A coupla weeks back, a student asked an odd question. She asked how the members of the Second Continental Congress got to Philadelphia to work on the Declaration of Independence. Before I got the chance to answer that question, she asked another, much braver one: “Did they have cars?”

I hope I stopped the teasing and tittering before it got started by explaining that cars, as we recognize them today, wouldn’t be invented for another 100 years or so.

Anyhow, that “silly” question got me thinking. Consider that to the average teenager, cars have always been around. Their parents and grandparents grew up in a world with cars all over the place. We can easily grasp the idea that cars haven’t always been as advanced as they are today, but visualizing a world without cars– and I mean going beyond the intellectual knowledge that cars haven’t always been there, I mean really visualizing what life was like as if we were there– grows increasingly difficult with each passing generation. (Consider also that there isn’t much history taught in elementary school, and if you haven’t sought out this sort of information, and if it hasn’t come up in a history class by the time you’re in my classroom, it makes sense you wouldn’t really know when the automobile came around.)

Look at telephones. Today’s high school seniors were born in a world where cell phones weren’t ubiquitous, but they probably don’t remember it well. I remember pre-ubiquity pretty darn well: it was much more difficult to get in touch with people, cordless phones were a big deal, you used pay phones more often, caller ID was less common, prank calls were more common, and so on. My parents remember the days of someone from the telephone company coming over to install or repair your AT&T phone– and you were stuck with AT&T because there were no other phone companies. My grandparents, once they finally got phones, had party lines.

I remember a time before cell phones (yes, they were invented before I was born, but they didn’t trickle down to Joe Average until 10-15 years ago). I can imagine what the world was like without any sort of phones, but I don’t think I can truly appreciate what that world was like. And I think that makes it harder to count the ways in which the world is more awesome than ever before.

The faster technology advances, and the more that people are born into an increasingly advanced world, the harder it is for people to understand their ancestors’ everyday lives and to appreciate the material progress of mankind.

I probably wouldn’t have liked this when I was a teenager, but I’d like to see some sort of lesson or ritual or holiday that involves living with the technology of generations past. Some people might call that “camping”, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean a 1963 day (and night) where you live with the technology of 1963– no cell phones, expensive long-distance calls, music from the radio or the record player, a black-and-white TV, etc. (“Kids, this is how your grandparents lived.”) I mean a 1923 day with a party line phone, limited indoor plumbing, limited access to cars, no TV, maybe a pre-talkie movie, and no microwave or fast food. (“Kids, this is how your great- or great-great-grandparents lived.”) I mean an 1873 day with no cars or TV or phones or electric light. Let’s even throw in the clothing of the time, though I wouldn’t throw in the medicine or lack thereof of the time, because we’re trying to cultivate a sense of history here, not bring back the plague. Maybe we could also get the town/city/surrounding community to tone down the light pollution at night so we could actually see some stars.

Living that way for a day and night (though three to five days per time period would really drive it home) would do a much better job of showing kids how we used to live than any course or lecture or dinnertime story. It would be a far more powerful way of envisioning and connecting to our pasts. Sure, it’d probably be miserable to live through as a kid, but take solace in imagining your own grandchildren griping about “2013 Day” and having to make do with a smartphone that wasn’t built into your hand or not having a heads-up display projected on your contact lens.

When I went to college, I had a PS/2 with 4 MB of RAM and 128 MB of hard drive space. When my dad went to college, he used punch cards to write simple addition programs on a computer the size of a room. When my grandfather went to college, he had a pencil, a slide rule, and some paper. My great-grandfather didn’t go to college; he had a shovel and a railroad wrench.

13 thoughts on “Back-in-the-days.

  1. Really like the reads. My daughter is one of your students and she introduced me to your “blog”
    The only issue I have is the use of the second word of your latest blog “Coupla”
    Really? Eubonics? WTF?
    My daughter will tell you I am not perfect but I try. But, using some lame excuse for english slang, coming from a teacher? I know you can and should do better than that to help set the example for OUR children.
    I do not mean to sound like a jerk, so please don’t take this the wrong way, just trying to say, if you are going to keep peoples attention you should really start out sounding lik an adult not an adolescent.


