My 17-year-old just got his first car. It's a 2001 model, and he calls it his "grandpa car with a crappy stereo." Like many teens who get a much older model as their first car, the first thing he tells me when he shows me the car is that the stereo needs to be replaced ASAP. He needs to be able to play the music on his phone.
Then it dawned on him. How was he going to be able to charge his phone in the car?
It took about two seconds for me to find the cigarette lighter, which he can remove and replace with an adapter. He had no idea what the cigarette lighter was. Our current 2007 Prius doesn't have one, and the minivan we had before that didn't have one either. It's not that he doesn't know people smoke in their cars. He just didn't know that, and I quote, "They used to equip cars so people could smoke."
It wasn't so long ago that some kids had the real struggle of having to sit in a car breathing in secondhand smoke while an adult "cracked the window" and pretended no one else was affected by the smoke. The fact that smoking in the car is so less common today that cars don't automatically have lighters and ashtrays is "really a triumph of public health," according to lifestyle blogger Starre Vartan.
My son's disbelief about the cigarette lighter made me wonder what else today's youngest adults and kids don't have to struggle with that the previous generation or two did. I got into a discussion with my friends about this on Facebook, and we came up with a list of things that kids today, in general, don't have to deal with that we did. Fortunately, none of them are as serious as the cigarette smoke. Most of them are simply a sign that technology has changed.
Manual car windows and door locks. We tell our kids to roll car windows up or down, and they don't even question why we say "roll," even though we aren't rolling anything. Kids don't know that back in the day, we had to do the arduous work of hand cranking car windows up and down or opening the driver's side door with a key and then having to contort our bodies to reach the other locks from inside.
20-foot long telephone cords. I'm sure they still make landline phones with cords, but I don't know anyone who has one. They're usually reserved for offices and the cords aren't very long. Today's kids will never know the frustration of trying to stretch a 20-foot phone cord as far as it can possibly go in an attempt to get a little privacy while talking. That cord never went far enough.
Busy signals. A few years ago I was on a road trip with my son, and we were listening to the comedy of Steven Wright. He made a joke about putting a busy signal on his answering machine. When I laughed my son said, "What's a busy signal?" Today's teens will never know the horror of getting a busy signal all night long when they have important things to discuss with a friend.
Remote control-less televisions. Never once in my children's lives have I had to say, "Get up and change the channel." I may have had to tell them to get up and find the remote control, but once it was found, no one had to leave the comfort of the couch for the rest of the evening. They have never lived in a world in which the youngest child, by default, becomes the remote control.
Having your ears blown out by the sound of a fax machine. Remember dialing the number for a fax machine instead of someone's landline and getting that piercing tone through the earpiece? There are few fax machines these days, and kids just don't know the aggravation of hearing that sound and having to hang up and dial a different number.
CB radio static. Citizens Band radio is still in existence, but I know my kids don't know about it. CBs were the way my family kept ourselves entertained when driving through the mountains with no radio reception. Sometimes there were just no "good buddies" to chat with. Now, as long as the kid isn't the one driving, they can FaceTime, Snapchat, or text with anyone, anywhere — even when they're in the car.
45 record adaptors gone missing. Most kids know about vinyl because it's hip again, but many of them are unfamiliar with 45 records and the little plastic adaptors need to play them. When that little device went missing, you were out of luck.
Researching with encyclopedias. With the entire world of knowledge sitting in their pockets, many teens have no idea that their parents' main resource for research was a 26-volume set of encyclopedias. If they were lucky, they had a set at home. (There are still two full sets of encyclopedias in my parents' home — one junior set and the other set that I still refer to as "the one I wasn't allowed to use until I was in high school.") If not for that, they had to hoof it to the library to do their research papers.
TV stations going off for the night. Television networks have programming 24/7 now, but in the days when parents made their kids get up to change the station, the last person up also had to turn the TV off when the static or test patterns showed up. Stations didn't have enough programming to last 24 hours (and it wasn't worth producing any for the night owls). So stations would sign out somewhere around midnight, and start back early the next morning with a test pattern and the national anthem.
Making mixed tapes made from the radio. Today's kids just don't know how easy they have it making playlists these days. For a small monthly subscription price almost every song is available to them and they can create curated lists with just a few drop and drags. They'll never know the struggle of standing with your tape recorder up to the radio, waiting for the DJ to play a song you want on the mixed tape you're making, or the rage experienced when the DJ talked too much over the introduction. Another thing they'll never have to deal with: Getting the tape twisted, pulling it out to untwist, and then rewinding it with a pencil.
My friends and I had some fun coming up with this list. Honorable mentions include deadly lawn darts, dial-up modems, getting film developed, car lights that don't turn off automatically and floppy disks. What did we miss?