I hope to be much older still before I’m done, but I have already lived long enough to hold several worlds in my hands.
First, there was my childhood, where we played outside, slapped at mosquitoes and ran freely back and forth to neighbors’ houses without our parents worrying if we would make it there safely. The only “hand-held devices” we had were books or toys, only a few of which had batteries. I was 5 or 6 the year Santa brought me Baby First Step, with her hard plastic hinged battery compartment and her lurching, straight-legged steps.
We took two-week vacations every year, through which my parents occasionally fought. Marriage is challenging, starting out like shiny high heels and ending up like galoshes sloshing through life’s puddles.
Everything was smaller somehow, but we also had more space. COVID-19 would not have posed as many challenges back then because we weren’t as crammed together, in classrooms, stores, life.
My childhood wasn’t perfect and, as I later learned, no one’s really is.
Then, there were my 20s, when I got my first car phone, which came in a shoebox-sized padded pouch and had to be plugged into the car charger to work. It was more reminiscent of a field phone during World War II than today’s pocket-sized cellular devices.
We still exercised outside, running down the street instead of squaring up to a treadmill. And we did our shopping at the mall, where we had a buffet of retail options. Weather forecasts came from the evening news, and we just muddled along in between, looking out the window or stepping outside to guess what might be coming next.
And then I had children of my own. They started out in a world without electronics. We didn’t even have cable television, which meant there was nothing to see – literally – on our TV. They played in the mud, built things out of large cardboard blocks and went to parks.
The toys became increasingly sophisticated. My younger daughter had a robotic cat, while my son had a radio-controlled dinosaur.
But as they reached their early teens that all changed when they got cell phones.
Now, their favorite shows are livestreamed, their friends are a touchscreen away, the outside is where children go to practice sports with dreams of competing professionally dancing in their heads.
No one knows what will happen next, what their children will grow up to do, what options they will have, what toys they will put on their Christmas lists.
I know there are some experiences they are unlikely to have. Gone are the downtown department stores we visited regularly to buy everything from Girl Scout uniforms to toys. The freedom I once had as a child has already been replaced by the tracking devices of our phones.
I liked my childhood, loved my early adulthood and I think my children liked theirs, as well.
But change is constant, even sneaky, and often surprises us. Peering around corners doesn’t protect us from the future; it only steals the present.
Change comes when it’s ready and we always adapt.