When my grandpa passed away some 40 years ago, well into his 80’s, I was just 14. But even as a self-absorbed teen, I was able to think back on what his life must have been like.
He saw the first car, the first airplane, the first jet. He saw farming equipment go from a plow pulled behind a horse to combines and machinery that made it possible for him to have a large farm. He was alive when the first rocket went up and when the first man landed on the moon. I don’t think he ever experienced a ride in an airplane.
As a father with many children, he toughed out the dust-bowl 30s in Southern Alberta and the subsequent Great Depression on a farm.
He saw the phonograph turn into the record player – and he had quite the collection of country music and Elvis Presley’s spiritual music. I don’t recall him ever owning a TV or going to the movies.
He saw the development of antibiotics. He saw two world wars and lost a son in one of them.
He saw telephones go from needing operators to where you could dial the number yourself, although he didn’t have a phone in his home until he moved ‘into the city’ when he was in his 70s.
He had seen a lot of progress. At the tender age of 14, I naively thought he’d seen more progress than I ever would.
A few years later I went to university. I needed a science class so I took computer programming. I learned BASIC. Don’t laugh. (Some of you may not even know what basic is – google it.) It was totally the most cool class on campus. I’d write my little 10-line program to calculate the average temperature over three days, march off to the CompSci building and up a narrow, dark staircase to the ‘card punch room’. There, I would wait in line for a card puncher to be available. When one was available I’d punch my code in, one line of code per card. Any mistake rendered that card useless and it would have to be redone. After all 10 cards were punched, I’d trundle down the narrow, dark staircase to the ‘card reading room’. There was only one card reader, so I’d wait in line to feed my cards through the reader. Then I’d wait some more for my creation to be fed into the computer (read that as mainframe that took up more space than most houses today). Then I’d wait (yes, there was a LOT of waiting) for the results of my program to be spewed out of the tractor-feed printer, of which there was only one, again. And if I made a mistake anywhere in the process, I would have to start all over.
Since then I’ve seen some progress of my own – and you’ve seen it, too. Computers that do more than my first desktop computer – but we hold them in our hands and make phone calls on them. We have ready and rapid access to information that 30 years ago would have taken hours in a library, searching through indexes in books, if the information even existed. I’ve seen medical breakthroughs that create miracles – like being able to save babies that are born at 21 weeks gestation, barely halfway to due date. I’ve seen houses that are voice-operated – still blows my mind. I’ve seen video calls over the internet. If you remember the cartoon show The Jetsons, you’ll remember seeing what we thought video calls might be like. I’ve seen a lot of progress, too, and I’m all for it.
Thank goodness some things can’t be modernized. There will never be a ‘new and improved’ hug, or a ‘modern’ way to say “I love you”. There will never be a new version of the joy I feel when my kids make good choices and experience the rewards of living with integrity. No one will ever be able to make a more ‘feature-loaded’ version of the pleasure I get from hearing my dad reminisce. The things that really count are timeless and will never need updating.