“It was definitely a more innocent time.”
That’s what I said to someone when we were talking about cellphone technology today, and how my teen years were spent yelling, “I’ll call you when I get home!” Then, actually calling my best friend and sitting on the phone for hours saying absolutely nothing of value.
But, I’m not sure it was a more innocent time. It was the 80s–not exactly a decade remembered for its reticence. I’m not sure there is such thing as a less innocent time when you’re talking teenagers. Shakespeare* tells you that, at least in the 16th Century, between sixteen and twenty-three, the only things getting done were immoral, illegal, and idiotic. You want to go back further, and Socrates** was complaining about the mini Me Generation of his day, too.
Why does it feel more innocent, then?
For me, because all the mistakes I made, I made in person. There was a level of intimacy required for rejection that made a difference. If you were going to make a gesture, you had to really work for it.
Say I wanted to send nude photos to someone (which I never did, Mom!), I had to work for it. First, I had to own a camera because my teen years pre-date the easy availability of even the disposable Kodak, and I had to buy film ($8 to $35 a roll, depending on whether it was B/W or Color, and how many exposures I wanted.)
Back in my day, there weren’t view-finders to help you see and artfully off-center your subject, so I either had to enlist a friend to play Terry Richards for me (which I never did, Mom!), or I had to kind of hope I was holding the camera far enough away from my body, at just the right angle to capture more than just a blur of background and my elbow. Kids my age did generally own, or have access to remote shutter release technology (that’s an ancient selfie stick, teens, and the one I bought for a college photography class set me back close $80), so there was no pose-and-click your way to your very own junior lad’s mag spread.
Even if I had made it that far using mirrors to reflect what would have been my underdeveloped physique, I still had to get the film developed ($15–$50+ depending on B/W or Color, number of exposures.) That meant either the Photo Hut that used to sit in the middle of the Winn Dixie parking lot, or the film counter at Eckerd’s. Either way, I would have had to wait up to two weeks for my film to be mailed off for processing, and sent back for me to pick up. In person. There was zero anonymity.
Just to give a boy a quick, visual thrill (never did it, Mom!) I had to spend money, time, effort, and at least three layers of dignity (Layer One: The weirdo that worked at the Photo Hut. Layer Two: The nameless weirdos developing the film. Layer Three: The weirdo at the Photo Hut after he’d seen the photos.) As fleeting as teen romance can be, and as flighty as I was, I could have gone through a handful of boyfriends before I even got my pictures back. None of that is to mention the difficulty I would have had pulling it off!
So, even if my teenaged gerbil brain had thought nudies were a good idea at the time, the work involved to bring my idea to fruition would have been too exhausting. I’d have lost interest somewhere between getting my mother to drive me to the store for film, and trying to explain why I needed the film. And, if I’d managed to work up the nerve to walk up to the store and make my purchases, there is no way in the world I’d ever have worked up the rest of the nerve to go back to the Photo Hut.
Today? If I wanted to send nudes to my husband, all I have to do is turn on my phone, swipe, enter my pin, tap the camera, take a picture, tap the Message icon, enter his name, and send. I don’t even have to leave the room. I can do it in under a minute, if you don’t count the time I would take to put on makeup, do my hair, find a decent pose, and delete my way through 300 images before finding one that was close enough to not looking like me that I felt okay sending it***.
The 80s were hard!
I had a recent conversation with a 20-year-old, who asked me if I’d ever seen The Breakfast Club. Once I’d stopped crying, I explained that I saw it in the theater, with my parents (who were scandalized by it), when it came out. She went on to tell me how it resonated with her because it captured teens so well. “It’s my favorite movie of all time,” she said.
And I thought of this from SlowRobot.com:
You can’t remake it. And there isn’t a way to go back to the intimacy of a world that required at least the hearing of a voice to communicate your passion.
I have a lot of hope for the future. My kid is learning to do things I never dreamed of existing when I was his age. Right now, he’s watching from season 1 of Top Gear, using technology that was SciFi when I was nine. You know, back when I had to catch the episode when it came on, or wait til the season ended, and hope I caught the rerun.
I don’t need him to have 70s Summers, or 80s Dates, or 90s Music. I just need him to have his childhood and his teen years. He’ll have exactly as innocent a time as I did because he has me for a mother, and (like my mother) I watch, and listen, and act. I want him to enjoy his world, so that one day he can look back and complain about how it took, like, a whole second to send a text message.
*”I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.” (A Winter’s Tale, Act 3, Scene 3)
**”The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
***As a mother, I do not have time to do this. Only teenagers and celebrities have time to do this stuff.