Boomers Saw Their Lives Pictured in Nice Bright Colors

This past week, another company that was instrumental in documenting the lives of the Boomer Generation filed for bankruptcy. Kodak first marketed color negative film in 1942, paving the way for post-war parents of boomers to partner with the company in producing millions of photos of our wonder years.

Eastman Kodak has a long and storied history as an all-American company. It was the first company to introduce a consumer camera, back in 1888; and introduced the first consumer film in 1889. Film became the biggest selling item for Kodak for more than 100 years. Throughout the Boomer Years the name “Kodak” was synonymous with photography. As the world leader in photographic products, Kodak invented, manufactured and sold many innovative products during our early years.

  •  The Brownie 8MM movie camera was introduced in 1951. That opened the door for many boomer parents to add action to the family photo record. Every extended family had at least one uncle — men were mostly in charge of the photographic duties — who became an 8MM aficionado, igniting vast arrays of floodlights at gatherings and exhorting family members to look and wave at the camera.
  • In 1959, Kodak introduced Ektachrome film. It was a high-speed film that allowed for shooting in areas where Kodachrome wasn’t up to snuff. It also helped launch the amateur photographer movement by simplifying the developing process. Before Ektachrome, it was thought that a lab was necessary to develop Kodachrome because of its intricate process.
  • Where would boomer photo memories be without the Kodak Carousel projector? It was introduced in 1961, four years shy of the end of the baby boom. That positioned it to be a prime product for baby boomer parents. Also in 1961, Kodak introduced Kodachrome II, which further saturated the colors for which Kodachrome was known.
  • In 1963 we would be oh-so-modern with Kodak Instamatic cameras. Aside from the ease of use, the innovation for the Instamatic came in the form of a four-sided flash cube. Unlike earlier years, where a hot, spent flash bulb had to be removed and replaced with a fresh one after each photo, the flash cube allowed the user to shoot four shots before changing the cube, which conveniently snapped into a slot on the top of the camera. By 1970, more than 50 million Instamatic cameras were made.

  •  The Super 8 movie format was developed by Kodak in 1965. Along with Super 8 cameras, Kodak introduced Kodachrome film cartridges for the cameras. In keeping with George Eastman’s original marketing tagline for Kodak, “You press the button — we do the rest,” the new film cartridge made changing film as easy as clicking in a new one.
  • Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. The original was larger than a toaster and recorded digitized images to a standard cassette tape. Unfortunately for the company, Kodak never became the dominant player in the digital camera field, as it had in film.
This is the Kodak camera that Mister B's father used to document many birthdays, Easter outfits and Christmas mornings. Since his father was always behind the camera, he was rarely in family photos. Kodak marketed the Brownie Hawkeye Camera with flash attachment from 1950 to 1961. Its original suggested retail price was $7.00.

Unlike the snap-happy shutterbugs of today, Mister Boomer recalls that photography was, for many boomer families, more about documenting milestones and special events. As such, a roll of film — which was either 24 or 36 exposures — could sit inside a camera for a year. Drug stores were often the places to drop off film, which, once exposed through camera shots, could be brought to a lab for developing and printing.

Photo labs would send runners to all the various drop-off points to pick up and return film and prints; the entire process could take up to a week. Especially with vacation photos, Mister Boomer and his siblings would excitedly head to the drug store to retrieve the photo envelope. Inside, a pouch contained the developed negatives. In another pouch were placed prints from the negatives. Once the roll had been completed and developed, the resulting prints from a single roll could show all four seasons, from winter birthdays to spring school events; summer family picnics to vacations; Halloween costumes to Christmas gift openings.

Mister Boomer’s family never jumped on the movie camera bandwagon. Even after Mister B’s father won a Super 8 movie camera at a golf or bowling outing, it was, for the most part, relegated to a closet’s top shelf for years. In fact, the family didn’t immediately embrace color film, either. More than likely it was a cost consideration, since black and white film was less expensive to both purchase and develop. By the time Mister B’s family started seeing the U.S.A. in driving vacations around 1962, color had supplanted back and white.

Kodak gave us many … well … Kodak moments. Like the nice bright colors of our photographed youth, the company has faded from prominence in the past couple of decades. Let’s hope it doesn’t fade to the point that Kodak is no longer in the picture.

What Kodak moments come to mind for you, boomers?

Another Boomer Legend Passes On: Steve Jobs

The passing this week of Apple Computer founder, Steve Jobs, has prompted Mister Boomer to ponder the qualities of the Boomer Generation that have made a striking difference in the daily lives of every generation that has followed. Surely, generations before us were inventive and savvy in the technology of their day, but boomers have taken it to another level in just a few, short decades. Much of our modern tech-savvy ways can be directly attributed to the work of Steve Jobs.

