March 21, 2023
My kids and yours will never understand these 22 old school things! What else can you think of that your kids don't know?

a collage of a VCR tape and a rotary phonea collage of a VCR tape and a rotary phone

My kids and yours will never understand these 22 old school things! What else can you think of that your kids don’t know?

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an old VCR tapean old VCR tape

Some years ago, a nail salon employee told me in thickly accented English that most middle age women don’t wear the glittery nail polish I had chosen. I recently turned 41 which I guess does make me a middle-aged woman. I don’t feel like a middle age woman though; I feel young. And I still wear glittery nail polish although I no longer go to nail salons.

Thinking back on the ways in which the world has changed in my lifetime boggles my mind. I remember life before microwaves and VCRs and child safety seats. I remember the advent of the internet and life before email when all computers were enormous beasts that sat on a desk. I remember life when light bulbs actually broke inside and you could squeeze a battery to see how much power it had left inside.

And also? I didn’t use a cell phone until after I graduated from college, and I didn’t purchase one until several years after that. AND that phone’s sole purpose was to make voice calls. That’s all it did, dial a number and actually talk to the person on the other end.

My daughters (who are 9 and 13) have never lived in a home without central air, never ridden in a car without automatic windows, never been a slave to the TV Guide. They’ve never been tethered to a house phone and have grown up using my iPhone and laptop. They may never know a world without reality tv and Google and bicycle helmets and texting, but there are plenty of things from my world that they have missed out on.

