My grandmother, Nonna, is 92 years old and one of the strongest and spunkiest people I know. She’s been through a lot; more than most. Despite years of hardships, accidents, death, cancer, etc, she has remained optimistic, faithful and kind. No bitterness remains. In fact, I don’t think it was ever there to begin with.
But this post is not about her personal experiences- although one day I do hope to write more about her incredible life. It is about the world she knows. It is unlike any world that anyone reading this has come to know. As it relates to our industry- she has seen incredible change. And I’d like to highlight some of the technology that has helped to shape her world in the past 92 years.
Coming from a small fishing town on the Adriatic coast in Italy, my grandmother’s home town didn’t have a whole bunch of cars crowding the streets in 1919, they walked, rode bicycles, rowed boats or had a horse and carriage. The baker had a wood fired and coal fired oven (still does, actually) and the tailor sewed with a foot powered (or treadle) sewing machine. When she was young, they had a radio and a trip to the movies was both entertaining and informative. They played cards to pass time and old memories were photographed in black and white. Eventually, after the war, more cars came into town. Then the depression hit.
Nonna came to the US for the first time during the depression/ start of World War 2 (around 1937)- on a crowded, slow moving ship. No 8 hour flight across the Atlantic. She moved to Brooklyn where she became a seamstress and was paid $0.01 per collar that she sewed on a man’s dress shirt. No minimum wage and no union. She saved her money, went to night school to learn English and became a US citizen just to be able to take that same boat back across the Atlantic almost ten years later to marry my grandfather. See, he was in the Italian Navy, fighting in World War 2. So they communicated how? Only through word of mouth and letters. Manual typewriters were available, but she didn’t have any. All letters were hand written. Imagine not hearing word from your fiancé for weeks or months at a time. In 1948, after a horrific accident during her honeymoon and numerous months and several surgeries, she took that same awful boat with my grandfather back to Brooklyn.
Years pass and they move out to Long Island in 1954, when my grandfather finished building what is still their house today. They had 2 children by this time, and their first black and white TV. They also had an AMAZING radio/ record player in an all wood console that looks like a basic dining room buffet, but then opens into a music machine. Eventually, the family grew to 4 children and they put in a second rotary phone. And my grandmother had an electric sewing machine!
In the early 1960’s they bought a color TV, on my great uncle’s recommendation. The kids loved it. The men walked on the moon, people were flying across the Atlantic, and the potato farms on Long Island were being paved over to put in new housing developments. They lived simply, with only the necessities (my grandmother making the children’s’ clothes) and without the biggest and best of the gadgets. If they went on vacation, it was a road trip- and they found their way with a map that they kept folded in the car. There were a couple of cars in the driveway, as the oldest of the kids were driving to and from work. Their high school graduation pictures, proudly hung on the wall, were in color.
By the 70’s, people were talking about computers. Big boxes that were like calculators on steroids. By the end of the 70’s, all the kids were out of the house- married off- and most were living next door in one of the three other houses my grandfather built on the block. Grandchildren began to arrive as did remote controls. They had more toys, more gadgets than anyone else before them, combined. In the ‘80’s my grandfather retired. They began planning trips back to Italy- a quick 8 hour flight this time. Their grandchildren bought computers, and the phones didn’t have the rotary or even a clicking sound anymore. They called it touch tone dialing. In fact, cars started to have phones built into them! And phones lost their cords. You could bring movies home and watch them in a VCR. My grandfather bough himself a portable TV so that he could sit on the back deck and watch the Mets lose on a beautiful summer day. Portable! Can you imagine, everything became portable! The radios got smaller, and people were carrying them around. Records turned into 8 track turned into cassettes. Cassettes could fit into little boxes which attached to your ears so you could have a personal music experience- the walkman. Cassettes turned into CD’s. These times were changing, and they couldn’t keep up.
Fast forward 25 years to today- she still has her rotary phone- although it stays in the basement. It still rings and works. I have a cell phone; I can communicate with people instantly and immediately- heck, I can communicate with my nephew in Massachusetts via Skype, and look at his cute little face as he carries the iPad around the house showing me his toys and explaining to me what the dog did that morning. I have no patience. She has the patience of a saint. She has a few TV’s, a couple of cordless phones. She doesn’t understand caller ID. Alternative energy is a confusing concept- what do you mean we can heat our homes without oil? We offered her an old computer so she could play solitaire on it- she couldn’t get used to working the mouse. Regular cards suite her fine. She is one of the few left from that time before the wars. And she has seen SO much change. 92 years is a long time. I have covered just a fraction of the technology changes she has experienced. Right now, she doesn’t even know half of what’s capable or available to her. She does know that technology in ’40’s saved her life, technology in the ‘50’s helped her raise her children, technology in the ’60’s allowed men to soar, technology in the ‘70’s offered the beginnings of a mobile world, technology of the 80’s saved her life again, and the technology of today is incomprehensible to someone who started with horses and a pump well outside her childhood home. But it’s still saving her life. But the one piece of “technology” that she depends on every night is a small little battery powered am/fm radio from the 1980’s that she puts under her pillow at night. It helps her sleep since my grandfather passed away almost 13 years ago. And that’s made all the difference to her for those 13 years.
I have skipped so much of what’s really developed over the past 92 years. I don’t have the space to write a novel- nor the time. But I’d like to hear about your experiences with technology over your years. What’s your favorite bit of technology so far? Are you an early adopter (so many of us are in the AV world)? Can you remember a specific turning point in your generation that created a technological or fundamental shift in how you lived your life? iPod? iPad? WiFi? Leave your comment below…would love to hear all about it.