugh line. Is it clear that Marty’s Walkman didn’t exist in 1955?

  99. In my previous life as a reference librarian, I was once asked what the “cc” line in email actually stood for. (Being around inquiring minds most of the time is one of the best parts of a library job!)
    Of course, once I’d told them it stands for “carbon copy”, I had to tell them what carbon paper was. Got to trot out my stories about the times I put the carbon paper in backwards and had no usable copies because the original was so thoroughly messed up by all that smeary black stuff, or the fun of trying to read someone else’s carbon copy which had been made using a sheet of carbon paper that had worn to gray.
    The inquiring minds were astonished at how hard we had it in the old days.
    I also once got to look like a math genius by showing a couple of students how to do long division by hand, with just pencil and paper. They were in awe at the power of the human mind. Truly–they didn’t think it was quaint, but were honestly impressed. I do think they went right back to using a calculator as soon as they could get their hands on one, just as I am not about to churn my own butter.

  100. Oh, and I am extremely glad that if I ever go back to school again, I won’t have to run down to the PO to get a paper time stamped before midnight of fill-in-the-date. The guys who worked those weird hours in that rough part of town (v trendy area now) were always quite cheerful and helpful, though.

  101. Remember when there were no debit cards, and no ATMs? If you were too young to have a credit card, and wanted to buy things, you had to go to the bank — not just any bank, but your specific branch of your specific bank — within the specified hours during which the bank was open, and stand in line, and fill out a little piece of paper by hand, and give it to a human being, who would put your little piece of paper in a drawer and give you paper money in return. And if you wanted they would put your bank book in a little dot matrix printer and it would chug away for ten minutes and print all of your transactions into the book. And then you could take your paper money and buy things. But if you didn’t make it to the bank in time, or ran out of cash in your pocket, that was it, you could not buy any more things.

    I still have a “chequing account”. Cheques? What are they?

  102. No-one has mentioned the truly classic icon that no-one thinks twice about – the cross. How many people today remember that as a device for executing criminals? Or the “Saint Andrew’s Cross” as used on the English flag (and for whipping offenders).

  103. I worked out that costwise, etc. it’s less painful for me to just keep my landline atop the cellie, even though I’d love to untether.

    Thus in my bedroom closet lies an AT&T-branded Slimline-looking phone, with buttons that light up when you take the phone off the hook and everything. Not much point in having a phone that won’t work when the power goes out.

  104. A few weeks ago we were at a wedding, and there were disposable cameras on each table. My five-year-old son started taking pictures right away, and when he finished the roll he complained that it was “broken.” He just couldn’t understand when we told him there were no pictures left.

  105. Does anybody else remember that quaint old custom of “gas wars”? Where gas stations actually competed to have the lowest price, not the highest? When I was in high school in the late 1960s, a gas war broke out in the small town where I lived and gas got down to 19¢ a gallon. That’s right, less than a quarter a gallon! I filled the 20-gallon tank on the old boat I drove for under $5. Now those were the days! My children just look at me as if I’ve lost my mind when I tell them about it, even though they’re all grown up now.

    Of course, my husband, who’s only 4 years older than me, remembers being able to take the train to the next town over to go to the movies (25¢ for the Saturday matinee) for 2¢ each way. And everyone had party lines; there were two old ladies who lived on the two main streets in town, and every day they’d get on their party line and discuss everyone’s goings-on since they could see almost the whole town between them. And everyone on the party line would listen in to make sure they were safe! It must have broken their hearts when the party lines went away.

    Not all the old stuff was bad, by a long shot. And yes, we still keep a plugged-in land line for power outages, after living in a hurricane zone for a few years.

  106. “Peter, could you offer some evidence that “electronic book readers are dead”? ”
    I looked at sales data yesterday. E-book reader sales versus year ago are down and heading further down. Strangely enough, tablet data during the same period is up and up in a huge way.

    My only experience was looking at a friends kindle 2 versus my iPad 4.
    I wonder if the problems with back-lit is/was the pixel density of earlier devices.

    given the choice of buying only one device, people will pick the tablet over a book reader. Multi-function always wins in the end.

  107. There were still a few party lines in use in parts of rural Saskatchewan a few years ago. At the very least, half a decade into the 21st C.

  108. “The thing that gets me shaking my head is, remember when we couldn’t tell if the photos we took were any good until we got them developed? And it was a big trade-off to take extra shots just in case because you would fill up the roll?”

    I am constantly trying to force people take multiple shots.
    Look, you are taking a group photo, take 5 or 10. Stop waiting for everyone to be ready. One of them will better than the other 9, but none of them will be perfect and that 1 will be infinitely better than the “just 1 photo” that they would take otherwise.

