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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Did Chores by Hand

It’s fall, and that intrusive noise in the neighborhood indicates that leaf blower season is upon us. After a thoroughly unscientific survey of the people Mister Boomer knows, he came to the conclusion that the days we knew — of hand rakes and push brooms — appear to be over, replaced by machines that blow things from one place to another. In Mister B’s limited survey, not a single homeowner owned a rake, nor were they interested in buying one; yet all had a leaf blower. Is this a sign that rakes are headed for extinction in the average home, destined to be equipment needed only for a few lawn care professionals in the near future? Many communities are seeking to ban gas-powered models these days, due to the pollution factor, but there are plenty of electric and cordless models around to take their place.

In our boomer years, raking leaves brought opportunity to some of us, as we could make a dollar or two. For others, it was a chore to which they would have preferred some technological solution because the task was accomplished by hand. For others still, the raking part was the prelude to making piles to jump in and play. For Mister Boomer and his brother, it was a bit of all three. Once the family lawn had been raked, the Boomer Brothers enlisted the help of a couple of neighborhood boys in finding houses that had the most leaves on their property. A lot of the time, people would prefer to do it themselves or have their children do it, but occasionally, the boys were employed. The pay was not great — usually less than snow removal — but it was a way to generate some discretionary income as a preteen.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about things other than leaf raking we used to do by hand — especially chores — that are now replaced with some device. Here are a few that come to mind:

Vacuuming. Today’s busy Domestic Engineers (who could be any man, woman or child) increasingly don’t seem to want to bother with pushing a vacuum over carpets and floors, pretty much the way it had been done since the beginning of the twentieth century. Little by little, robot vacuums are replacing the hand vacuum for household use. What’s more, with the addition of one of those home assistant thingies, the robot vacuum can be be started with a voice command. An interesting side note is that pets — boomer cats and dogs — were frightened of vacuum cleaners. Now, as can be seen in numerous videos, cats jump on the robot models for free rides, and dogs see them as a new plaything. (Rosey the robot maid was so old-fashioned with her built-in hand vacuum!)

Grass mowing. Mister Boomer remembers his first lawn mowing experiences with a hand-push lawn mower. It was a real step up when his father purchased the family’s first gas-powered mower. A neighbor had an electric Sunbeam mower that Mister Boomer thought was pretty cool, but there was always the extension cord to manage. Flash forward to today, and Mister B watched a recent episode of This Old House where a backyard robot lawn mower was installed for the homeowner. The thing was programmed to mow the lawn autonomously, activated by a scheduled program day, pushing a start button or selecting a command from a smartphone app — anywhere in the world. When it finishes the job, it parks itself back in its charging station (can you say, “George Jetson?”).

Dishwashing. Dishwashers were certainly available throughout the boomer years, but Mister Boomer knew very few people who had one installed in their homes. The kids took turns doing the dishes in the kitchen sink, by hand, with a washcloth and dish soap. Mister Boomer’s mother tackled the pots and pans. The family did not have a dishwasher until the last years of the 1970s. Visions of the future always included a method for cleaning dishes to relieve women (then the exclusive keepers of the household) of the daily chore. (Jane Jetson could “do the dishes” with a push of a button). Today, it’s practically a deal-breaker for a young couple to buy a home that does not have a dishwasher.

Car windows. There are few hand gestures that so perfectly describe the action to which one asks another to perform. There is that one, of course, but Mister Boomer refers to, for example, the universal symbol of “check please” by clasping the index finger and thumb together and air-writing a signature in order to get a server to bring the check. For the Boomer Generation, one such hand signal — though technically not a “chore” — was the making of a fist and rotating it in a circular motion. Everyone knew that meant “roll down your car window.” Power windows were around in the boomer years and before, but again, Mister B’s family wasn’t one to have such lavish technologies. He recalls the first time he saw power windows, while riding in a neighbor’s car. His friend’s father fancied used Cadillacs, so while driving the boys one summer day, Mister B watched as his buddy pushed the lever and down came the back door window. In Mister Boomer’s mind, that defined luxury.

Almost all cars come standard with power windows these days. This begs the question, how will you ask someone in the next car if they have any Grey Poupon?

