Boomers Needed Manual Dexterity

While Mister Boomer was conversing with a 40-year old coworker recently, she mentioned how she had learned to type on a manual typewriter. One of the things she recalled was how difficult it had been to press a typewriter key with her pinkie fingers. Eventually she did learn, and now years later, is happy for the experience. It struck Mister B that there were many things in our boomer years that required manual dexterity and physical hand strength. Practically every “modern” thing we had still required finger and hand movement, from rotary phone dials to turning TV knobs, manual typewriters to manual steering on cars. The push-button world had begun for us, but most boomers would live a good portion of their lives turning, grabbing and twisting things that were otherwise designed to make our lives easier and better.

Mister B recalls becoming a big fan of science fiction books at an early age. He enjoyed reading about the future, and trying to imagine what it would be like. On many occasions, he would stare at his hand and try to envision what human hands might look like in a future where push buttons would replace the need for dials, knobs and levers. In Mister B’s imaginary evolution, it seemed logical that the small flaps of skin he could see stretched between his fingers would grow as the need for separate fingers dissipated. He’d look at his hand and see webbing between the fingers, much like he’d seen on the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

It remains to be seen if evolution will take that path and change our physiology, and it certainly won’t be happening in our lifetimes. Yet the fundamental way we used our hands and fingers is ever-changing, especially now at the advent of devices controlled by voice commands. Take a look at what was once commonplace, and now all but relegated to the archives of history:

Electrric typewriters existed as far back as the the 1920s, with the first one arguably invented in the early 1900s. History tells us it didn’t catch on that quickly because electricity wasn’t widespread until the late 1920s, much like internet access is still uneven in some parts of the country today. By then the Great Depression took hold. As a result of three decades of manual typewriters, units could be found in thrift shops at affordable prices, and passed down through family members right up to the boomer years. Mister B, like so many boomers, made their way through high school and college using the manual, hard-to-press keys and hand-operated carriage return. Mister B’s family typewriter was a 1929 Underwood. Nonetheless, Mister B never learned how to type, so he continues to pen these posts with the hunt-and-peck method. Brother Boomer has possession of that typewriter to this day. Mister B’s family did not own an electric typewriter at any point, even after his mother became a keypunch operator. Mister B recalls seeing electric typewriters in stores in the late sixties and early seventies.

Power steering on cars was an option on luxury cars in the 1930s, so only the wealthy could afford it. The steering wheels of cars were designed to be larger, to assist in the task of turning the wheels. Advancements in gears in the 1940s helped a little, but it was still tough to fully turn a car, pulling hand over hand on a 20-inch diameter wheel. In contrast, the steering wheels on today’s vehicles are 14- or 15-inches in diameter. By the 1960s, power steering became an option on all American-made cars. Boomers were in the market for cheap cars, though, so power steering wasn’t going to be in the cards. Mister Boomer’s father did not own a car with power steering until 1970. It took until Mister B bought his first new car in 1977 before he had power steering.

As with many “modern appliances” in Mister Boomer’s house, somewhere around the late 1960s the electric can opener came in by way of a prize for a golf or bowling banquet. His father was on a bowling team in the fall and winter, and a golf team in the spring and summer. Mister B didn’t care much for the device, though his sister liked it a lot. She was younger, and it was much easier for her to open cans of Spaghetti-Os and Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni with the electric can opener. She was plopping them into pots and warming them for herself by age eight. Mister Boomer continued to use the manual, hand-crank can opener, and still does to this day — unless it’s a can with a pop-top. He hates those, too, because they are harder for a senior Mister B to open sometimes than turning a can opener around a lid.

There are many more things we twisted, turned and grabbed in our boomer years, in order to adjust, open or control the devices that defined our modern age, such as the aforementioned rotary phone dials and TV knobs. How about screwdrivers? Power screwdrivers have supplanted hand-held tools in most cases. Stereo levers and dials? Most music is streamed these days off the internet. At most a slide of a finger on a screen can turn the volume up or down, or a voice command can do the task literally without lifting a finger.

Some boomers marvel at the speed of which their grandchildren can text on their smartphones, using just their thumbs. While that “skill” may be similar to boomers’ typing on a manual typewriter, automatic word suggestions entering as they type makes the message appear all the faster. Soon typing will be unnecessary for this function, as already voice-interpreted messages are possible on a number of devices.

Yes, boomers have seen the evolution of these devices, and built strong hands and upper body strength along the way. As our parents saw more time-saving devices enter their post-war world, we aging boomers can look forward to a lot of automated assistance in our old age. Sitting in the comfort of our own recliners, soon we’ll be able to say, “Hey Siri-Alexa-Cortana-Google-Portal (or whatever comes next), open a can of Beefaroni and warm it for me, OK?”

