1975: the way we were, the gadgets we had and didn’t have

Craig Beckstein, the protagonist in my novel-in-progress, was in college in 1975. I went looking to see if cell phones were yet in their infancy and found the post below, reproduced here from the blog of Ran Prieur. I added the illustrations (see citations below).



“1975” by Ran Prieur

On New Years Day 1975, I was seven years and a few months old. Here’s a little reminder of how old Gen X is getting, and how much has changed (and not changed) in only 32 years.

(Note: I’m not talking about what existed in 1975, but what was part of the world of ordinary Americans. And if you non-Americans are wondering about work hours, most people here work 8-5, with an hour or a half hour for lunch that they’re pressured to not take, so they end up working 7-10 hours a week more than their parents did, and making much less money after inflation.)

  • There were no video games except pong. Arcades were mostly pinball.
  • There were no digital watches. And wind-up watches were really cheap.
  • Phones had disks with holes, not number pads. Long distance calls sounded scratchy and were very expensive. There were no cordless phones, and cell phones were in the same category as flying cars.
  • Computers were giant things in research institutions. Nobody had one at home.
  • Word processors were still ten years away. You either hand-wrote it or you used a typewriter.
  • Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
  • Photocopiers were rare and used weird plastic paper. You could make one or two copies of something by using carbon paper while you typed it. Any more and you needed a printing press or a ditto machine.
  • To fly on an airplane, you just had to walk through a metal detector, and if someone was there to meet you or say goodbye, they could go all the way to the gate without a ticket.
  • If a flight was longer than a couple hours, you got a free meal, sometimes two, and it wasn’t bad.
  • Supermarkets had automatic doors that swung open when you stepped on a pressure pad. Everywhere else you had to push the door. Cashiers punched in all the prices by hand, but it was only a little bit slower. You paid by cash or check.
  • There were no ATM’s. To get cash out of your account, you went to a bank teller, and there was no fee.
  • Only rich people had credit cards. If you had debts, a credit card was harder to get.
  • Nobody went into debt for college. You either saved money in advance or worked your way through.
  • There was no pizza delivery. In general there was less pre-made food, so people had to at least try to cook.
  • There was no portable way to listen to music except transistor radios. Headphones were giant things you used in the basement to listen to Pink Floyd.
  • transistorradioLAKEAFFECTS
  • Radio stations played a great variety of really good new music. (It was so good that they’re still playing the same music now, minus the variety.) There were actual humans who would physically put records on, and decided themselves what to play.
  • CD’s were still years away. Recorded music was a little scratchy, but sounded better because engineers didn’t kill dynamic range to make it louder.
  • Only a few people had cable TV. Most everyone had four or five channels that came through an antenna.
  • Fictional TV was much worse than it is now, and TV news was much better.
  • There were no DVD’s or even VCR’s — movies could only be seen in theaters, or older movies on TV.
  • No one thought to make a sequel to a movie just because it made a lot of money. There was no “Gone With The Wind II.”
  • If you really really liked a movie, you would see it two times.
  • George Lucas, who would later change all that, was still a good director, having just made “American Graffiti.”
  • When kids “played,” we would actually run around outside and make stuff up and do whatever we wanted.
  • Playground equipment was more interesting, and there was some risk of getting hurt on it, so we had to know what we were doing and take responsibility for our own safety, and it was a lot more fun.
  • The work week was five hours shorter. You can still see this in the old phrase “nine to five.” People actually did work nine to five, with an hour for lunch that counted toward their 40 hour sentence.
  • My parents had just bought a 12 room house with a great view in a nice neighborhood for $42,500.
  • The president got us out of Vietnam, made peace with China, and was perfectly happy with much less corporate power and a much smaller prison population than we have now… and he was a Republican!
  • Tapping a phone was difficult, both technically and legally, and you could safely assume your phone calls and letters were private.
  • It was popularly believed that Japanese products were junk. Almost nothing was made in China.
  • “Damn” and “hell” were serious swear words.
  • There were no espresso shops. Coffee was watery and cheap.
  • A lot of people thought the end of the world was near.
  • Everybody was afraid of “crime” (illegal acts by people of lower social class) and “terrorism” (acts violating the state monopoly on deadly force, which it turns out were still being done by states).
  • Doomsayers were worried about something they called the “greenhouse effect.” They said if we didn’t reduce our carbon emissions soon, the world would heat up and we would have an ecological catastrophe.
  • There was an oil shortage, and people responded by driving less, in more fuel-efficient cars.
  • Wherever you lived, the fields and woods on the edge of town were being destroyed to make way for ugly malls and suburbs.

[Illustrations: “Who Remembers” from A Simple, Village Undertaker; “Me and My Baby Pink” from Claire La Secretaire;  transistor radio from Lake AffectsWalter Cronkite from Wikipedia.org, “CBS Evening News with Cronkite, 1968” by CBS. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of CBS Evening News via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CBS_Evening_News_with_Cronkite,_1968.png#mediaviewer/File:CBS_Evening_News_with_Cronkite,_1968.png%5D

This entry was posted in autobiographical memory, writing about time and place and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 1975: the way we were, the gadgets we had and didn’t have

  1. Annie Atko says:

    Interesting post, thanks for using my pic! As an 80s kid I missed out on all this, making up for it now though, A X

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