This past Saturday, my family headed to my grandmother’s house in Breinigsville, a small town in rural Pennsylvania, for our annual family reunion. Every year my aunts, uncles, cousins and even a few brave friends and significant others, get together for a day of catching up, playing yard games, and eating the best food under the Pennsylvania Dutch sun.
We have a new guest in attendance now, the first of the next generation: my cousin Jen’s daughter Hailey, who turned one in March. At the other end of the age spectrum, Nanny celebrated her 89th birthday. Sitting around a picnic table with her, we couldn’t help but note what a different world it already is for Hailey. Here are some facets of our lives today that are heading for extinction as the world moves into the digital era.
Money: my mother always makes sure that I have cash on me. It’s really sweet and convenient at times, but I never really need it. When I was younger, I would carry a few singles to summer camp to buy a soda from the vending machine because it made me feel very cool. When I was 15, I experienced the inconvenience of being cashless when my sister and I had to park blocks away from a concert because the venue parking only took cash. Now even parking meters take credit cards—though credit cards themselves may also become obsolete.
Recently, on a trip to New York, I left my wallet at home but I didn’t skip a beat all day. I bought my train and movie tickets on my phone. I paid back my friends for food using Venmo, a phone app. Maps: my mother is the queen of maps. I remember going on road trips as a kid to faraway places and she could always easily get us from Point A to Point B. She could navigate unknown states and cities by tracing the route with her finger. I, however, don’t have that same comfort level with maps. Without Google Maps, I would struggle, and I know that my siblings and peers would as well. I use it when I’m traveling on foot and even for public transportation when I’m in a city.
My mother uses Google Maps too, though in a funny, competitive way. I’ve tried to explain that it always factors in traffic and construction when it gives you the best route, but she always tries to outsmart it and use a different route than the one it tells her to take. Perhaps Google Maps hasn’t edged out my mother’s keen navigational skills, but it certainly has hindered me from developing one. I can read a map, but I don’t need to, so I don’t. Will my children even know what a map is?
School: cursive, apparently, is being taken out of the public school curriculum. Hailey will not, as I did, focus on one single letter of the alphabet on each day during second grade, being careful not to write in a slanted way, perfecting little loops, and then going back to dot her i’s and cross her t’s.
The way she’ll learn to tell time probably will change, too, since most people rely on digital clocks. Sometimes I even have to think hard for a second when I read an analog clock. Truth is, it might be a waste of class time to teach kids the different hands of the clock when their own parents use their smart phones to tell the time. They also use their phones to look up things on the Internet. What school age child today knows how to look up the meaning of a word in the dictionary or a historical fact in an encyclopedia? By the way, what is an encyclopedia?
We’ve been going to our family reunion every year since I can remember. We still eat the same delicious food and there are always rousing games of kickball and beanbag toss and great conversation to boot. But the people change. Sometimes there are new ones—like Hailey. Sometimes people who are longtime fixtures no longer are there.
Two years ago there was no reunion because my grandfather, our Pop, was sick, and then last year, he wasn’t there at all. That was hard. Before Pop passed away, I remember talking to him as he sat back in his big, comfortable armchair, relishing every detail of his stories from World War II and the way he described meeting Nanny.
Every year, it’s crazy to note how much everyone has grown or changed, myself included. Some day, my own kids and my nieces and nephews will join Hailey to play a new generation of kickball. We might get there in a self-driving car, but I know that however much some things change, some of the best things never will, and we’ll always get there nonetheless.