In 2009, we moved our young family from Boston back to my Jersey Shore hometown. One of the main reasons we did so was to give our children the experience of growing up at the Jersey Shore and the freedom that goes along with it.
Living just north of Boston with our three small children, I often wondered what teenagers did all summer without access to the beach via a short bike ride.
Many Massachusetts families summer in New Hampshire and Maine so suburban towns tended to get a little sleepy during the summer months. Growing up at the Jersey Shore, I was used to my home being the summer destination and surrounding towns swelling with energy in the summer.
Sweet freedom via my shiny red Schwinn 10-speed and our town’s bike path was what I experienced growing up at the Jersey Shore. Not only was that freedom one the highlights of my youth, but it also helped shape me. Along with living closer to family, we wanted to give our kids that gift, so we jumped at the opportunity to pack up and relocate when my husband’s company restructured.
Now, 10 years later, all three of our children have experienced countless summer days of leaving the house early in the morning on their bikes, meeting up with friends, and having long days at the beach. They are the days when they are undoubtedly the happiest and have grown the most. They have given them room to solve problems, make decisions for themselves, be in control of their days, make mistakes they can learn from— all while having fun, making memories, and building friendships.
Technology Has Changed Practically Every Aspect Of Modern Life.
While I’m grateful that our kids have experienced the gift of Jersey Shore summers, sadly, a lot has changed over the years due to advancements in technology. Sure, technological advancements are responsible for many positive changes to modern life such as increased efficiency, knowledge, and creativity as well as better communication, self-expression, and navigation. (I often wonder how I survived without Google Maps.)
But these advancements also come with a cost, especially when it comes how we relate to one another, communicate, socialize, and what we do for fun.
To preserve a little slice of history, in this post I’m sharing my narrow perspective on some of the contrasts between what I experienced as a kid growing up at the Jersey Shore in the 70s and 80s vs. how technology has changed that experience today.
Revisiting the past and seeing some of the contrasts between then and now can help us possibly preserve some of the positive things we did back then (that are falling to the wayside) and perhaps establish boundaries for managing technology in our lives today. Easier said than done, of course.
So, without further ado, let’s take look at some of the differences …
1 | Phones: In the 70s and 80s, each home typically had one phone or possibly a second one in a bedroom. Phones either hung on a wall or sat on a table top, and one was confined to the length of the phone’s cord. There were no cordless phones. In fact, phone cords would typically get warped from being stretched to their max.
Growing up, our family’s phone hung on the wall to the left once we entered our kitchen from the back door. When my older sister went to college, I eventually moved into her room because she had a princess rotary-dial phone hooked up.
Most of my friends did not have phones in their rooms, and if we wanted to speak to each other, we had to call the house phone, which usually involved speaking to a parent first. At the bus stop, everyone spoke to one another, and we got to know each other through those daily conversations.
Not having a phone with us all day forced us to communicate with whoever was in our presence. We weren’t looking down and escaping into our phones.
Today, phones have literally become part of us and are acceptable to be out practically everywhere. They are easily the first and last parts of our days. They are the portal to our recent memories, schedules, contacts, and the answers to our questions.
The main drawback of this new culture is that the phone’s presence often comes between us and the moment we’re in and/or the person we are in the company of.
2 | Television: In the 70s and 80s, families would gather around the television together daily. In my house growing up, we’d watch the news, Little House on the Prairie, sports, holiday specials, awards shows, 60 minutes, after-school specials, and daytime drama shows like General Hospital. Come to think of it, all homes watched the same shows because there were so few channels to choose from. Today there are hundreds of channels and outlets to lure our attention so everyone’s perceptions widely vary.
Over a year ago, we made the decision to cancel our cable, and honestly, we haven’t missed it at all. We found there wasn’t much worth watching on TV. The news mainly consists of useless sensational negative stories and most shows have become increasingly violent and disturbing. If there’s a big game that we want to watch, we’ll purchase it through a sports channel. If we do gather around the TV, it’s more likely during a weekend day or night to watch a sporting event or special.
