Growing up in Columbia County back in the early 1980s was a much different experience than you find today. The growth, of course, is easy to see. Back then, there were only two high schools (with split sessions) versus the five today. Washington Road was a two-lane road with only a single stop light between Bobby Jones Expressway and Lincolnton. And back in the day, we would have to put the trucks in four-wheel drive and cut across three or four different cow fields when driving into Richmond County to see a movie at Master’s Cinema.
What’s more difficult to see is the impact of the Internet on kids today. Technology is changing the way kids grow up. Remember the fights you had with your parents to get a phone line run into your bedroom? Well, my daughters are going to middle school next year, and we were told that 80 percent of middle school students have their own smartphone. Given that level of connectivity within a group of young adults still in their formative years, it’s obvious that the shared experience of our children will be much different that ours.
But will it be better or worse? Maybe a quick analysis of Then-versus-Now will help us sort it out.
Video Rental Versus Netflix — Video rental is one of the top five quintessential activities of the 1980s. The video rental store was the top entertainment destination on Friday and Saturday nights. You would want to go early before all the new releases were sold out. If nothing was available, you might end up searching forever for the perfect evening rental. Of course, there was no reason to try and hurry — you would always run into someone you know. You couldn’t avoid it. Everyone was there.
The downside to video rental can be summed up in five words — “Please be kind and rewind.” Netflix and the other Internet streaming services are infinitely more convenient. Also, online services never sell out. While we miss seeing our friends and neighbors, we don’t miss them enough to give up our Internet. The edge goes to Netflix.
Passing Notes Versus Texting — The first time that a girl professed her love to me was via note in the seventh grade. I thought she drew very pretty hearts. Unfortunately for me, a few minutes later, her best friend told me that the note was meant for the guy sitting two rows over. (Oh well.) Today, this occurrence would be attributed to auto-correct. Personally, I don’t think that asking someone to “go with you” via text carries the same impact as a handwritten note. However, kids communicate differently today, and texting is integral to their communication. I’m calling this a push.
Arcade Versus MMOG — Another one of the defining institutions of the 1980s, video arcades, became anchor tenants in every shopping mall in America. In Augusta, it was the Gold Mine at Augusta Mall and Fun-N-Games at Regency Mall. (Yes, it’s true, my young padawan… I have seen it with mine own eyes…) We spent countless hours and an untold number of quarters seeking mastery of some of the greatest names in video game history: Space Invaders, Pac Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*bert, Centipede and Pole Position. The ultimate badge of honor came when you surpassed a high score, and you were allowed to place your three initials onto the top score list for all of your friends and rivals to envy.
While the new online games may technically be better games (certainly in terms of production quality), nothing matches the experience of the arcade. You weren’t just playing games; you were part of a movement. The arcade experience is the winner.
Madonna Versus Miley — Can there be any real argument over this one? The 1980s might be the greatest decade of popular music ever. Let’s just go through the list: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Genesis, Duran Duran, Journey, George Michael, Billy Idol, AC/DC, Queen, Aerosmith, KISS, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Guns’n’Roses, Janet Jackson, U2, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, B-52’s, REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the list goes on and on and on. From break dancing to punk rock to heavy metal to new wave to rap and even a touch of country… this is the music that continues to set the standard. So with all due respect to Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, the music of the 1980s is the champion.
Facebook Versus McDonald’s Parking Lot — Facebook, Instagram and the other social networks’ success occurs because of their ability to crate online communities. Members of these communities “like” and “follow” each other. They talk to each other by “posting” on each other’s “walls.” This behavior is not unique to social networks. Before Facebook, people talked to each other and followed one another in a more direct manner. For example, every weekend night, the vast majority of Evans High would meet and hang out at the McDonald’s parking lot in the West Town Shopping Center. Instead of posting comments, we would just talk to each other. You know… just hanging out.
I know, I know. The idea of a large number of teenagers showing up at one spot just to hang out might scare some folks. But before smartphones, that’s the way it used to be done. Social networks help keep folks connected, especially if a large distance separates them. However, I can’t believe Facebook will ever replace hanging out. The edge goes to the McDonald’s Parking Lot.
So in this brief, non-scientific survey, it appears that things were better back then. I guess that I have to admit I’m a little biased. And maybe I’m just a little scared to think about how different my children’s lives might be when compared to mine. At the end of the day, all you can do is trust that the system that God put in place will keep us all working according to plan.
And we should also be very thankful we no longer have to drive across cow fields to go to the movies.