So the popular band Maroon 5 has a new hit song out called Payphone. In it, the band’s lead singer, The Voice judge Adam Levine, mourns a lost love and sings that he can’t make a call from a payphone because he spent all of his change on her. I was in the car last week and the song came on. Cranky immediately began singing along and Punch suddenly got a very puzzled look on his face. Mom, what’s a payphone? I looked at Whiny to share a laugh and got the same befuddled expression as if to say, Don’t look at me. I don’t know what a payphone is. He ventured a guess, Is it like a pre-paid cell phone? I finally got the look of informed amusement from Cranky, who rolled her eyes. No, it’s the red thing Lindsay Lohan uses to call home in The Parent Trap. Everyone seemed satisfied with that explanation.
After the initial shock of this conversation wore off, I realized, of course, an 11-year-old boy might not know what a payphone is. I don’t think I have used a payphone in his lifetime. When would I have had occasion to need one? Have I ever dropped my cell phone in a toilet at an airport when my flight was delayed? Were there other forms of extinct technology of which they were unaware? Turns out a lot. Punch thought a typewriter was a kind of old-fashioned keyboard and a fax machine was old-fashioned email. Not too far off-base, however, I was picking up a fundamental lack of comprehension of a world without cyberspace.
They did know what a Polaroid picture was. But ironically, not from seeing one; rather, from the Outkast song, Hey Ya, where the singer encourages dancers to ‘shake it like a Polaroid picture.’ They also learned to spell the word ‘bananas’ thanks to Gwen Stefani, so who says music can’t be educational. They know what floppy disks are from what they describe as ‘old movies’ like The Matrix. Yes, I am fairly certain Rick did not give Victor Laslo the letters of transport on a threeand- a-half-inch floppy.
It’s wild to think about all the things that have come and gone and the dozens of things that much younger kids will not see: landlines, answering machines and computer mice (mouses?). On a positive note, it turns out the one place where you can still find lots of typewriters is in a police station, so maybe it’s a good thing my kids don’t know what they are…yet.