= THE DATE: 1972 to 1978
I am born, and the world is a weird place. American society has emerged from an era of drug experimentation, high fidelity and is the end era of the Beatles. We’re in the middle of the Cold War, and people protest the Bomb. There’s two Germanies – East and West. Everyone drove large, gas-guzzling cars because gas was under $1, even when there’s an oil crisis brewing. Music is evolving as fast as electronics and computers. I’m told it was a “simpler time” but I consider the 90’s a simpler time, so it’s highly debatable.
= MY AGE
0 to 6 years old. Granted, I barely have any memories of this time period, but I have a ton of printed photographs on photo paper that my parents took with cameras that used FILM. Or 8mm home movies. Seriously, no digital storage or YouTube at all. Needless to say, I was a very bored child up until about … 5 years old.
= THE PHONE
Phones were a luxury. Not every house had one. Rotary phones that had a receiver and a speaker built into a handle you held up to your head to talk into. They also had cords, so you couldn’t take them with you, or go far from the wall they were attached to. In fact, if you wanted to talk to someone on the telephone and you weren’t at home? You had to use a phone booth. To call long distance, you had to talk to an operator who would connect you to people.
Personal computers could talk to each other. You had the acoustic coupler/modem, in which you put the receiver of your rotary phone onto the modem and let it sync up on both ends (making incredibly loud screechy noises). It was the innovation of the day – being able to send messages via a very tenuous connection of 300 bits/second.
Or you could use Citizen Band radio to talk to truckers or other people who had a CB radio.Short wave radio was popular.
No mobile phones yet.
People read newspapers mostly to get the news, or watched one of the big three TV networks (NBC, ABC, or CBS) at set times (normally in or around dinner time). That’s it mostly. TVs had 15 inch screens involving a cathode ray tube that weighed 60 pounds and had just started showing color pictures. You changed the channel manually on the TV itself with a large dial that only had 12 stations (and a lower dial to manual tune the TV), but the number of channels didn’t matter because satellite/cable TV was barely a thing.
We watched 8mm reel to reel movies at home, or slide films at school.A word processor was called an electric typewriter.
People also listened to the radio mostly, since it was portable. Everything was analog. FM and AM bands. Vinyl records were the main thing, although 8-track was making a blip. Cassettes were just an invention.
The closest thing you got to a console in the early years was the Magnovox Odyssey or the Atari Pong. I know, because my dad had both and I fiddled with them as a kid. Just the year before, OREGON TRAIL* came out on computers such as the Hewitt Packard and DEC. Colleges with mainframes could run games such as Adventure, Star Trek and Dungeon. In 1977, ZORK is released, and I watch my cousin play it. The Internet is mostly a military thing, sharing networks with colleges through DARPA. I am already hooked on electronic entertainment.
= NERD/EVERYONE ELSE HOBBIES
Dungeons and Dragons became very big. My dad tells me that swarms of people wearing shirts with dragons and/or knights on them start to show up everywhere. Electronic geeks are all over computers. Culture is obsessed with downplaying these nerdy hobbies,though. Everyone else is hooked on SPORTS or MUSIC.
Society was moving out of a time where clothing was mostly hand-sewn. People appeared to be obsessed with orange, red, mustard yellow and brown. Bell-bottom jeans were thankfully dying off*, so it was just normal denim. In fact, denim was starting to bleed into everything – shirts, jackets, furniture. Vinyl clothing was also very popular. Lots of horizontal stripes on clothes. Handed down clothing is popular.
Even at 5 years old, I know this is horrible clothing. Yet, my pleading falls on deaf ears and I’m in a pair of hand-me-down bell bottom pants, a jean vest and a yellow/red/brown/white striped shirt with loafers one size too big for me.
Rock and roll, country rock and some pop music. Everyone is gearing up for disco and funk. I seem to like listening to Gene Autry and Motown vinyl albums.Country music is out there, although I’m trying not to listen to it (I fail). My parents own a hi-fidelity system, and portable record players with weak sauce speakers are common. Again, the radio is everyone’s choice for music, although you can go to the local roller rink to hear the Top 40.
Slinkies are a thing. Etch-a-Sketch is popular. Barbie is even more popular. Metal Tonka trucks are huge. Lego and Erector Sets are massive. A lot of boys were given Hot Wheels to play with. Roller skates, too. We spend more time outside than inside, so we spend a lot of time in sandboxes losing our cheaper-than-dirt toys.
Boardgames were huge. Mouse Trap, Life, Monopoly, Mastermind. Pinball is also a popular pass time in bars and restaurants. Video games include pong and simple text adventure games. Everyone is hooked on watching Game Shows on TV, and there are a LOT of them on during the daytime hours.
= MOST IMPORTANT THINGS
The biggest defining thing about this era in my life is that computers are moving from massive mainframes that only big businesses and colleges can afford, to smaller units that people can use at home or in libraries. Movies and TV are starting to focus on more realistic science fiction. I remember clearly that TV exploded at the time, and kid cartoons such as Star Trek; Josie and the Pussycats; and Jabberjaw on Saturday mornings were extremely popular.
More importantly, the most influential nerd movie of all time comes out, although no one really understands what it means to millions of fans in the future. It sneaks in at first, then grows and grows and grows until it’s the only thing that people can talk about for years. The poster is so underwhelming, the ads are so disingenuous. My dad takes me to see this movie at a drive-in movie theater in the family station wagon. I sit in silence. I am enthralled. I am enamored. My life is changed forever (it also really impressed my dad, a farmer). I think my mom and my sister may have slept through most of it … ANYWAY –
STAR WARS came out in 1977. I was five at the time. Five years old! It was a phenomenon that just shook the foundation of sci-fi movies. I think the critics were largely stumped and weirded out by all the love and obsession that George Lucas had inspired in laser swords, Death Stars, droid duos and walking brown carpet co-pilots. It makes Harrison Ford the sexiest smuggler alive. No one could stop talking about it for THREE years. It’s not until the next movie that experts are sure that Star Wars nerds are truly here to stay and bat-shit crazy.
* Note: I played Oregon Trail at age 6. In 1978.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)