Boomers Witness Change In Professions

The grandparents of Baby Boomers, and in the case of early boomers, possibly their parents, recall a time when the automobile was sharing the road with horses. Dozens of industries supported the care and feeding of horses; there were feed stores and blacksmiths, veterinarians and gear manufacturers. Many old timers may recall having a stable behind their houses, even in urban dwellings.

Somewhere in the 1920s, cars started outnumbering horses, and eventually, replaced them as the main means of transport. What happened to all the businesses associated with horses? Those that could not adapt to the care and feeding of the “horseless carriage” found themselves without customers, and went extinct.

After a recent conversation, Mister Boomer realized that as boomers, we have witnessed the same sort of transformation of industries as the electronics revolution changed everything about how we live our lives. The man with whom Mister B was conversing had been a movie projectionist for 35 years before the system was changed.

In the early days of movie theaters, two projectionists manned every booth for every movie. The projectionists were there to manually change reels when it was the appropriate time. Clues on the top of the film itself told projectionists when to start a second machine and turn off the first. Since most movies had at least four reels, the projectionists would be required to change over from one machine to the next more than once a night. When the humans were in sync with the machine, the audience would not notice the transition. Yet the projectionist had to do more than thread the film into the projector and start and stop them at the appropriate time. He (and they were all men at that time) had to understand currents and electricity, fire suppression (bulbs and film were highly flammable), and, most importantly, had to calibrate the light bulbs to keep them focused properly so the audience would view a bright enough image on the screen.

The boomer years were the heyday of the film projectionist, as more movie theaters opened, and drive-in theaters employed their share of these skilled men. By the 1970s, however, change was in the air.

The advent of multiplex theaters in suburban as well as urban locations, with their multiple screens showing different movies simultaneously, would have meant hiring two projectionists per night for each screening. Technology helped theater owners by changing the way film entered the projector. Rather than needing multiple reels for each movie, the entire length of film was stored on a horizontal platter that fed into the machine and, when set up correctly, rewound onto a second flat platter on the other side of the machine. If all went well, a projectionist could turn on the machine and not attend to it until the movie was over. Projectionists found themselves being required to run from one theater in a multiplex to another, to start and stop several movies during their usual shift. Movie theater owners could hire fewer projectionists, and some say this was the beginning of the end for the profession.

The final straw for these old-school projectionists was the digital player. Today, theater owners need to access and download films from their distributor by way of a special online portal and password. These downloaded digital copies are then projected onto their screens. There is no longer a need for a projectionist to pack up reels to return to a distributor, or a need to thread film into a projector. Digital copies have automatic expiration dates that render them unplayable after the scheduled screening time, as well. In many cases, it is the owner or manager who starts a movie with a flip of a switch. Direct streaming will be the next move for movie showings, already in play in some areas.

The man Mister Boomer spoke with was fortunate enough to have moved on to another profession before he could be forced to retire as a projectionist. He moved into television and electronics repair, which itself was a changing field.

As movie goers, boomers recall sitting in a theater and seeing the film break. Often the edge of the broken film was melting, and the silhouette of the perforated squares that were used to feed the film into the projector were visible until the projectionist flicked off the lamp and turned the house lights up. While the audience groaned, the projectionist had to splice the film back together and get it up and running in as little time as possible. It’s a profession most boomers never gave much thought to, yet its very existence was an important part of our boomer experience.

So much of what we saw as part of our everyday lives has changed, and is changing. Many boomers may have worked in industries that heavily invested into automation or otherwise altered the way things were done, to the point of losing their jobs. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant in life.” It’s safe to say he never saw a movie, but when it comes to the end of the projectionist era, he saw it coming.

How about you, boomers? Did you work a job that is now classified as no longer needed?

Were Boomers “With” or “Without”?

As we all age, it’s interesting to note how other generations perceive us and our earlier years. For example, boomers had grandparents who were born in the late 1800s, or early 1900s. They grew up in a time when horses and wagons were commonplace, yet many of them lived to see a man walk on the moon. Now the same types of historical references are being said about the Boomer Generation.

For Mister Boomer, it’s hard to imagine that there are now TWO generations born that never knew a world without the internet. Mister B has had some nostalgic fun through the years reminding readers of the Way We Were compared to the Way It Is. Boomers, as we know, did not have internet, cell phones, instant messaging, social media or even personal computers in their heyday. What we did have was our lives in the timeline of history. So, were we a generation “without”? How can you miss something you may have never even imagined?

The Boomer Generation is often termed the TV generation, because we were the first to grow up with television. It’s probably just as hard for boomers to imagine a world without television as it is now for kids to wonder about a world without cell phones. They may find the whole notion to be post-industrial primitive, but it was everyday life for us. Wall phones and phone booths were our conveniences, modern marvels our grandparents did not have.

Commonplace objects are not immune to the march of progress, either. In Mister Boomer’s household, paper towels weren’t used until the late 1960s. Paper towels have been available to consumers since the 1920s, but their use wasn’t a part of Mister B’s childhood. Rags made from old clothing or bed linens were stored in a container in the basement for any and all purposes, from mopping floors to cleaning paint brushes; dusting furniture to polishing the car. In the kitchen, cloth towels were used for everyday spills and the like that today, people think nothing of tearing off a paper towel to handle (the quicker picker-upper!). Cloths and rags were washed and reused. There was not a dryer in Mister Boomer’s house until the 1960s, either. Outdoor clotheslines did the job.

To ask which is better is not the right question. Each has its place in history. Likewise, it seems prudent that we of the Boomer Generation not malign those younger than us for having modern conveniences and communications that we did not. As Bob Dylan so aptly reminded our parents, Don’t criticize what you can’t understand. (The Times They Are a-Changin’, 1964)

Like our ancestors, boomers adapted quickly to technological changes in their lives. It appears humans are hard-wired to both invent ways of improving their surroundings, and master the tools and resources they create. Boomers will recall when the move to home videotape meant helping a parent set up a VCR machine so it didn’t constantly blink 12:00. Now, boomers have embraced social media, according to some sources, more than any other generation.

Nonetheless, the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. How can I be sure? In a world that’s constantly changing? … is what the Young Rascals sang to us (How Can I Be Sure, 1967). Ok, the song wasn’t about technology, but romance. Still, the phrase seems appropriate in a time when people on Earth control helicopters flying over the Martian surface, and NFTs are a BFD.

Where does that leave boomers? If the past fifty years is any indicator, the world will be vastly different in the coming decades. Our generation’s history proves we’re adaptive beyond belief. Maybe we’ll adapt enough to learn to ask for help when we need it. Or maybe we’ll even feel comfortable enough to ask for one of those autonomous vehicles to drive us to the CVS to pick up a prescription.

What about you, boomers? Did you buy a hoverboard to make up for your childhood, deprived of even a skateboard? Are you tech savvy or tech-challenged? And does that matter to you at this stage of your life?