By G. E. Shuman
Okay, so, I am a child of the ‘60s. Well, in truth, it’s even worse than that. I was actually born in the 1950s but only came to understand that I was alive in the ‘60s, if you know what I mean. The fact is, I was really there, right dab in the middle of the 1960s. I was in high school until 1972 and saw all kinds of tremendously neat stuff in that era. I also saw some not-so-neat stuff. I stayed up into the middle of the night to watch the first moon walk on July 20, 1969, (which was a feat accomplished, obviously, with 1960’s era technology) even though my future bride was at her house watching it with another guy and HIS 1960’s technology. Dang. I also saw news coverage of college riots and the Viet Nam war, with my dad, on our old black and white TV every evening in those days and suffered through new episodes of Gilligan’s Island and I Love Lucy with most of the rest of America every week. (Sorry Lucy fans.)
All that I really want to relate to you younger people today is the idea that those days, those years, were very ‘physical’ in their nature. Things were real. They were hard. They were right there in front of you, presented in some metal, wood, or plastic form, and you simply had them and made them do whatever they did, (if you were lucky.)
Radio circuits were still soldered together by human hands and the results of the making of such things were tested before our eyes, physically, not in some simulation. The radio either worked when you turned it on or it didn’t, and you were never quite sure if it would until you turned that knob and tried it. The drama of seeing if some electric or electronic thing worked, whatever it was, whether radio or rocket, was for physical, immediate, human consumption. I think that that idea has been lost to the present.
These days any consumer would be appalled if something they purchased didn’t work as it should. In those days, a lot of things didn’t. Believe it or not, I have what used to be called a ‘transistor radio’, still in its original box, with the included instructions as to where to send the radio for an actual repair if it didn’t work.
Kids in my day played with handmade, or what we used to call ‘homemade’ wooden airplanes, complete with real gas engines. (Yes, I know that model planes are still around.) My point is that there were no electronically controlled drones or planes with electric motors and batteries then. Balsa wood, (Does anyone still know what balsa wood is?) string, muslin cloth, and glue held together the model aircraft of my childhood days and some of the real aircraft flown then.
There was a true drama in the idea of launching something off a small runway or launch pad, just to see if it worked. This excitement was shared by everyone from young kids to NASA administrators when I was a child.
It is true that in the time of my youth there were no cell phones, tablets, texts, google searches, Facebook posts, snapchat pics or other distractions from reality for us to deal with. The things that we had were physical, real, and made of ‘stuff’, as I mentioned at the beginning of this column. But, and this ‘but’ may surprise you, I’m not sure that those long-ago days were better ones. ‘The good old days,’ to my generation, are usually remembered as being better than today. Lately, I don’t necessarily agree with that. Those rugged, physical times that I lived through in the ‘60s and ‘70s were just as important, just as ‘real’ as every one of the days contained in our present year, and somehow, they do still call to me.
Still, today is pretty wonderful. Medical advances, communication improvements, and the digital world, in general, all help make this the best time in history to be alive. I’m sure that if Neil Armstrong were with us now even he would rather ride a spacecraft from 2018 to the moon than one from his and my time… the ‘60s. I wouldn’t blame him.