Here was a man — himself a boomer — whom people are comparing to great inventors of past technological ages, particularly in the field of communications: Guglielmo Marconi, Samuel Morse, Robert Fulton, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison among them. Each adapted and expanded on the technology of their era to develop tools and products that changed the way people conducted their daily lives. Unlike previous generations, however, there has never been a time when the pace of change has advanced so quickly, and never before had a generation embraced that change with such gusto as the boomer generation. To wit:

We were the first TV generation. Boomers didn’t invent TV, but we became a huge part of the first audience for TV programming. We grew up watching TV, before any other generation had that opportunity. Perhaps that contributed to our ability to not fear new technologies.

We were always among the first adopters. Every new technology requires “first adopters,” who are the people who inevitably want new technologies as soon as they surface. The buzz generated by first adopters — and their analysis of the functionalities of these new products — further advance the development of products. Perhaps this is most evident in the field of technology over any other area. Among the products we embraced whole-heartedly:

  • Transistor radios. The idea of portable music devices can trace its direct lineage back from the iPod to the compact disc; the Walkman to the cassette tape; 8-track tapes to reel-to-reel; and all the way back to the transistor radio. What would have happened to the technology chain if boomer teens didn’t take it for their own, to make it a financial — and more importantly — social success? And what might have happened if Steve Jobs didn’t weigh in here? He not only took existing technology — namely, the MP3 player — and made it cool and desirable, but completely reshaped the way music would be purchased. He displayed typical boomer behavior to reinvent the old to make the new, then applied it to daily life in a meaningful way.
  • Push-button telephones. Our parents may have been the first purchasers, but boomers were the ones who used them the most in daily communications. When we were old enough to go out on our own, we helped hasten the replacement of older technologies with what would ultimately become today’s digital network. Again, Steve Jobs took existing technology — a burgeoning cell phone market — and stood it on its ear with the game-changing release of the iPhone. What rock ‘n roll had done to the music of our parents, Steve Jobs had done to the world of personal communications.
  • VCRs. Despite the arguments for or against Beta vs. VHS, we are the generation that saved our parents’ VCRs from perpetually blinking “00:00.” We hear today that kids can figure out technology so much faster than their parents, but we were the first generation to which that sentiment was attached. Again, Steve Jobs had an important part in the whole process. Not only had he helped facilitate the distribution and enjoyment of video and movies through the iTunes library, he helped transform their very existence. Through the purchasing of Pixar Studios he announced loud and clear that digitally created images would henceforth play an integral part in the moviemaking process. This was no more felt than in the world of animation. With the release of “Toy Story,” animation no longer had to be defined by the decades-old method of hand-drawn animation cells. And who among us would have ever thought that it would be possible to view videos on our hand-held telephones?
  • Personal computers. The IBM PC may have been the first, but once again, Boomer Steve took an existing technology and made it cooler for his generation, and much easier to use. Boomers have always enjoyed a level of instant gratification. Jobs played to that quality perfectly with the release of Macintosh computers. The visual nature of its graphical user interface — another existing technology — made it a simple transition for boomers, who were by this point parents and even grandparents themselves, to embrace. That in turn made it easier for the next generation to embrace technological change, and so on. It has been argued that the Windows operating system itself may never have existed without the competition represented by Steve Job’s Apple Computer.

Steve Jobs’ poignant words in 2005 reflect the very nature of boomer philosphy heard so often in the music of our day: there is no time like the present … live for today.

Mister Boomer heard a radio interview this past week in which a guest opined that in a study of four and five year olds who were given iPads, they as a group intuitively knew how to operate the devices and had no trouble doing so. These children will grow up in a completely different world thanks to the efforts of one boomer — Steve Jobs — and the boomers he employed.

Mister Boomer often recalls the ’60s and ’70s with great nostalgia. Yet in those times, very few of us could envision the world of communications and technology as it is today. It took a few boomer visionaries like Steve Jobs, and a whole lot of boomer willingness to embrace the change for the better, that has shaped our world today. Mister B is reminded of a quote from Bobby Kennedy that seems apropros to Mr. Jobs:
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

On a personal note, Mister B’s life has been changed dramatically due to Apple products. First, he has been a great fan of Macintosh computers since their introduction, and has been using them on a daily basis since 1986. Of course, he, along with hundreds of millions of people around the world, owns an iPod. Mister B bought one for his wife shortly after the release in 2001, then promptly bought his own in 2003. It’s still in operation today. Indeed, would not have appeared as it is today were it not for Mister Boomer’s Macintosh. These posts are written, edited and posted on an iMac, which is the fourth Apple computer Mister B has owned. Thank you, Mister Jobs. Our world is a more connected place because you saw what could be, and made it happen.

What do you think about the passing of our fellow boomer, Steve Jobs, boomers?