  109. At the last arena concert I attended, as the house lights went down, the generation gap was vividly displayed. A multitude of bic lighters waving back and forth from the older generation. A plethora of smart phones waving to and fro by the younger generation.

  110. Don’t worry, in about 60 years, Athena will be having a conversation wiht some youngster in the family:

    Athena: … and then everyone signed my cast.

    youngster: Your what?

    Athena: My cast. I had it on for over a month.

    youngster: On what?

    Athena: My leg.

    youngster: Is that why your matrix avatar looks so weird?

    Athena: This is what my body looked like before the singularity and before I uploaded.

    youngster: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  111. 3 years ago, my dad (age 83 at the time) needed a new computer, and HAD to buy it from Dell. I had a heckuva time trying to find a 3.5 inch floppy drive to install and finally gave up. I found one that you could plug into a USB port, then had a fun time convincing him that it would work.Even though I bought him an external drive, he still uses floppies so that he won’t lose them. It blew his mind when I told him how many floppies his 1TB drive would hold.

  112. What a generation gap does NOT look like: I visited my father a week or so ago and we got to chatting about the prospect of the upcoming Star Wars movie…and at some point I paused, did some mental math, and realized that I’m now the same age that he was when the original hit the screen.

    And remembered him telling me and my sister about this REALLY COOL movie he’d just seen the night before, within about a minute of getting in the door. (He was working full-time in another city at the time; we saw him on weekends.)

    The potential for geekery knows no generation.

  113. @Peter for point of ultimate correctness: Nook Color and Nook HD+ are both Android tablets, like the Kindle Fire is.

    Some people really love the monochrome e-ink for reading books. It actually hurts my eyes, so tablets it is, both for ease of reading, as well as apps, games, and looking at the internet when I’m not home. Also, there’s no point in getting National Geographic in gray scale.

    We have a landline for the same reasons as Scalzi: that sumbitch stays working no matter what happens. Will probably keep it as long as the phone company supports it for a reasonable fee. No fussing with battery life, wondering if you’ve got enough bars, getting cut off, having a bad connection, losing it in the couch cushions, leaving it in your other pants, or not noticing when someone calls. Nope, it’s there and it always works, even during many natural disasters.

  114. @htom: That card dialing telephone is really cool. I’m old enough (41) to remember having had a rotary phone in my own house as a youngster, but I have never seen one of those. It’s like the earliest form of speed dial.

  115. When I was a teen, I rewired the phone jack in my bedroom from a 4-prong outlet to one of them new-fangled RJ-11 connectors.

  116. in the car with my friend’s then about ten year old daughter a couple of summers ago I asked her to ‘roll down the window.’ not a concept she understood. also, my 16 year old neice didn’t know how a phone call (landline) could be long distance if both parties were in the continental US.

  117. Moz’s House: That’s a heretic Protestant thing. In the Catholic Churches you will not see a cross without a Jesus nailed to it unless it’s part of the stages of the cross and he’s carrying it.

  118. Damn, that heretic has strike and slash strike tags on either side of it, but apparently word press strips them out. Makes it harsh when it was supposed to be amusing.

  119. Webcomic Wonderella nailed the generation gap in this strip: Hip It Good.

    I’m really showing my age when I remember car dashboards having choke knobs. (Don’t miss ’em. Not a bit.)

  120. Top Gear’s James May has pointed out that the standard symbol in Britain for a traffic camera is a 19th century sort of bellows camera and the symbol for telephone resembles what they used to scramble Spitfires in the Battle of Britain.

    What’s really weird is that, when I ask my three-year-old nephew what noise a train makes, he says “chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff”. Where the hell is he learning this stuff? Every train he’s ever been on in his life just hums quietly. There is about one train in the entire country that goes chuff-chuff-chuff and that’s the Hogwarts Express and he’s never seen that either.

    Or the “Saint Andrew’s Cross” as used on the English flag,

    *hulks out in a Scottish way, smashes Moz*

  121. For various and sundry reasons, I reverted from a smart phone to an old-school flip phone. One day, I asked my 11-year-old daughter to text something to her mother using my phone. The T9 text mode confusticated her something terrible, as she has only ever texted using touchscreen-based keyboards.

  122. RE: ebook readers are dead
    That must be why I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite and retired my Nexus 7 tablet. The Nexus is a WONDERFUL tablet, but I only really used it to play games and read, and the Kindle is a far superior device for reading, and the lack of games means I get more reading done.

  123. I sincerely hope ebook readers aren’t dead. I just bought a Nook over the weekend and I love it so much. I don’t want it to turn into an unusable orphan device.

  124. While my computers have changed almost beyond recognition in thirty years for me there is a constant. I still run VI (or a knockoff) on my machines. The same keystrokes for cut, copy, and paste have worked for my entire career and my fingers know my “basic eight” commands as well as they know the QWERTY keyboard.