22 Old School Things My Kids Will Never Know or Understand

  1. Outhouses – I grew up poor, in the country, and back then, Grandma and Grandpa had an outhouse in the yard. It was leftover from the time when there was no indoor bathroom (only added a few years before I was born). It blew down during a tornado around 1990 and was never rebuilt. Aside from tchotchkes in country stores, I haven’t seen another permanent, dug in the ground outhouse in more than 30 years, and my kids can’t even comprehend the idea that some homes didn’t have indoor toilets when I was a kid.
  2. 8-track tapes and cassette tapes – I’m going to share with you a trauma of my childhood. On Saturday mornings, when my mother thought we should be awake, she would play her old 8-track tapes of the Mamas and the Papas or John Denver at full volume. For my husband, his parents’ torture involved polka music on 8-tracks. I thought 8-tracks were so old and strange back then. After all, we had cassettes, way smaller and way cooler than 8-track tapes.
    Have you ever tried to explain a cassette tape to a 9-year-old who has only ever played music on an iPod or a computer? And having to rewind? It blows their minds.
  3. Mix tapes – Remember when the only way to get music was to record it from the radio? If you wanted to share it with a friend, you made her a mix tape using your two cassette boom box that was far too big to carry around.
  4. Napster – I was once quoted in my college newspaper saying something to the effect of, “Well, I guess it’s technically illegal, but it doesn’t hurt anyone. We all do it, and it’s a great way to save money.” If you weren’t in college in the late 90s, you might not have been hip to the napster tune, but it was basically a file sharing service where you could tap into the music of other people and save it to your computer for free. Copyright? What copyright?
  5. DVDs – My 13-year-old remembers playing DVDs when she was little, but my 9-year-old has no concept of them. She thinks all TV comes from the internet, and she can’t imagine why anyone would want to have a cabinet full of movies. In fact, when I opened up our DVD cabinet and showed her all the discs inside, she was wowed and said she always wondered what was inside there.
  6. VCR tapes – This is going way old school, but I bet everyone my age remembers the magic of the VCR. We could actually record the tv and watch it later! The Netflix generation has no concept of what it was like to miss your favorite tv show because you weren’t home, because there was a good chance it would never come on again. And video stores? No concept since my kids can go on to Amazon and rent whatever movie they want without leaving the house. There is no “Please be kind and rewind” in their lives, nor the thrill of finding the movie you wanted on the shelf.
  7. Black rotary phones – My Grandma still used hers up to about 10 years ago. My kids dial the phone on a touchscreen, without even having to use buttons. Try explaining the rotary dial to a kid. I, for much of my life, had to wait for the dial to return to zero and actually stand next to the base while I was talking. I spent many hours winding a coiled phone cord around my fingers while talking to my girlfriends. For my daughters? The phone has never been connected to the wall or even to the house, and they can actually see their friends’ faces while they talk. They don’t even remember cordless house phones and the incredible freedom provided by not having to be tethered to the wall. The phone for them has always been in their pockets, with them wherever the go.
  8. Old school tv – My daughters will never see a console tv with buttons on the front. Not buttons, like a remote control, but buttons like the twelve things on the tv set that you had to press in order to change the channel. After you stood up and walked across the room. After you put down the TV Guide magazine that you received in the mail every week.
    I remember a tv commercial from my childhood very clearly. A little boy was working on a model airplane, and his grandfather leaned over and said, “Did you know that some people have to pay for their television channels?” and the little boy was incredulous. I, too, couldn’t imagine paying to watch television.
    Now? I know exactly one person who still uses a turn-it-in-the-right-direction-for-each-individual-channel old school antenna. Yes, it is my grandma, and she is 92.
  9. Atari 2600 & Nintendo Entertainment System – Okay, so they’ll probably always have video games, but video games in my daughters’ world are interactive use-your-whole-body adventures with realistic, 3D graphics. Video games from my youth were the classics: Pong. Tetris. Super Mario Brothers. They were 2D with crappy graphics, if they had graphics at all. They were games that we had to sit down to play. Games that used our thumbs and only our thumbs, and we were happy to have them.
  10. The card catalog – When I was a kid, I looked up books at the library in a card catalog. It was called a card catalog because it was a very large collection of actual paper cards upon which someone had written or typed each book’s information. There was no way to do research at home unless you had a set of encyclopedias which were very expensive and took up an entire bookshelf. I was fortunate that my parents did have a set, but they were from the mid-70s, and I was in school in the early 90s. My daughters search the collective information of the entire world from the comfort of our living room and have no concept of having to leave home with a notebook and a pen and go to the library to read the reference books there.
  11. Newspapers – I know newspapers are technically still around, but when I was a kid, there was one every single day and, besides tv news, the paper was the only way to find out what was happening in the world. There was only one viewpoint presented, so whatever political slant the paper represented was what you had. When I was a kid, I even had a newspaper route that I had to do every single day, rain or shine. Sometimes I convinced my mom to drive me, but most of the time, I had to ride my bike through the neighborhood and put the papers in the boxes after school.
  12. Tan M&Ms – Before there were blue M&Ms, there were tan ones. Not only do I remember the M&Ms with two shades of brown, I remember voting in the contest to determine whether blue, pink, or purple should be the new color.
  13. Dialup internet – I remember when the school where I taught got wifi. The science department (where I taught) was the first recipients of the technology. It was the newest thing, and it was amazing. Then, my neighbors all got it and I stole their bandwidth for years before anyone thought to put a password on it. Thinking back to the early days of the internet, I had to wait while the computer connected, and I heard the whole process like my computer was trying to connect to an alienship. I also remember the very first time I ever used a hardwired ethernet connection at college. I was so suspicious of it that I unplugged it from the computer every time I left the room.
  14. Floppy disks – I don’t know if you remember this, but there were big actually floppy disks before there were the littler hard plastic ones, but my kids will never know either one. Did you know that those little disks had a capacity of 1.44 megabytes? Now we have thumb drives that have a capacity of a terabyte which is only about 1.5 MILLION times more space. And now with the cloud, I’m not even sure that thumb drives will be around all that long. Everything I do is saved to the cloud, so I don’t need to take files with me anywhere.
  15. Cameras with film – My kids hardly recognize my DSLR, let alone a camera that used actual film to record images. They don’t understand the thrill of dropping off that roll of film, waiting three days, and then going back to pick up the pictures. We found some negatives recently while we were cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house, and the girls were like, “Why would you want your pictures to be on those?” They couldn’t grasp the concept that those were all we had, and if you lost a negative, you could never have another picture made. Like ever.
  16. A CD walkman – I remember having a CD Walkman in college, and if I didn’t hold it just right, the CD wouldn’t play or it would skip endlessly. I would bebop around town listening to Boyz II Men with my hand out in front of me to hold the dang thing still. Kids today don’t have to worry about that because their phones play no matter how they hold them.
  17. A blaring alarm clock – You can still buy these, but I don’t know anyone who still uses one. Back in the day, I had to put the alarm clock across the room on the dresser and actually stand up to go push the snooze button. And that blaring sound? It was the worst. My kids will probably never hear it for as long as they live.
  18. Paper maps – I remember going to AAA to pick up some paper maps so that I could go to my sister’s house in northwestern PA. And then, I was looking at the map in the wrong direction and ended up in Ohio because I turned the wrong way down the road. Thanks paper map, thanks a lot. There was no “rerouting” back then, and no one gave you the directions. All my kids know about is Siri’s turn by turn instructions.
  19. Pay phones – I remember quite clearly calling my mom collect and having her deny the charges. She knew when I called that it was time for her to come pick me up, and I didn’t need a quarter to let her know. Back then, without a phone in your pocket, you had to put a quarter in the phone, dial the number, and hope for the best. When my little sister and I were 9 and 10 years old, we would walk about a mile to an amusement park, play there all day, and call our mom collect in the evening. She would then come to get us because our dad was home from work with our only car. My kids with their phones in their pockets will never know the thrill of trying to get all your necessary information into the “What’s your name?” space in the collect call, nor the frantic search for a quarter to actually talk to someone.
  20. Phone books – I remember hauling the giant phone book up onto the table to find the number to a pizza place or a friend’s house, but my kids will never have the pleasure. We did get a phone book in the mail in the last couple of months, but I dumped it straight into the recycle bin because why? There is no need for a phone book in 2020.
  21. Mouse balls – When I was a high school teacher, the lady who was in charge of the computer lab always lamented about kids neutering the computer mice, rendering them unusable. Back then, all computer mice had a ball inside, and if you didn’t clean it out once a week or so, your mouse wouldn’t work. I remember when optical mice were first coming out because I thought, “What kind of wizard magic is this?” Now they’re all that anyone uses.
  22. Garbage Pail Kids – When I was a little kid, like under 8, my sister and I collected Garbage Pail Kids the way my kids collected Shopkins a couple of years ago. These kids were ugly little trading cards that looked like Cabbage Patch Kids gone awry, with vomit and disgustingness some sick person imagined. I remember having dozens of them, so our mom must have been okay with our having them and actually bought them for us. My kids don’t understand why anyone would want to collect cards (and I can’t either to tell the truth) rather than toys.

It’s not just things, of course. My kids know nothing of Tiananmen Square or the Berlin Wall or September 11th or Y2K or OJ Simpson or Columbine or Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Joe and I took them to the September 11th memorial in New York City last summer and they were astounded. I took them to the Flight 93 memorial here in Pennsylvania, and they were in awe of that too.

I’m sure I’ve missed many things that my children and yours will never know. What can you think of?

an old VCR tapean old VCR tape

a collage of a VCR tape and a rotary phonea collage of a VCR tape and a rotary phone

old black rotary phoneold black rotary phone

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