    1. I really liked your post. I think you’re a great parent and I enjoy the reads.
      The only issue I have is the use of the 38th words in your most recent post, “WTF.”
      Really? Slang and profanity? Now I’m not perfect but I try (you’ll see by my usage of the word ‘but’ at the start of this next sentence). But, using some lame excuse for english slang, coming from a parent? I know you can and should do better than that to help set the example for OUR children.
      I do not mean to sound like a jerk, so please don’t take this the wrong way, just trying to say, if you are going to keep peoples attention on a private blog not affiliated with any school or vocation, you should really start out sounding like (FTFY) an adult not an adolescent.


  2. Are you kidding me?
    I highly doubt ONE piece of slang will suddenly turn all the students reading this blog into delinquents or that it will somehow affect their speech and grammar. If you have ever been in the classroom while Mr. Viscariello teaches you would know he sets a good example for everyone, dedicates a lot of time toward proper writing, and is not unprofessional in anyway. In fact, you can gauge that from simply reading his blog.
    Blogs are outlets for expression, if he wishes to have a momentary lapse in proper English (which no one ever truly speaks anyway), then he has all the right to do so.


  3. In the fine tradition of our nation’s Second City, Chicago, my tie-breaking vote is for sale. As are the votes of my dead grandparents.

    Mayor Daley would be proud.


  4. Additionally, a large degree of great literature which academia studies incorporates the usage of slang. Some examples:

    The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger, 1951
    Excerpt: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

    Why the Language Works: The novel is full of colloquially used idioms that work contextually. Without these idioms and slang, the complete effect of the novel would be lost. The writing style of the novel was so informal that it struck a chord with a large majority of the populace. Of course, with the offensive language that was strewn across, it did raise quite a few eyebrows. However, it was its language that primarily made the novel a definitive coming-of-age work.

    Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh, 1993
    Excerpt: “Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae’s behaviour is outside its mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ah sound mind, ectetera, ectetera, but still want tae use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir ain failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whut they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing [BLEEP]in junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and [BLIPP] yersel in a home, a total [BLOOP]in embarrassment tae the selfish, [BLUPP]ed-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life. Well, ah choose no tae choose life.”

    Why the Language Works: The language works in the book because the author mainly talks about the absence of a sense of identity and true patriotism in Scotland. While it takes time to get used to the rhythm of the book, the Scottish influence gives the book a lilting tone that makes it almost poetic to read. The dialog of the book makes it what it is and it comes with a glossary that translates the words and colloquialisms used in the book.

    To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
    Excerpt: “So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em to their senses…. That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children.”

    Why the Language Works: The style of the novel is majorly informal and colloquial. The main reason for this is that the narrator of the story is a six year old girl whose father is the protagonist of the story. In no way does the language compromise on the quality though. In a novel that focuses on racial discrimination, colloquialism serves to reveal the distinction caused by educational and societal differences. It also helps emphasize every character’s distinctive behavior and their attitude to different issues highlighted in the novel.

    Boxy an Star, Daren King, 1999
    Excerpt: “We me an Star are waitin for Boxy his head. Waitin standin in the fone box in the station of Wolfer Humpton holdin the letter what we have tapped in the number from. Tappin the number what Boxy had typed on the letter. Tappin it in on the fone pad. Tappin it makin Boxy come on the screen of the fone makin on the screen of the fone his head.”

    Why the Language Works: Boxy an Star caused quite a stir in the literary world when first published. Set in an undefined time in the future, the language is hypnotic and disturbing in equal measure. Unrefined yet effective, slangy yet proper, the novel can in no way be separated from the language used, and that is the effect of the colloquialism used. The words used express the directness, brevity, honesty and childlike effect that the characters stand for. Boxy an Star is a prime example of colloquialism in a book can affect the way people talk.

    Read more at Buzzle:


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