    I don’t get to use it as much anymore but it’s comforting to know there is always a text editor available that I understand.

  125. @Elizabeth – don’t worry, it’s just a low-end Android Tablet! If B&N NookBooks go away, you can easily “sideload” a non-B&N version of Android OS and use it like you would any tablet not called an “iPad”….

  126. I love these AT&T commercials with the older sibling telling the younger sibling how it was “back in my day” This one’s cute, too.

    Boy, I remember when my family all shared one desktop computer, with…dial-up internet!. I remember how cool and space-agey that dial tone sounded. I remember those giant actually-floppy disks that you put into the computer, and then you had to open up the DOS program or something, and type C:\ and then a bunch of other stuff, before you could open Bumpy’s Arcade Fantasy or DuckTales or KidPix. P.S. Anyone else remember Bumpy? Ooh, or Socrates?

  127. @Elizabeth – don’t worry, it’s just a low-end Android Tablet! If B&N NookBooks go away, you can easily “sideload” a non-B&N version of Android OS and use it like you would any tablet not called an “iPad”….

    Given that quite a few people like e-ink eBooks, I think they might survive for quite some time.

    What me may see fade are the not-quite Android tablets like the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire.

    Why buy a device which runs a limited set of apps from a specialized app store store when you can buy a general purpose 7″ Android tablet and buy the same apps that run on your phone and buy books from every eBook seller but Apple? It’s largely a question of how much price difference you are willing to pay for a general purpose device.

    Yes, some people have side-loaded other versions of Android, but I haven’t been that adventurous.

  128. So perfect. My wife and I were chuckling about the very thing with our teenage son. Things like rotary phones, typewriters, and TV being network channels, a PBS channel and an antenna. And no internet, not even a computer. Cellphone? Watching Star Trek too much, fella?

    And then I thought about my grandparents talking about how it took a day to travel from one end of the island(Guam) to the other on a cart pulled by a carabao. Yeah, I’m gettin’ old.

  129. Oh! and just remembered I had the very same conversation with my son and his friend. Both 13. The object from The Past was a Sony cassette player. You know, the thing that had its own microphone with a single cheap speaker and rotary-mechanical tape-o-meter? Yeah, I pulled that baby out and showed them and they gave me that look. Which is when I returned that look. Nipped the whole thing in the bud and said, “Uh, never mind. It’s just some old thing.”

    I still scrounged around for an old tape though.

  130. Our house came with an old rotary wall phone that lives in the basement. That sucker has a ring that will wake the dead too; don’t know if it’s hardwired into the house or not…I’ll have to check! My friend (who grew up in the 70s and 80s) recently went back to school to be a paralegal. She said they had an assignment to look up X type of case in the ALR (the large set of books you usually see on the background walls of Law&Order) and her much younger classmates were grumbling because the assignment took them hours of paging through all the volumes to locate what they needed. It took my friend maybe 10 minutes to look up the cases in the index and find them in the appropriate volume. Apparently her younger classmates had no idea what an index was or how to use it.

  131. I remember when there were no ATMs.
    And when there were ATMs, but you could only use your own bank’s. (This was back when your own bank was typically only in your town. Maybe, if you were lucky, they would be in surrounding, smaller towns.)
    And when you could use other bank’s ATMs, but only within a certain radius, and only if they were on the same network, and of course there were (at least) two, and the bank you’d hit at 10 PM would not be on the right network.
    And, most importantly, when the ATMs only checked your balance on weekdays; on weekends, when the bank was closed, it would happily dispense cash as you asked, and then reconcile on Monday. The overdraft fees were somewhat less at the time, but it was still probably the equivalent of a payday loan. Still, it was a loan …

  132. Testing at my house:

    “Hey, twelve-year-old! What’s a ‘phone jack?'”
    “Ummmm… it’s a thing… that goes on the phone? And you download stuff?”

    The funny thing is, she was staring at it when I asked her.

  133. I still have a “chequing account”. Cheques? What are they?

    I’ve occasionally had business dealings with American magazines, who like to pay me in cheques if I don’t remember to tell them not to. I honestly have no idea what to do with them, and I’m almost in my thirties. In Sweden, they haven’t been in use for 25 years or so.

  134. J.: If you bring the cheques to your bank, do they know how to deal with them? Because that’s what I’d do (assuming you don’t bank with a purely internet bank); go to a physical branch of your bank and say “Help? I’d like to deposit this.”

  135. For navigating around Southern California I used to use a Thomas Guide. It was a lovely thorough map book, spiral bound for ease of laying flat, with indications on the edge of a page(top, bottom, left, and right edges) as to which page to turn to next if you reached the edge. I wore out a couple for LA/Orange County, and had others for Riverside and San Diego as well.
    These days you use google maps or GPS, with most newer cars having GPS available built in if you want it. Oh, and the GPS in some cars can give you traffic information on the freeways.