While we really don’t have an interest in watching TV, the answer isn’t for everyone to be on his/her own device in separate parts of the house. This is an ongoing challenge, and we are trying to introduce new practices like turning off all devices an hour before bedtime during the week and watching more movies together.
3 | Radio: In the 70s and 80s radio was everywhere and a main source of information— news, music, pop culture, sports, as well as talk radio. The radio was always on in my room, my parents’ cars, and public places. Local and out-of-town beachgoers carried big “boom box” radios onto the beach, unapologetically blasting them out in the open.
“American Top 40 With Casey Kasem” was a Saturday morning staple. I can still feel the calming vibe of that show playing on my clock radio as I got ready to go out on Saturdays. I remember tearing up to the dedications and listening intently until the #1 song of the week was announced. Would it be my favorite song that week? Had to wait and see.
Today, with radio still playing commercials, and kids having the ability to listen to what they want (on-demand and commercial-free,) radio is nowhere near as relevant.
4 | MTV: When MTV launched in 1981, my friends and I were hooked, and it was always on in the background when we hung out. MTV and music videos brought our favorite songs to life, but we had to be patient and wait for our favorite video to be reaired. World Premiere videos were anticipated as well.
Today, MTV is not relevant. Our kids have never asked to watch it, and the last I looked, MTV was more about reality TV than music. MTV is another background noise that has been silenced and YouTube has taken its place.
Music & Photos
5 | Music: In the 70s and 80s, it seems as though music played out in the open more than it does today. I had a radio and stereo system in my room, and my parents could hear my music. We experienced music through albums, cassettes, mixtapes, and eventually CDs.
The release of new music was long-anticipated, and the only way to hear our favorite song on repeat was by listening to the album or cassette we purchased. We’d have to stop and physically reset the needle or rewind the cassette.
To create a cassette of our very favorite songs, we’d record our own mixtape of songs from the radio or an album. Although these recordings were low quality with lots of distracting breaks and cut off beginnings and endings of songs, these tapes were snapshots of what we were drawn to at that time.
Today music is released in singles and can be downloaded into personal devices without having to leave the home. There are no more album covers to study or lyric sheets to memorize. Today’s Spotify playlist has taken the place of the mixtape. Teens listen to their music through earbuds or iPods, which is a much different experience than listening to music from a stereo system while holding an album.
To keep the tradition alive, I play all types of music in the kitchen and still put my records on at night.
6 | Record Stores: In the 70s and 80s browsing through record stores and record departments was a common weekend pastime. My favorite record store back then was probably the one in Peddler’s Village on the Manasquan circle. Loud music filled the store and posters lined every inch of the wall space. All of the albums were neatly organized alphabetically by genre and artist. Just taking it all in, thumbing through albums, and looking at album covers for even a few minutes was satisfying. And if I was lucky enough to buy something, I could barely stand to wait until I got home to play it.
Today, vinyl is making a serious comeback and visiting local record stores is one of my favorite little pastimes. Record stores bring me right back to that experience, and I’m grateful for those who make it a priority to keep it alive. It’s also great to see young people in record stores today, taking to vinyl, and sharing in that experience.
7 | Photos: Growing up, I always owned a camera, but I only carried it with me occasionally or during special outings like class trips. In high school, I became more aware that that phase of my life was coming to a close, and I took more pictures and created several large scrapbooks/photo albums.
While selfies were very rare because we didn’t have screens on our cameras, every now and then we’d point the camera at ourselves, but we’d have to wait for the film to be developed to see how the pic turned out. Boardwalk photo booth photos are probably the closest thing to today’s selfies. I have many that were taken through the years, and I cherish my collection.
As nice as it would be to have more photos from my youth, I believe there was some benefit for not always having a camera on hand like today. We lived in the moment without constant concern for how we’d look in a photo.
