ESSAY- Baby, I'm amazed: Modern life's magical amenities

I missed the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy when it aired, even though I have Tivo. (Another show with an extended running time for its season finale had a higher priority.) I was bummed for half a day, but then I checked the Internet to see if it was online anywhere. It was. You can watch episodes for free on ABC’s website. So the next evening, I watched Christina and Burke not get married on my Mac.

A few days later, from my local NBC affiliate’s website, I was able to watch Jerry Falwell’s funeral live on a corner of my computer screen while I worked.

That’s an amazing thing if, like me, you lived most of your life before the Internet was invented or was even imagined. Today’s college students have no memory of a time before email, cell phones, or the World Wide Web!

My parents were born before television was invented. They listened to the radio. I do, too, but I have a satellite radio so I can listen to only a certain genre of music and without commercials. Or I can just listen to talk channels– even narrow them down to liberal or conservative. I can even listen to the same old radio serials my parents grew up with.

My childhood TV was black and white and the size and shape of a porthole. In New York, we had the luxury of five channels. When we moved to North Carolina, we had two. Daytime television was either a game show or a soap opera. There was nothing else. Now I have 99 channels, and I never see commercials anymore because I zip right through them. I can watch the late night talk shows during the day.

I could say Tivo is the greatest, most liberating invention of my lifetime, but there are so many more amazing things.

The personal computer with email and the Internet are truly amazing. I’ve had email only since the early 1990s, but I can’t imagine how I got along without it. Eighty percent of my work day is email, responding to email, sending letters, files, photos and press releases by email– things I used to do by phone, letter, or physically walking or driving to another office. Can you imagine? I know many people my age who are impatient with it, who think it's actually no more sophisticated than corresponding by Morse code or telegram, but it’s so much easier. Who writes letters anymore?

What do encyclopedia salesmen do now? I can find out anything I want to know on the Internet. The whole time I was in school, going to the library to research things was a large and time-consuming part of the process, and you could only find what your particular library had on its shelves. The speed with which I can find information now is amazing.

For people who pay their bills online, no doubt that feature is amazing. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but it’s terrific to be able to bring up my checking account online to find out why I don’t have what I think I have– or why my husband bounced a check– without having to be on hold for the next available bank representative. I like shopping online, too. eBay and its companion commerce piece, Paypal, make spending money so easy! It’s my never-ending yard sale.

Cell phones are amazing. How did we move through our lives without being in constant contact with other people? (Although sometimes I’m not sure this is an improvement.) On the way to work, all my fellow commuters are on their cells. Are they already communicating with work, or still in touch with home? I’m in elevators with people wearing earpieces, looking like Star Trek characters, talking away. What’s going on that can’t wait? Everyone in the store is talking on the cell about what to buy. I do that, too. I call home and ask, "Do we have mustard?" How did we manage before? Did we end up with a lot of extra mustard– or were we always out?

I used to go to the movies. Now the movies come to me. Netflix is another amazing thing. I don’t even have to go to the video store. I have a list I created online of about 100 movies and old TV shows I want to see, and one by one, they come in the mail. I watch them and send them back. And even this is old-fashioned now, because I could just download all this stuff if I wanted to.

iTunes is amazing. Most albums (I still call them albums) are two good songs and dreck. Now I can buy just the two good songs. And I don’t even have to go to the store.

Video cameras and home movies are not new, but being able to edit them yourself and add your own soundtracks and upload them to YouTube is amazing. It used to be you had to invite people over if you wanted to torture them with your home movies. Now I just send them a link, and they will look at them because they’re at work and even my home videos are better than working. Even strangers look at them: a Halloween costume contest I taped in a bar in 2001 has been watched by several hundred people, and I don’t know any of them. It’s amazing to me that a video of my cat sitting on top of my printer, batting at the paper coming out, is now linked on a website in China.

My grandmother probably thought an indoor toilet was amazing, or a washing machine that didn’t have a wringer attachment. Every generation has its mind-boggling advancements, which my grandson will no doubt find amazing to contemplate when he’s in his flying car, coming to visit me in the nursing home where I’m hooked up to a virtual reality machine simulating Waikiki. #