  136. When my daughter was in grade school, our computer died and she needed to finish homework for a teacher who did not accept hand-written assignments. I lugged my portable typewriter up from the basement and showed her how to put the paper in and tighten it against the platen. After she typed a few sentences, she exclaimed; “This is so cool. I don’t even need a printer!”

  137. I’ve occasionally had business dealings with American magazines, who like to pay me in cheques if I don’t remember to tell them not to. I honestly have no idea what to do with them, and I’m almost in my thirties. In Sweden, they haven’t been in use for 25 years or so.

    J what do they do if you do remember to ask them not to? Do they wire bank to bank? My bank charges several dollars for that.

    I probably average one check a month because I use online bill payment. I’m pretty sure that my bank pays big companies via electronic transfer, but if I send a payment to a small business or a relative, they generally receive a printed check in the mail from a bank. What is really nutty is that now I can deposit checks for less than $1500 in my bank by taking a picture of both sides of the check with my phone and sending it via the bank’s Android App. You may as well build a robot arm to work the abacus.

    I can see how checks are going away now, but I’m less clear how it worked in 1988. I perused the wikipedia article on cheques and I’m not sure I understand any better. It sounds like giro used to be a paper-based system where the merchant gives you a slip with the merchants routing information and then you filled in your routing information and the merchant sent the slip to a bank. That process sounds pretty similar to a check to me. Is the difference that once the slip gets to the bank, the money is wired immediately bank to bank instead of being routed hither and yon to clearance centers via the magnetic ink on the check?

    My bank now offers a thing called popmoney that’s supposed to be all-electronic transfer, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with whom I regularly do business announce that they accept it. I’ve never tried it.

  138. J. I’m also curious what happens when they do send you a check. Do you send it back or have you managed to collect your funds. Surely you don’t hang them on the wall as curiosities. I have heard ugly tales of significant fees being charged by banks when presented with checks denominated in other currencies.

  139. @JJ Brannon – I hate to say it, but the Beloit list (at least the most current one) is maybe 25% reflective of actual “stumbling blocks”; the rest is trivia and/or so heavily weighted by the writers’ biases as to be pretty meaningless. (And in some cases, highly suspect.)

    And I’m not really finding anything other than anecdata (of the get-off-my-lawn variety) re the “apprehension failure of ‘clockwise'”.

  140. I can still find alternate routes around traffic jams using a paper map faster than someone with a traffic app/GPS can. Thus the Thomas guide and AAA maps remain in my car. Again, when the phone battery dies or you’re out of tower range, those still work.

  141. Don, is the designation “trivia” a personal assessment or have you tested this list against a random selection of 18-yos? Recall the list was originally a pedagogical tool for professors to avoid confusing their students with unnecessarily obscure references [a vice to which I am inclined — “Even Homer nods.”]

    The apprehension failure was one raised in a discussion with some physics professors, math instructors, and teachers at various SF cons regarding fundamental concepts in electrodynamics and complex numbers plotted in polar coordinates. Students raised on digital time-counters demonstrated a much lower competence in innately grasping those subjects, according to those frontliners.

    I’ve noticed a tendency for otherwise bright young adults to recite, “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosy,” as they approached the problem of changing a tire. Now try to explain to them the force vectors of a gyroscope or periodic functions with that conceptual deficit. Elementary school kids who have been trained as preschoolers to tell time via an analog clockface have a marked advantage in understanding fractions and modal math over those students raised on digital time display devices.

    This is not a “one-size fits all” methodology, so exceptions are to be expected. However, digitally-raised kids are the mathematical/spatial counterparts of the kids raised on whole-word vs. phonics in reading.

    Go google pedagogical papers on teaching fractions by means of analog clock models.


  142. As for obsolete tech, when I studied computers in 1971, the PDP8 used a ribbon of “paper tape” with holes punched in it. If we needed a “mainframe”, we used a “keypunch” to put the program onto “punch cards”, A “card reader” half the size of a car read the cards and sent them RJE (remote job entry) to the mainframe 100 miles away. An hour or more later, a 132 column “line printer” just as big printed the result. When I graduated one of my jobs was re-writing a program where they had lost the source and only had and “object deck” with individual holes patched to make changes. I learned how to hang “reel to reel tape” and to change the removable “disk packs”. I still have a metal ruler marked with the column positions and there are books on my shelves with a punch card as a bookmark.