Overall, I love photography and capturing moments, but I realize that the camera can take away from a moment and not every moment needs to be shared. Being in the moment completely and having a memory can be good enough.
8 | Hangouts. In the 70s and 80s, it seems as though there were more options for places to hang out in our spare time than kids have today. If we wanted to connect with our friends, we had to meet up face to face.
When I was in 5th grade, a new rollerskating rink, The Rollerdrome, opened up right in the center of our town. Initially, my friends and I started to go there every Saturday afternoon. Outside of hanging with the boys in my neighborhood, it was probably my first experience of mixing with boys socially. Eventually, we started going at night with the older kids, but within a couple of years the novelty wore off, and the place got a little sketchy. Today, the building is a car dealership and besides a local ice rink, no other option has taken its place for kids today.
Another place we hung out at was a place called Pedder’s Village, a strip mall converted into a flea-market style indoor mall that we could walk through without going outside. It was toally normal for parents to drop their kids off there for a few hours. We’d get leather wristbands with our names imprinted on them (I can still smell the scent of leather in the air.) We’d grab a slice of pizza and a Coke for lunch. We’d stop in the record store and browse through some albums. We’d go to the costume jewelry store and see what they had. And we’d hang out in the dark arcade and play air hockey, pinball, or Pacman. Peddler’s Village eventually closed and turned into an outlet mall which also has since closed. Currently, the structure is vacant, and we’re awaiting what’s next.
Of course, we also hung out at the mall, but that was a bit of a drive and our parents weren’t always up for the it. Unlike today, McDonald’s was always a busy popular spot as well. Before more awareness spread about eating healthy, McDonald’s had at least four cashiers open and the lines could easily be six people deep at all registers during peak hours. Today, McDonalds is rarely busy, and you don’t even have to leave your house if you want it because Uber Eats will deliver it to you.
Growing up, it seemed like every time a new movie came out we'd go to the movies. Today, for many reasons, there’s less of a need or desire to go to a theatre.
During the summers, as teens we spent the majority of our waking hours (outside of our summer jobs) at the beach. We’d get there relatively early in the morning and sometimes linger until the sun was going down. Then we’d go home, eat, shower, and go back for what we called “the beach at night”— sitting on the cement ledge underneath the Manasquan waterslide, going into the arcade, and flirting with boys. Our curfew was 10 pm so those were full days of being outside and meeting up with friends.
Today, virtual reality multi-player video games overshadow face-to-face interactions, especially during the colder months. As much as this gets under my skin, I remind myself that there are limited options for places for the kids to go today, and at least they’re laughing, staying out of trouble, and exchanging a little banter.
As each summer comes around, I am even more thankful that we live where the kids can get outside, be free, and are largely detached from technology.
The Main Contrasts Between Then And Now
After writing this article and reflecting on the differences between then and now, the most noticeable drawbacks from advancements in technology can be summed up in three words …
Presence: Years ago, living was primarily in-the-moment and not interrupted by a device.
Personal Interactions: Before the smartphone, people gave each other their attention and had to meet up face to face to connect.
Patience: We had to be patient, wait for things we wanted, or perhaps work a little to get them.
How Do We Remain In Control Of The Impact Technology Has On Our Lives?
Writing this post has been both fun as well as eye-opening. It made me realize just how much technology has crept in and changed the way we live— for both the good and the not so good.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of spending my time shopping so I love how online shopping saves time and energy. I think the smartphone is an amazing device with so many positives, and technology overall has introduced many efficiencies and released so much human creativity into the world.
However, all of that comes with somewhat of a cost, which I try to be mindful of and something I struggle with daily as a parent.
Here are a few of the things my husband and I try to instill in our kids to keep alive some of the good things about life before the digital age arrived:
1 | Think of creative ways to teach our kids patience.
2 | Encourage face-to-face interaction among friends.
3 | Establish tech boundaries in the home.
4 | Model positive behavior.
5 | Make our kids aware of how they’re coming across with their tech habits.
6 | Have screen-free blocks of time or a screen-free day.