July 20, 1969 is the day that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of Apollo 11’s lunar module, the Eagle, and into history. I went to hear Aldrin give a talk to college students about seven years ago, and he showed that famous image of Armstrong with himself reflected in Armstrong’s visor. He called that photo as “the first extraterrestrial selfie.” The college students laughed at his joke, but he was right—that was a selfie. The old guy was keeping up. Today, at 93, I imagine that Aldrin is still funny and smart, still doing his best to keep up with the world around him.
The moon walk was 54 years ago, and the changes in technology and lifestyle since then are well-documented but no less astonishing. In some ways, we have now become so accustomed to rapid change that it is the norm.
We update operating systems every few weeks or months, we upgrade our devices, and we replace things instead of fixing them (too costly and there’s a newer one that’s cheaper than the old one was new). Raise your hand if you have that drawer full of outdated gadgets and unrequited power cords that you just can’t give up on. I had to abandon two laptops, a great iPod and an iPad because Apple left them behind, and would not “support that device any longer.”
We demand faster and faster connectivity, and we get huffy when the phone rings more than two times. (Who am I kidding? No one talks on the phone anymore!)
I like to keep up, to stay current, as much as I can, so my learning curve stays relatively flat. For a lot of things, if I can afford it, I’m a beta tester, an early adopter and a superuser.
However, when I made the move from Tucson to Dallas in 2007, I encountered a bit of techno-shock. No longer were seven-digit phone numbers the norm. In the Metroplex (Dallas-Ft. Worth and its dozen satellite ‘burbs), the population explosion required 10 digits even for landlines, because there were now four area codes. Good thing we had cell phones and speed dial to memorize the numbers.
These days, woe to the person who loses their phone and must call someone for help. A helpful stranger might ask: “I can call them for you, ma’am. What’s the number?” Awkward pause… good question. I do try and memorize important numbers, in case I need to call someone while my phone is, best case scenario, dehydrating in a bag of rice.
Fifty-four years ago, in 1969, we had one phone. It was black, had a dial and hung on the kitchen wall with a four-foot cord. That was the year Nixon was inaugurated, Woodstock happened, Sesame Street debuted, and the Dow Jones Index closed at year’s end at 800. The Toyota Corolla, in its first year of manufacture, cost $1,600.
July 1969 was also the time that my Great-Aunt Ella came to Nebraska to visit. This grand old lady was 88 when her daughter brought her across the Missouri River for the first time. Born in Virginia and living in West Virginia and Ohio for most of her life, she raised a passel of children and was a resourceful, funny, talented woman. She called Nebraska “Indian Country” as she was absolutely certain that it was the Wild West.
So on that Sunday when the Eagle landed, and two spacemen got out and puttered around, 11-year-old me was sitting in the basement of our house in Bellevue, Nebraska, with Aunt Ella and the rest of the family in front of the color TV.
“One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.” Even the stalwart anchorman Walter Cronkite got a little choked up.
Quiet, solemn tears rolled down Aunt Ella’s wrinkled face. My mother was a mess. My dad and brother were awestruck, and I just took it all in. In my mind’s eye, I can vividly see the painted brick walls, the linoleum tile floor, the brown chair, the wooden color TV console.
Every year this day comes around, I flash back to that basement. While the world will be processing and reminiscing today, and comparing 1969 to 2023, I’ll be thinking about Aunt Ella, born in 1881 and sitting next to me in 1969.
The year Aunt Ella was born, President Garfield was assassinated, Billy the Kid escaped from Lincoln County Jail, and there was a gunfight at the OK Corral. The first electric car was introduced in France, but worldwide, automobiles were still crazy prototypes. A few telephone exchanges existed between major cities but were not widespread. Radio wouldn’t arrive for another 18 years, and the Wright brothers’ Kittyhawk flight would not happen until two years after that.
In the span of her lifetime, 1881-1972, Aunt Ella went from horse and buggy and oil lamps to color TV and moonwalks.
After her death, her daughter sent me more than 100 of the romance paperbacks she subscribed to—six a month. She had read them all. Aunt Ella kept up. I hope I can too.
That’s my story. Tell me yours.