  143. I’m 25 this year, and when I was in high school I saw the original 1970s Superman movie, and there’s a scene near the beginning with this enormous vaguely cubic machine with dials and things on it, and you can hear a radio playing. I stared at it for a minute, and then asked, ‘is that a radio?’ and my parents just stared blankly at me for a minute, and then started to laugh, because of the generation gap.
    And whenever I had kids from school over they were always fascinated by our old, late-70s TV, which didn’t have all the buttons they were used to, but dials and stuff instead. I remember you had to set each channel manually (the same way you had to tune a radio for the correct station) by moving this little wheel for each channel, and there were sliding bars that adjusted the picture and stuff. And the TV never worked properly in a thunderstorm.

  144. I haven’t actually asked any of them about the Beloit List, but I work primarily with 18-to-21-year olds (I’m a reference librarian at a small university) and the kind of stuff that shows up on that list isn’t really in the forefront of their consciousness, judging by the things they actually talk about. In terms of teaching and talking with my students I’ve never found it especially useful. Maybe that’s not its purpose, but then I’m not sure what its purpose is, aside from making me feel old.

    On the ereader/tablet thing–again, my highly unscientific sample set is college students (many of limited means; we primarily draw from the region and many of our students are first-generation), but while I see quite a few tablets I see very few ereaders. I think if they have to pick one or the other, they’re going to pick the tablet because you can do more with it. But the laptop still has them both beat, and most of our students have one of those. (This is of more than passing interest to me because one of my responsibilities at my job is strategizing how we handle e-books. Right now, I won’t buy anything that requires additional software or an app to access–if that’s an option, then it’s a bonus, but if there’s no web interface option then I don’t buy it. All the vendors we work with have web access as an option, and the reason is because most of our students don’t have ereaders. Yes, you can install an app on your computer and read the book that way, but it’s still an additional step. The way most students do library research, it would be like making them install an app to access Wikipedia.)

  145. WellTemperedWriter @ 13:21, 20 Apr 2013, said: “[T]he kind of stuff that shows up on that list isn’t really in the forefront of their consciousness…”

    Which, I think, is the point. Much of our imprinted culture is invisible to us. We take it as givens. The 18-yos aren’t concerned with the items because either those enumerated comprise the background radiation of their universe or, for them, the older items aren’t relevant.

    The list, to highlight the distinctions, is for us fogies. :>)

    Sharon @ 22:45, 19 Apr 2013: That takes me back to when I was 11, living in Bellmawr, New Jersey, and learning bases 8, 12, & 16. My mom would bring home Hollerith cards from her job and I built my first rudimentary computer from a kit purchased from Edmund Scientific, located a few blocks up the street from my house.

    Amy Pond @ 3:15, 20 Apr 2013: So cool! You’re between my son’s and daughter’s ages but you grew up with this “museum era” tech apparatus and benefited from the opportunity to observe a “generation gap” amongst your contemporaries.

    A great deal of early and current hard SF draws its power from such culture shock that evokes a “sense of wonder”; that is, witnessing the “ordinary” with strange eyes.


  146. @JJ Brannon: Perhaps I’m dim, but I fail to grasp the pedagogic significance of Furbys, pizza chain advertising slogans, pain-reliever brand names, the existence of unremarkable movies, and who’s banned from hosting Saturday Night Live, to name some of the more egregious bits (I’m not going to go through the whole 75-item list here.) Whatever the Beloit List’s original and claimed intent was, it now appears to exist primarily to get Beloit’s name in the media once per year when they release a new list and umpteen websites need filler for the day.

    As for “clockwise”: I mentioned that I had found nothing other than anecdotal evidence to support your claim that this is becoming an unrecognized term, and you responded with…an anecdote. (Which I heard well over a decade ago as part of the Plumber’s Mantra: “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosy, shit finds its own level and payday’s on Friday.”) And which you followed with “go look up such and such.” No. I did one reasonable pass of searching for support for YOUR contention once already; anything further is on you to provide via link. (I suspect from your general demeanor that you have some experience in academia: do the citations of your papers simply read “go Google this”?)

    My informed opinion in doubting your assertion is: Digital clocks and watches have been around and consumer-accessible for something over thirty years. The wristwatch and clock sections of my local department stores carry about a 50/50 mix of digital and analog timepieces. Any public building that an adult or child is likely to be in will almost certainly have analog clocks throughout: they’re cheaper and easier to read without becoming intrusive to the surroundings. Given all this, I find it hard to believe that “rotation to the right” has suddenly become unrelated to the normal motion of a clock in the public mind.

  147. JJ: , is the designation “trivia” a personal assessment or have you tested this list against a random selection of 18-yos? Recall the list was originally a pedagogical tool for professors to avoid confusing their students with unnecessarily obscure references [a vice to which I am inclined — “Even Homer nods.”]

    If the list is really a “tool for professors to avoid confusing their students with unnecessarily obscure references”, then those references are pretty much in the bin labeled “trivia”.

