The Ways to Watch, Listen, and Write Have Changed Drastically

I am a Gen Xer. An old one, mind you (I made my debut in 1965), but still a member of this adaptable generation. Why are we adaptable? The short answer is we have to be. The long answer requires a bit more examination. This is because unlike today’s millennials or Gen Zers (those born between 1995 and 2015), we have seen more changes in technology—and have had to adapt to them. For instance, my son was born in 2006 and has already mastered streaming Netflix through the Amazon Fire TV Stick. At his age I was being told to “slow down” by my father while I turned the channels for him, serving as his remote control, a remote that controlled a grand total of three channels. Oh yes, times have changed. In a short half-century (is that an oxymoron?) I have seen incredible changes in technology, not only in the way I watch but also in the ways I write and listen.

From Pliers to the Amazon Fire TV Stick

Television. Ah, where to begin with this sweet elixir that also serves as the drug of the nation? Well, I began with black-and-white, before being swept away in the wonder of color. The Munsters. Bewitched. The Brady Bunch. Gilligan’s Island. The Partridge Family. I watched all of these on a Zenith (“The Quality Goes in Before the Name Goes On”) console. That’s because my father was a Zenith man. We didn’t have cable. We had an antenna. One of my most enduring memories of childhood is of going out into our yard and turning the antenna toward Indianapolis on a cold winter night. It sounds silly now, sure, but back then it was the only way to improve reception—if you don’t count horizontal and vertical hold. My teeth chattered while I looked at the window and saw my father waving his hand, saying, “A little bit more.” The only thing more utilitarian than this quest for a clear picture of Walter Cronkite was when I needed to change the channels with a pair of pliers after our plastic knob broke.

Why are we adaptable? The short answer is we have to be.

After graduating from the antenna, we got (drumroll, please) cable! Sure, cable doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but in the small town I grew up in, in the ’80s, it was something for a young teen to jump up and down about. The greens of the 4077th would be crisp! I would be able to see Harry Caray’s giant glasses! Alex P. Keaton would seem even more sarcastic! It was beautiful (I am getting weepy just thinking about it)! What could be better? A store that rents VHS tapes? I must be dreaming!

Old TVs - Technology and Generation X

Before I could rent VHS tapes, I had to have a VCR. The first VCR I remember was at my high-school friend’s house, where we would watch Caddyshack and Fleetwood Mac in concert. The most notable thing about the machine was the remote control. It had a cord that snaked its way across the living-room floor to the VCR, which raised the question of just how remote this control was. When it came time for me to purchase my own VCR, I had to have the best. I had to have, wait for it, hi-fi. Grand total for my first VCR? (You may want to sit down before reading this.) More than $700. But it was worth it. Friday-night walks to the video store turned into Sunday-afternoon walks to make returns. I had stacks of TDK VHS tapes that contained various episodes of Seinfeld, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Late Night with David Letterman. It was a glorious time. DVD? What the heck is that?

I can now add a plethora of movies to my Amazon Watchlist and my Netflix queue, movies that I probably won’t even get to in my lifetime

Where could I get these DVDs? The video store, eh? With DVDs I would never need another form of movie watching. They had a pristine picture and epic sound. Plus, I could expand my movie collection because the price was so reasonable. Plus, plus! I could get a new version of my favorite movies every five years after the movie studios found some extra scene that Spielberg left on the floor. I needed all the versions of Jaws! But wait. There’s more (no, not Ginsu knives). There was … there was … Netflix!

Netflix removed the need for those Sunday-afternoon walks back to the video store. I could rely on the trusty United States Postal Service to transport my movie-entertainment needs. But here’s the thing, DVDs are excellent, but sometimes when you get one in the mail from Netflix, it looks like the previous renter used it as a coaster for his teeming glass of cough syrup and then tied it to the back of his monster truck and dragged it to the post office. I needed something else. I needed the seamless (if you don’t count that annoying blip that takes place when the program transitions from dumb old standard definition to high definition) viewing experience of streaming. I can now pause The Sopranos while my son watches Phineas and Ferb! I can now add a plethora of movies to my Amazon Watchlist and my Netflix queue, movies that I probably won’t even get to in my lifetime (I’m looking at you, Hot Tub Time Machine)! All of this is done through the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Nintendo Wii. The possibilities are dizzying! Now, my wife sometimes says that watching movies or TV shows has become “a chore” because we will never get through everything. To that I say, “We have to move product. Come on, let’s go watch Better Call Saul.” She also is a Gen Xer. So she needs to understand that we owe it to our generation to consume this content. We are the most adaptable generation! Viva Gen X!

Do I Really Need Three Different Formats of The Joshua Tree?

