The Internet is a funny, wonderful thing. On a recent Friday night as I was lying in bed late I realized just how diverse the Internet had proven to be to me that day.
At lunch that day I was listening to the radio while relaxing in my car at one of my favorite parks in town. A song came on that I didn’t know, so I whipped out my smartphone, and utilizing a couple of choice apps, was able not only to identify the song and artist, but pull up a video along with the song lyrics – all in a matter of seconds. I’m sure this would have blown my mind if I had known back in college that someday this would be possible. I remember hearing a good song on the radio back then and having to hustle to grab the phone book, look up the number for the radio station, then try to get through to the DJ so that I could ask what the name of the song was. Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” was one of those songs back in the winter of ‘89.
I often sit and think about the ability we have with Google to access data and information at our fingertips – it is truly amazing. What did I do 20 years ago when I wanted to find out the name of the actress in a certain movie? Or try to figure out the name of an old song when I knew only one line of the lyrics? I guess I did nothing. We had no way to search for these things. The library was of course very limited for these kinds of pop culture queries, although certainly valuable for “hard” data searches. Now at 43, I can’t even imagine not being able to search for information on anything, anytime, anywhere and have the results instantly at my fingertips. Of course my 18-year-old and especially my 14-year-old really don’t know it any other way. With their smartphones they literally have access to the world in the palms of their hands. It’s a little scary to be honest about it.
Later that night, after my relaxing lunch in the park, I stumbled upon an app that gave me access to dozens of streams of old radio programs from the middle of the 20th century. Bear in mind that I have NEVER listened to these kinds of programs, even as a kid. They were well before my time. I never had any sort of interest in them and certainly didn’t realize that they were still out there in cyberspace waiting to be enjoyed not only by those who heard them as kids, but by younger generations such as mine. I really only ever knew color TV and, starting when I was 13, cable TV with (gasp!) 22 channels.
As I was lying in bed, old episodes of “Gunsmoke” streamed from my phone, as well as several other programs I’d never heard of before. While these programs are enjoyable – it takes quite a different acting skill set to pull off drama on the radio rather than TV – what I found most intriguing were the commercials that were still intact in the middle of the programs. An old Budweiser commercial was pretty amusing, touting its almost wholesome goodness. I’ve always enjoyed looking at old magazines just to see the ads. It’s interesting to see how marketing approaches evolve over the years (almost imperceptibly) as the culture changes. I remember back in college doing research at the library for a project and finding old magazines on microfiche; I felt like ’d discovered long lost treasure when I saw the old cigarette and alcohol ads!
With the discovery of these old radio programs, the Internet had allowed me to enjoy a piece of Americana that would have been lost to me forever. I now had access to the same entertainment that my parents might have enjoyed right after they got married in 1950. The nostalgia of imagining whole families gathered around the radio, waiting anxiously for their favorite program to begin, is very comforting to me. Maybe that was the highlight of the kids’ day. After playing outside all day in the surrounding creeks and fields, coming home, eating a hearty supper and catching up on the latest trouble in Dodge City would cap off a perfect summer day. It was definitely a simpler time, and some would say a better time.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy the same kinds of pleasures today – we just require more sophisticated entertainment. And who knows, I’m sure one day, 50 years from now, people will get warm and fuzzy feelings imagining our generation quaintly watching DVDs and streaming movies on our 50” widescreen TV’s, tweeting and texting with our smart devices. They will say ours was such a simple, wonderful time, and perhaps wish they could experience such a quaint life as we have…