    Don called it “trivia”, and you disagree with him by calling it “obscure references”, which is pretty much missing the bigger point: If someone is pointing out that kids these days don’t even know that “pizza pizza” was an ad campaign for little caesars pizza so as to prevent their professors from referencing Little Caesars in their story problems, then that’s something to make an inter-departmental memo among professors. Why? Because its bringing old-fart professors up to speed with the times.

    If they’re publishing that list to the public, then they’re putting the focus on the STUDENTS, not the professors, and the implied payload of that message is no longer “Hey, profs, I know you’ve been out of the loop for a few years, let me bring you up to speed”, but instead becomes “these silly kids don’t even know that the “Annoyed with the Noid” was a Domino’s ad campaign back in the 80’s, gosh we’ll have to speak in short sentences using small words”.

    As for analog clocks and fractions, I’ve never heard of it and I remember the Noid. Nor do I have a problem with mathematics.

    And as for “clockwise” becoming deprecated, I don’t understand how that’s a problem, except if a codgy old professor uses “clockwise” in an exam question and the students really have no idea what he means. You could call it the “left hand rule” if you want.

    It’s nothing more than an idiom. Some idioms have stayed around for thousands of years “Crossing the Rubicon” for example. Others come and go as quickly as the technology or time period they’re attached to. “California widow ” used to refer to a woman physically separated from her husband, but not divorced, referring to the Gold Rush period, where the husband would go to california to look for gold and the woman would stay in the East.

    That we’re still using 12 hours in a day and 12 hours in a night is a throwback all the way to ancient Egypt. My guess is that “clockwise” will probably be around for some time.

  148. Don, I never made the claim that “‘rotation to the right” has suddenly become unrelated to the normal motion of a clock in the public mind.”

    You obviously share the apprehension problem. Clock hands neither rotate to the right or to the left. The move clockwise. That innate understanding is important in physics and math. I provided concrete examples.

    What timepiece did you learn on?

    Your Google-Fu as well as your reading comprehension in this instance is flawed. I provided exact search terms: pedagogical papers analog clock fractions.

    I live near a large University. The SF con discussions ranged nearly between 20 years ago and the recent year. From the earliest discussions, I ventured into the University periodical holdings to search various pedagogical papers. The subject has arisen in engineering journal articles I’ve read over the years. Among my molecular biology and biomedical engineering curricula in college I studied neurology and cognitive science, where journal articles discuss the importance of early conceptual foundations in the subject.

    First online paper found searching the terms I indicated to you:

    A copy of a tiny portion of a bibliography of the second paper found:
    McMillen, S., & Hernandez, B. (2008). Taking time to understand time. Teaching Children Mathematics,
    15(4), 248-262.
    Meewissen, M., Roelefs, A., & Levelt, W. J. M. (2004). Naming analog clocks conceptually facilitates
    naming digital clocks. Brain and Language, 90, 434-440.
    Munn, P. (1998). Symbolic functions in pre-schoolers. In C. Donlan (Ed.), The development of mathematical skills (pp. 27 – 46). Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press.

    There were about 39,000 other articles found in about a third of a second.

    Digital watches began appearing in the 1970s. Relating that plumbers used that mnemonic in the Naughty-Aughties has no bearing on either the influence of analog-time teaching to preschoolers pre-1980 or the conceptual deficiencies of the student pool in engineering or physics classes, which was the subject of my original post: “The apprehension failure of “clockwise” has many disturbing higher education implications.”

    Your plumbers’ litany example only reinforces my thesis that innate apprehension of cyclic periodicity learned via early clock-reading mastery is no longer natural. Growing up in the 60s, 70s, & early-80s, I never heard that rhyming catch-phrase except from teenage girls. No man [or any girl who I knew to have taken HS shop classes] ever resorted to that mnemonic device — they just knew it.

    Let’s agree to disagree and drop the subject. Moreover, I do agree that the Beliot Mindlist serves as public promotion. This does nothing to detract from its original function.

    Speaking of the local university library, 28 years, 3 months, and 30 days ago I was standing at the head of line there preparing to check out some titles from the library’s Rafael Sabatini collection that I hadn’t known existed — sequels to Captain Blood and Scaramouche — as well as his The Bellarion [significantly, as I had purchase in HB Gordon R. Dickson’s The Final Encyclopedia earlier in the day].

    The 18-year-old desk clerk noticed my excitement.

    “Great author! One of my favorites. You probably never heard of him but his books were the basis for the movies Captain Blood and the Sea-Hawk.”

    Utter bafflement.

    “You know. The Errol Flynn flicks.” Still no light of recognition. “How old are you?” He told me.

    I turned to the guy directly behind me, asked his age [19], and inquired if he knew the name Errol Flynn. He admitted he did not.