What memories of manual dexterity come to mind for you, boomers?

Boomers Witnessed Historic Elections

This coming week the country will vote in mid-term elections. Control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are at stake, as are many state governorships and top positions such as attorneys general. It is being billed as one of the most important, yet polarized, elections in decades as it may determine the path elected officials will follow for years to come.

Important elections are not new to boomers. There were several vital election cycles that boomers bore witness to, not the least of which happened fifty years ago, on November 5, 1968. Unlike this year’s mid-terms, that was a Presidential election year. The battle for the nation’s top spot was fraught with divisiveness. Four separate factions were mounting their attacks on the Establishment. The Democrats were in disarray due to the advancement of the Vietnam War by then Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. He was being attacked from all sides, Liberal and Conservative, one side for escalating the fighting, the other for not committing to a much bigger engagement. Consequently, he chose not to run for re-election in March of 1968 (see: Boomers Watched LBJ’s TV Speech).

The race was on for the Democrats to find their nominee. Senator Eugene McCarthy, running as a Peace Movement candidate, won six primaries while Senator Robert Kennedy, also advocating an end to Vietnam engagement, had won four. He had just won the California primary in June of 1968 when he was assassinated. This set the stage for one for the most contentious national conventions in history (see: Boomers Witnessed The 1968 Democratic Convention). Hubert Humphrey, President Johnson’s Vice President, was seen as “Johnson’s man” and was therefore opposed by the Peace Movement faction of the party. Nonetheless, without running in a single primary, Humphrey had quietly secured support and ultimately became the Democratic nominee. He chose Senator Edmund Muskie (ME) to be his Vice President.

In addition to Vietnam, Civil Rights played a key role in the election. Many African Americans, impatient with what they perceived as the slow enforcement and implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965, formed the Black Power Movement. The election was held just one month after John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black-gloved fists during their medal ceremony during the Summer Olympics in Mexico City to salute Black Power, in order to draw international attention to the plight of African-Americans in the country. As a result of the movement, comedian and activist Dick Gregory mounted a write-in campaign under the Freedom and Peace Party ticket.

Meanwhile, longtime segregationists in the South were joining forces to combat President Johnson, who was a champion of Civil Rights, as well as the continuing unrest in the country. George Wallace, the former Governor of Alabama who famously blocked the door to a school to stop black students from entering in 1963, ran for President in the newly-formed American Independent Party. Wallace’s message was designed to be a battering ram on the status quo, as he attacked “pointy-head intellectuals” at his rallies and derided war and Civil Rights protesters as “anarchists” with his call for “law and order.” Many people at the time saw the phrase as meant to further intimidate Black Americans. A month before the election, Wallace chose retired Air Force General Curtis LeMay to be his running mate.

The Republican Party, in contrast, calmly went about nominating former Vice President Richard Nixon at their summer convention. He was seen as a moderate who favored an “honorable” end to the war, though he also ran on a law and order platform. Nixon chose Spiro Agnew as his choice for Vice President, despite the fact that Agnew was a relative political newcomer, having only served one year as Governor of the state of Maryland.

When the dust cleared, 60 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballot in the 1968 election. Richard Nixon was elected the 37th President of the United States. Six years later he became the first President to resign his office. He did so to avoid impeachment and removal from office for his part in the Watergate cover-up during his re-election campaign of 1972. Vice President Spiro Agnew had resigned the year before Nixon amid charges of conspiracy, extortion, and bribery connected to his time as Governor. In a deal that involved his resignation, Agnew pleaded no contest to the charges and was not given jail time, but fined $10,000 for tax evasion. Congressman Gerald Ford (MI) became the next Vice President.

Mister Boomer was in high school at the time, and therefore too young to vote. The election of 1968 did awaken his political interest and was the first that he followed. This was due in no small part to the fact that he would be registering for the Draft a few short months later. It had become a bone of contention for 18 year old boomers that they could be drafted and forced to fight in Vietnam, but the voting age was 21. In the song, Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire sang in 1965: You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’. The plea of boomers for voting representation prompted the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which set the U.S. voting age at 18. After state ratification, President Nixon officially signed it into law in 1971. Mister Boomer, and all boomers his age and older, were then able to vote in the next Presidential Election of 1972.

Boomers have seen elections come and go, but the 1968 election, affected by the civil, political and social actions of post-war men and women and baby boomers, will always be remembered as a turning point in the nation’s history.