OK, I need to calm down from my TV-viewing excitement. What better way than with some soothing music? My music-listening habits started with the transistor radio, as a tyke, riding with my parents in the car, standing on the back seat (it was the late ’60s—who knew about safety back then?), listening to a song on a transistor radio. When the song ended, I tossed the radio out the window and proclaimed, “All done.” Yes, it was all done, smashed to bits, as a matter of fact. I don’t know if it is because I damaged property and had a sheer disregard for good manners that I then received a turntable, but nonetheless, it was on to 45s and 33s (what you kids now refer to as “vinyl”) for me.

Record Player - Technology and Generation X

I loved the turntable. I loved the “chunk” sound it made when one of the albums dropped (when they literally dropped). I loved going to the Big D Record Store and wearing the headphones while I listened to 45s, finally deciding that yes, I would like to add “Crazy Horses” by the Osmonds to my collection (I was a little kid; give me a break!). I loved receiving Kansas’ Point of No Return as a gift. That was some cool artwork!

This is another nice thing about technological advancements—the learning curves aren’t as long.

Records were excellent, but they weren’t eight-track tapes or cassettes—and all of them were available at the Columbia House Record Club. Eight records (or tapes or cassettes) for a penny? Uh, yeah, sign me up. The biggest decision involved with the club was whether I wanted a tape or a cassette of ELO’s Out of the Blue.

This evolution of music led to the blank cassette, which encouraged the frustrating and ridiculous practice of trying to capture a song on tape from the radio. “Mr. DJ, would you please stop yakking over the intro?!”

From records and tapes, I naturally graduated to CDs. I was so excited about them when they first came out that I was purchasing them before I had a player. R.E.M.’s Green, anyone? And CDs were cool—for a long time. And that time came to an end a few years ago. That’s when (cue dramatic opera music) Spotify came into my life. Oh, beautiful Spotify, what would I do without thee? You could have saved me from having to lug so many crates of records and tapes from apartment to apartment.

There is only one drawback to Spotify, as far as I can tell. It’s when I want to listen to the Boss do the band introductions during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and my son asks if he can listen to the Minions sing “YMCA.”

From Ticonderoga to GatherContent

With all of my, ahem, “years of experience,” you may think that I used a quill when I began writing. Hardly. I used a sleek No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil. Suffice it to say that I loved the pencil, not as much as New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris, who wrote about them in depth and lovingly in her book, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, but it was only a few years ago that I finally gave up my NFL collection of them—one I had been toting around for about 40 years—to my son.

Pencil - Technology and Generation X

My love of the graphite was supplanted by my love of pens. Ooh, the colors! Ooh, felt tip, ballpoint, rollerball, gel! These were all well and good until the typewriter. The clack of the keys! The authority I exercised over the carriage return! The practice drills from my high-school typing teacher Mrs. Duchess (“A, s, d, f, j, k, l, sem”)! My incoherent thoughts were now being captured much more quickly. Fully stocked with Liquid Paper, there was no stopping me! (And to be honest, typing has served me my entire life, whereas algebra? I don’t know the last time I solved a quadratic equation.)

This is because unlike today’s millennials or Gen Zers (those born between 1995 and 2015) we have seen more changes in technology—and have had to adapt with them.

I graduated from manual to electric. And then to the computer lab in my high school. A “lab” that held about three computers. Whatever the word-processing program was at the time, it transferred my essay on A Tale of Two Cities to the dot-matrix printer in a flash, well, several flashes, to be completely honest.

All of this, of course, led me to Microsoft Word, where I have a few hundred font choices that are one mouse click away, and where Command-C and Command-V save incalculable amounts of time. Almost every day I learn something new about Word (Option-Command-C changes the case of highlighted text, Text, TEXT).

So I guess that is the end of expanding my horizons in regard to writing, editing, and proofing. There’s nothing else to learn. I’m done. Wait. What’s that? Yes, I forgot. Web content management software.

At Britton Marketing & Design Group, we use GatherContent. It allows all users to see content and make edits. It automatically saves versions every few seconds. It allows for the comparison of versions so edits can be seen. Notes can be written and resolved. It allows for schedules and deadlines to be set. It makes great fries. Fell asleep there for a second, didn’t you?

The point is that we use GatherContent to organize almost all of our copy, from blogs to social media posts to emails. It kicks sand in the face of Word. And it was another technological development for this old Gen Xer to learn. I thought I was done learning, but nooooooooooo. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. OK, OK, enough with the John Belushi and Al Pacino clips (as you can see, I have also adapted to YouTube).

In all honesty, GatherContent is user-friendly. It was not difficult to learn. This is another nice thing about these advancements—the learning curves aren’t as long. But just in case technology starts to backslide, or if computers turn out to be just one big fad, I am prepared. How? I’ve been hoarding typewriter ribbons.

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