    The young woman [20] after him answered in the negative. The 23-yo grad student behind her shrugged, hesitantly offering, “A politician?”

    I left Morris Library in disconcerting discouragement, having shattered my lance in the lists against my own version of the Beliot Mindlist. I was only 26. I felt ancient.

    Flynn had died only a quarter-century earlier and had been arguably the most famous movie actor in the world. “In like Flynn!” Does anyone say that any more?


  149. Oddly enough, when I went to a mostly-male mechanical engineering school in the 1980’s, everyone mumbled “righty-tighty, lefty-loosie”, sometimes even during exams taken underneath analog clocks . I heard it from male voices (even from an occasional professor!), so the assumption that “these kids today” and “these girls all the time” only did it is… well, you know what they say about assumptions.

  150. LT, thanks for the additional POV. I’ll remember that in the future. The young woman in my engineering school that I knew didn’t resort to it around me. Maybe we were all using the silent sign language Greg mentioned above.

    Why you concluded that a report of my personal experience was an assumption led me to reexamine what I wrote. The passage I wrote was sleepy sloppy — three words wound up in the middle of the parenthetical that were meant to follow it.

    Amended as intended: “Growing up in the 60s, 70s, & early-80s, I never heard that rhyming catch-phrase except from teenage girls. No man [or any girl to have taken HS shop classes] who I knew ever resorted to that mnemonic device — they just knew it.”

    There’s also the “the” which should’ve read “They move clockwise” and the double signature.

    Greg @ 22:32, 20 Apr 2013 your input was also appreciated as was the Darmok reference.

    I’m grateful to both of you for your comments because they underscore the meta-conversation we’re having on this topic that “the transmission is not the reception” but is context-dependent for both the transmitter and the receiver.

    Let me try to be clearer, Greg. It’s not the expression “clockwise”; it’s the spatial concept. That you recognize it as related to the “left-hand hand rule” reveals that you seem to grasp the non-verbal concept independent of contemporaneous [lovely ironic word in this setting] usage. :>)


  151. JJ, I would offer that you consider this statement:

    I’ve noticed a tendency for otherwise bright young adults to recite, “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosy,” as they approached the problem of changing a tire. Now try to explain to them the force vectors of a gyroscope or periodic functions with that conceptual deficit. Elementary school kids who have been trained as preschoolers to tell time via an analog clockface have a marked advantage in understanding fractions and modal math over those students raised on digital time display devices.

    is entirely built on unproven premises and perhaps even a bit of illogic.

    Specifically, in response to this: kids who have been trained as preschoolers to tell time via an analog clockface have a marked advantage I would say “link or didn’t happen”.

    I never heard of using analog clocks to do fractions until you mentioned it, I had to google it to figure out what you were talking about, and yet as a former rocket scientist, I had no problem with fractional math even though I lacked your analog-clock-as-fractional-math crib sheet.

    Your logic is circular. You start with the premise that kids without training on analog watches are bad at fractions, and that’s exactly where you end up. It is not a “deficit”, you merely assert it as such. And the leap of logic you make that telling time by analog watch somehow prepares people to understand gyroscopic precession any easier is completely end entirely baffling to me. They couldn’t be any more unrelated if you tried.


  152. Yeah, I didn’t get how gyroscopes tied in with analog clocks either. Other than they both go around, which plenty of things do. Except gyroscopes can spin in either direction.

    And we only use the word “clockwise” because we don’t use sundials any more! There were probably people complaining that kids who grew up using these newfangled clock things would never understand time properly, and what was wrong with “sunwise” and “widdershins” anyway?

    (Curled fingers with thumbs sticking out also appeared during exams. I am confident that the teenagers of today still have hands that curve the same ways.)

  153. Well, if you want to get rid of ‘clockwise’, you can say ‘sunwise’ (if you’re north of the tropics), because the sun moves that way around the sky (and of course that’s why clockwise is that rotation, because sundials). If you’re south of the tropics you have to reverse it, which could cause confusion. And IN the tropics, you’d have to give specific dates, which will be different for every latitude between Capricorn and Cancer…

    …on second thought, let’s just make sure every kid has an analog clock in hir room.

  154. I did a Q&A after a presentation on the radio spectrum at Notacon last weekend (giving the same talk this weekend at Penguicon), and during the follow-up Q&A breakout session blew the minds of some of the younger session attendees with the fact that it once was (but sadly no longer tends to be) possible to receive news directly from countries all over the world via shortwave radio. And this is a very tech-heavy conference.

    One would think we lived with stone knives and bearskins before Internet access became ubiquitous.

    (34, but still has a rotary dial phone on the wall because there’s no ringer like a Bell 500 series ringer)

  155. One I’d forgotten: Some years back when my older nephew was in his teens and was working though his learner’s permit, he plopped down on the couch next to me watching a re-run (DVD) of the 1970s police series Adam-12.

