By Jay Jamison

I’m writing this on my sixty-sixth birthday, which means I’m old enough to remember when you actually had to get off the couch, and walk over to the TV set, to manually change the channel. In fact, I’m old enough to remember friends and acquaintances who did not own a TV at all.

In my youth, telephones were either attached to the wall or sat on a desk or table. You could not wander around the house or go outside, when talking on the phone. You were confined to the length of the spiral wire attaching the receiver to the main body of the phone.

Mobile phones in my formative years were either flights of fantasy, like the communicators on “Star Trek” or the pen (or was it wand?) phone from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

The actual mobile phones of my youth were rare, clunky contraptions, owned by rich people. But even the high-tech spoof of Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone in the 1960’s comedy “Get Smart,” had a rotary dial.

Papers for my college classes and into graduate school were typed on typewriters, and if you wanted extra copies, you used carbon paper. I remain to this day a terrible typist, but I have been liberated from the tyranny of the typewriter by the invention of the personal computer and word processing software, which makes it possible for me to be something of a writer.

My birthday falls in that weird time between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For friends and family, the opportunity was clear: Either return the unwanted Christmas gift to the store, or else give it to Jay for his birthday. My birthday doubled as Regifting Day.

As a kid and into my 20’s I would receive bonbon dishes, etched glass candy dishes, and other assorted cast-offs. Recall my recent column when I mentioned the agony of buying gifts for people? Well, maybe the experience of receiving recycled Christmas and wedding gifts played a role in that. Just think of me opening birthday presents and saying, “Aw, you shouldn’t have”, and really meaning it —for six decades.

The ancient stuff listed above are the things I came to know as a kid and a young man. As a kid I didn’t need instructions on how to turn the channels on the TV or how to use the phone.

Little kids learn from observing their surroundings, which includes learning by observing others. I have concluded that, as an adult, I have lost some of my observational learning skills, which helped me along as a kid.

The test of this theory is to try to set up a flat screen TV, and all its functions, by yourself, or to have some kid to do it for you. Observe and compare. My terror of acquiring a smartphone is that I’d have to go through the agony of reading the instructions on how to use it. The reverse is just as valid. Ask a couple of eleven-year-olds to make a call on a rotary dial telephone. Watch and observe. The results can be hilarious.

Between the holidays, many of us reflect on the year just ending, but as I write this, I’m reflecting on six and a half decades. The single consolation is that I may start celebrating two days before everyone else shouts Happy New Year.

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