Mornings are the worst.
The coffee is too weak. The windup alarm clock is too loud. The phone rings, and it might or might not be my mom. There are no new e-mails. There is no hope for a Krispy Kreme. And man, oh man, I miss my Ambien.
Why have I subjected myself to life without a PDA? Why did I agree to a plan that forced me to spend New Year's Day watching the Gators in black and white, while the rest of the civilized world rings in the new year with Hoppin' John and the Orange Bowl in glorious Technicolor (or better yet, on TiVo with full control over instant replay and super slo-mo)? Why, oh why, am I spending the first 10 days of 2004 attempting to work, play and party like it's 1954?
I was born in 1968. One of my mom's favorite photos is of her holding baby me in front of TV images of Buzz Aldrin's first Moon walk. I'm old enough to remember life before PCs and ATMs, but young enough to embrace NetFlix and Wi-Fi'ing at Starbucks. I have 10,000 songs on my hard drive, but I derive more joy poring over my future father-in-law's 5,000-plus LP collection. After serving my friends a perfect gin gimlet in my grandparents' stemware, I've been known to duck into the other room to check e-mail and sneak a glance at ESPN.com. I'm what marketers call an early adopter, yet there are moments when all I want is to sit on a porch and listen to a ball game on the radio as my pop used to do in the days before big-screen TVs. Perhaps this mission I've accepted will help me better grapple with my ambivalence. Is simpler really better? Just how far have we come since Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, after listening to Vice President Richard Nixon articulate America's technological superiority, responded, "Many of the things you have shown us are interesting but not needed in life"?
PRESHOW: A GEEK'S LAST FLING
In the weeks before my low-tech experiment began, I was a high-tech camel, trying to store up enough of the modern world to last me through the technology desert I was preparing to traverse. I bought a new digital camera, clicked on my favorite blogs six times a day and read four months' worth of Brookstone catalogs. I drank lots of lattes, caught up on weeks of back e-mail and saw part three of The Lord of the Rings in a slammin' multiplex with surround sound and stadium seating.
The rules didn't demand that I pretend the year was actually 1954. I didn't have to call people "cat" or wear a gray flannel suit. I simply couldn't employ technology that wasn't available and reasonably affordable half a century ago. Obviously, my cellphone, Sonicare toothbrush, DVD player and two computers were out. I embarked on a search for a new winter jacket, as mine was made of synthetic microfibers not on the market in 1954.1 The Post-it notes2 that litter my desk had to go.
The Cuisinart (ne 1973), which lives a lonely life under my sink, could stay right there. While I could still use charge cards (the
Diners Club card, introduced in 1950, ushered in a new age of credit—by 1952 it was accepted by thousands of merchants), my ATM card would have to be retired.
Chris Duval, a vintage clothes collector in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, sold me a peacoat that I learned was made from dense Melton wool3 rather than the inferior weaves that prevail today. At a Garden City, Long Island, computer repair shop, collector Tony Casillo offered me a 1950s-era Royal manual typewriter with the original ribbon ("this baby has very few miles on it") and recounted an endearingly sad tale: His 12-year-old daughter was the only student in her class who knew what a typewriter was when the teacher asked. I rented a 1952 black-and-white Zenith TV4 with rabbit ears.
I knew that during my time travel I would have to be extra sweet to my fiance, Piper, as this new lifestyle would be inflicted, to some extent, on her as well5 (and she made it clear that when I walked in the front door she wouldn't be greeting me with a drink in hand, looking like Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven). Delivery of Thai food to our New York City apartment was out of the question. Fortunately, we retained the arguably romantic ability to make an instant cake (General Mills' Betty Crocker brand introduced the cake mix in 1947) and to store the leftovers in Tupperware (patented in 1947 by Earl Silas Tupper). And it was determined that since my partner, not I, was the one popping that post-'54 miracle of science, the Pill,6 it was allowable (plus, my editor didn't want to be responsible for another baby boom).
1. Fabrics like Thinsulate, introduced in 1978, are made from microfibers—superthin synthetic fibers that are melted and then cooled by air onto a screen (wool and cotton, in contrast, are woven). Advantages: Microfiber materials are water-resilient and are thinner and more flexible than even the finest silk."]
2. The Post-it note was invented in 1974, the same year as liposuction."]
3. Melton is a thicker wool than the kind typically produced today, made of a twill or satin weave with a lovely, smooth surface. During the production process, wool is typically soaked in hot soapy water with a touch of acid. Melton wool is soaked up to 10 times longer than other wools, in a solution that contains twice as much soap; that's what makes it especially thick. The finished fabric is then sheared to remove pilling, giving Melton wool its satiny sheen. I've never received so many compliments on a coat, and it only cost me 35 dollars."]
4. In 1950, about 10 percent of American households had a television; in 2000, that number was 98 percent. Approximately 3 million homes now subscribe to TiVo, ReplayTV or a similar DVR service."]
5. According to the U.S. Census, in 2000, 11 million people were unmarried and living with a partner (both same-sex and heterosexual couples are included in this figure). In the '50s, the Census didn't track cohabitation data; we do know that in 1950, 32 percent of men and 34 percent of women were unmarried, compared with 42 and 45 percent today."]
6. True, the Pill was invented in 1951, but it wasn't marketed until 1960; in the '50s, condoms ruled. Condoms began to be mass-produced in 1844, when Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanization of rubber. In the 1930s, latex was introduced; in 1957, artificial lubrication."]