The quick adaption of leaf blowers to replace rakes, house robots and power-everything gadgets signal that we are indeed heading toward the Space Age Future we imagined and were promised in shows like The Jetsons. Yet Mister Boomer has to ask, wouldn’t a leaf vacuum be more practical?

What hand chores have you replaced with technology, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Seasons,Technology and have Comment (1)

Boomers Saw Their Lives in “The Flintstones”

Prognosticators of how we would live in the future were everywhere in the 1960s. Famous writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov as well as the General Motors, Bell Telephone and General Electric exhibits at the 1964 World’s Fair foresaw a world 50 years in the future as a marvel of tall buildings and labor-saving devices. Many of their predictions came true, like the proliferation and ease of instantly communicating with practically anyone on the planet. Several people foresaw the ability we now have — communicating with picture and sound, live, with a device that fits into the palm of our hands. Yet 50 years ago, things like the smartphone and GPS were the stuff of science fiction.

Since the growing popularity of television reflected our culture, visions of the future were bound to appear there, too. Star Trek, of course, presented an optimistic vision where people of all races from all over the galaxy could, for the most part, eventually get along. The Jetsons offered a way-out future of gadgets, talking robots and flying cars for the average Space-Age family. Ironically, several of the futuristic visions seen on The Jetsons are now reality.

By contrast, in The Flintstones (1960-66), boomer families saw a mirror of their own lives. It’s been said that The Flintstones was to 1960s America what The Honeymooners was to the 1950s. The show’s opening song spelled it out, that the Flintstones were a “modern Stone Age family.” Time-saving and labor-saving devices in the 1960s were part of our middle class, modern lifestyle. Those clever folks at Hanna-Barbera reverse-engineered “modern” 1960s devices and developed a counterpart in Stone Age Bedrock. No matter that many of these devices — like radio, television, the car and more, had been around for decades before the 1960s. It is, however, worth remembering that the tipping point for more households having TVs than not didn’t occur until the 1960s. Many of the show’s tech items were favorite parts of Flintstones episodes in Mister Boomer’s household, especially by Mister B’s father. After all, Fred Flintstone was, like Mister B’s father, a blue collar worker, an avid bowler and golfer, and always on the lookout for an easier way to get through household chores so he could concentrate on his own interests.

Technology in The Flintstones came in two varieties: things were either made of stone or used animals to perform the function. Items made of stone included the Rubble and Flintstone family radios, televisions, Fred’s foot-propelled car (complete with a squawking bird “horn”) and Bedrock’s city buses. At the end of every shift at the quarry, Fred slid down the tail of his rock-lifting dinosaur crane and punched his timecard by pulling the tail of a toothsome bird. Most gadgets used some form of animal, like Wilma’s small elephant vacuum cleaner; Fred and Barney’s lawn mowers had attached birds with grass-clipping beaks; Wilma used swordfish as kitchen knives; hand-held, teeth-clipping mammals were hedge trimmers; water spewed from elephant trunks for showers and dish rinsers; and one of the favorites in the Mister B household, the bird whose beak played phonograph records. Mister B’s father noted that monkeys were the pinsetters at the bowling alley. Early 1960s America still had human pinsetters at most bowling locations; in fact, one of Brother Boomer’s early jobs was as a pinsetter. (Not that Mister B would have ever compared his older brother to a monkey in any way, mind you.) In a mind-bending crossover to the future, if Fred took a picture with his rock camera, a bird popped out of the the back and pecked the “photo” out on a stone tablet. This mimicked existing Polaroid cameras and future digital cameras to come. What added to the fun of these domesticated gadgets was that most often, the animal had a pithy comment, job complaint or cultural joke for the viewing audience.

As we near the end of another year and inevitably examine where we have been and where we are headed, Mister B cannot help but wonder, like our predecessors 50 years ago, what our future will be like 50 years from now. If you look at the past 100 years — 1916 to 2016 — and all that has happened, then flash forward 50 years to 2066, what will our world look like and how will we live? Mister B, for one, hopes there is a version of a cartoon like The Flintstones that holds up a mirror to ourselves to let us laugh at our foibles while we enjoy our modern conveniences.

What was your favorite gadget in The Flintstones, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)