Fifty years ago I celebrated my bar mitzvah, the traditional coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish males at the age of 13.
While its origin is spiritual, gifts—to be honest—do play a role in the day, and in my day it was an often repeated joke at such events: “Today I am a fountain pen.”
Truth be told, I did (and still do) like fountain pens, but I was more interested in what passed for tech in those days. At an early age, I had built my own crystal radio; I had an early version transistor radio; I was obsessed with space exploration; and I loved the local planetarium.
So my number one present request—the gift I would have done anything for—was a small TV…a Sony with a 3.5-inch screen like my friend BJ had gotten for his bar mitzvah. However, my late father was the rabbi and he nixed that idea. Shrinks aside, my gifts were more of the spiritual sort.
LOL…this is not a grouse piece. On the contrary, as I realized that 50 years had passed and I remembered that little TV I’d wanted, I thought that a look back and then back up might be in order.
Let’s start with that TV. Sony had introduced an 8-inch battery pack TV in 1961. They were mobile. So as long as your antenna (remember them?) could grab a signal, you could sit anywhere in your house—even in bed under the covers, in your yard, the park, the beach, wherever you wanted—and at least pretend to watch, since the picture was often fuzzy and flickery. But who cared! It was cool, small and mobile.
Today that same kid wants a huge screen…small is not cool. And mobile is, well, mobile.
In 1966, the Oscar winner for best picture was the musical The Sound of Music…singing nuns, adorable children, bad Nazis and a “Do – a Deer” optimism.
In 2016, the Oscar winner was Spotlight…abusive priests, damaged kids and an obstructive church.
In 1966, the top TV show in the US (with huge global distribution) was Bonanza, which aired on the NBC network once a week—Sunday, if I remember correctly. It had 17 million plus viewers and had to be watched as it aired, with no options to record or stream. It was produced for 14 years and still runs in syndication all over the world today.
This year, the top TV shows were Sunday Night Football and The Big Bang Theory, each with over 20 million viewers. And they say TV is dead. Game of Thrones hit a high of 23 million across all forms of viewing. Eight million or so is considered a good number for shows that originate from a streaming source as opposed to from a network.
In 1966, Star Trek debuted but was canceled two years later as a complete failure. Man had not yet walked on the moon and spaceflight was still about space walks.
Fast-forward to today where Star Trek is a global phenomenon and the guy who makes electric cars is going to get us to Mars…go figure!
Music was probably as eclectic in 1966 as it is today. Frank Sinatra was still popular as were the Beatles, and my favorite band of all time, The Doors, had just gotten its start. Protest music had started to bubble up with Dylan and others targeting the war in Vietnam. Singles were still being sold on vinyl, and LPs were hot with record jackets becoming sources of art and content…an immersive experience if you will.
Today, streaming sources have made more music available to all of us; it’s fascinating that so much of the music of the 60s is still popular. And vinyl LPs are making a small but powerful comeback with younger audiences as Adele has proved that marketing music for real success hasn’t changed.
There’s so much more to write but here’s something to help frame the “sharing economy” we seem to believe we have only recently created: “Bike Share.” In Amsterdam in 1966, “Luud Schimmelpennink…scattered ‘White Bikes’ around the streets for anyone to freely enjoy…the concept spread across Europe for the next 30 years, accompanied by innovations to ensure the return of the bikes.”
From bikes to cars to room and board…
So do I marvel as I look back? Do I sit here and wonder how stone age it was to make a call on a phone that was connected to a line in a wall?
As the Financial Times reported,
Robert Gordon of Northwestern University argues, clean water, modern sewerage, electricity, the telephone, the radio, the petroleum industry, the internal combustion engine, the motor car and the aeroplane — all innovations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — were far more transformative than the information technologies of the past 75 years.
You tell me. But here is what I know and where I land…listen:
We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams. Jeremy Irons
For me, the memories make the dreams that much more possible and real.
What do you think?
And, by the way, the answer is blowing in the wind…