When my mother saw her first telephone she was a little girl growing up in a tiny village in rural Canada, 90 miles west of Toronto. Hers was the first family to own the newfangled contraption with a small earpiece and a round black speaking spout attached to a box. When her father, out in the wild buying skins from trappers, called home she was mystified. She asked her mother: "How could Daddy fit into that little box?"
That was then. Now the young size up prospective dates and mates by watching their videos, stroll down the street talking into the air and send instant text messages to friends three continents away. When I was a little girl, I never thought anything in my life would sound as primitive to the next generation as my mother's experience with the telephone sounded to me. But when I tell my grandsons, ages 7 and 10, how my family sat around a radio as tall as they are, listening in the dark to scary stories on "Inner Sanctum" and "The Shadow," they think I'm from a pre-historic tribe.
They can't believe that once upon a time television wasn't 24/7 and all you could see after midnight was a test pattern that never moved. I became a living embarrassment when they learned that I tuned into YouTube for the first time last week after I read it was worth $1.65 billion to Google. I understand the narcissism of those who want to spread themselves across a computer screen, but I don't understand why anyone wants to watch them.
I was about to lose all credibility until I gave my grandsons an electronic war game they persuaded me was "educational." The game features graphic violence, with blood spilling across the screen as men kill each other. But it's blood with a point, all about World War II. It can't be bad when it gets us all, parents and friends and friends of parents, talking about real history.
They learned how the Allies gave Field Marshal Erwin Rommel -- "the Desert Fox" -- a hard time in North Africa when the war was not going well for the Allies anywhere else. The game describes the crossing of the Mediterranean into Sicily and then on to Italy. They learn how foolish Hitler was to invade Russia: "Didn't he learn anything from Napoleon?" Then we went to the library to take out books describing strategy, tactics and weapons. The boys quickly became fascinated with Douglas MacArthur and Winston Churchill, so we found biographies written especially for children. Their curiosity expanded exponentially.