    His first comment was, “Dang, cars used to be huge!” (I snickered at this just a little, when his first car turned out to be a 1974 Mustang.)

    Then the cops drove by a gas station with the prices clearly visible on the sign, and his jaw hit the floor. “HOLY CRAP GAS WAS 18 CENTS A GALLON?!?!?!!”

    “And now you know WHY the cars were huge…”

  156. Heh. I only learned ‘righty tighty lefty loosey’ recently, to help me remember which way to turn the screw in the neck of my bass guitar when I was learning how to set up the neck on my own, rather than paying a guitar tech to do it… When you turn it left, or counter clock wise, you loosen the truss rod in the neck, and vice versa. Which will only make sense to those of you who play instruments with truss rods, of course…

  157. I was mystified the first time I heard righty-tighty, lefty-loosy, because apparently everyone who went around saying that was convinced that it specified a direction unambiguously when it clearly didn’t.

    I think my first encounter with this problem was when my grandmother asked me to turn off a sprinkler by turning a valve that what set in the ground with a tool that sticks straight up and grasps the spokes of the valve with one end and has a handle on the other. The valve was a bit sticky and I couldn’t get it to turn either way and I didn’t know which way valves were suppose to turn. Grandma insisted that I turn the valve “toward me”, and I tried desperately to decode what the heck that was supposed to mean as I became thoroughly soaked. Dad, who was watching with some amusement explained that I should turn the valve clockwise. Problem solved.

    It seems clear that the righty-tighty, lefty-loosy contingent, as well as Grandma had a particular point on the circle in mind when describing which way to move. Describing rotation as “clockwise” also makes an assumption that you are looking at the front face of the clock, but since most clocks aren’t see-through, this isn’t much of a problem.

  158. Mike: It seems clear that the righty-tighty, lefty-loosy contingent, as well as Grandma had a particular point on the circle in mind when describing which way to move.

    usually the top of the circle is the reference point.

    For example, combinations to safes and padlocks, if they specify the combination in left-right-left, usually mean turn the TOP of the dial to the left until you hit 17, then right until you hit 42, then left again until you hit 28.

  159. Greg:
    You are right, and I hadn’t really noticed that before. In the case of the lock though, there is a pointer at the top of the lock, so the directions are with respect to the numbers moving past the pointer.

  160. I’m loving reading John’s story and all the stories in the comments!

    When I was wee, my father had gone back to college and took some computing classes; he’d bring home the punch cards for me to color on.

    Through my 20s I remember going to the bank, presenting my bank book, and having a new total either hand written in it (earlier) or stamped on it (later).

    I splurged on my first computer and got 40 mgs instead of 20. I knew I’d never, *ever* run out of room! *g* And then there was the, iirc, 800kb modem…

  161. Heh. My first computer was an Osbourne O-1, the one that looked like a lopsided sewing machine case and weighed 25 lbs or so. Portable size but weight not so much. And not much internal memory. It would hold about ten pages of a story or article max… Today even small thumb drives have more memory than that computer. It had two five inch disk drives, one for the program you were using and one to store data on. I learned to program on IBM 350s using punch cards at the University of Florida. My programable calculator I bought several years ago had more computing power than those old IBMs. I can remember playing Traveller and re writing the rules about how much space the ship computers had to take up, because the original rules were already outbox date before the guidebooks even came on the market.

    In years past I used to belong to several anime/manga related APAs, and wrote, printed out, copied and snail mailed out not only APAs but also several ‘series reviews’ to various Japanese series. Mind, this was in the 1980s thru early 2000s. I was talking about those with a younger fan earlier this week, and he wanted to know if it wouldn’t have been easier and cheaper to use the Internet. I said it would have been, if the Internet had been capable of such things back then. He just looked gob smacked, as I explained that while in those days we had the very beginnings of what became the Internet, it wasn’t yet capable of transmitting what would have been considered ginormous files back then. To say nothing of the large amounts of money it would have been needed to buy a computer and modem capable of handling such files. So even fandom itself has changed a huge amount over the years due to technological changes. I don’t think there are very many APAs going out thru snail mail any more, and I would have a website to load my series reviews up to today…

  162. re: save icons

    Every program in which I’ve actually paid attention to the save icon the past few years using an image of a hard drive with a green down-pointing arrow superimposed on it, not a floppy.

    “Righty-tighty” is simply easier to remember than “clockwise to tighten”; it has nothing to do with knowledge of clockwise and counter-clockwise as terms, at least for me. I learned the mnemonic form as a Junior in Girl Scouts, in the late 80s, working on my Ms. Fix-it badge. I also learned how to shut off water for a specific outlet for that badge.

%d bloggers like this: