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Modern Parenthood

How I'll explain Blockbuster, modems, pay phones to my now-infant son

Blockbuster Video will close its stores next year. Blockbuster is just the latest casualty of the digital revolution, leaving today's parents wondering how they will explain the world they grew up in to their own kids?

By Contributing blogger / November 22, 2013

Blockbuster Video announced on Nov. 7 that it will be closing its 300 stores next year as the popularity of video stores have given way to streaming videos. How will parents explain such childhood staples to the next generation?

LM Otero/AP

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The recent implosion of the Blockbuster Video chain was, for me, one of those watershed moments when I realized the world really does change, I really am aging, and I really will have to explain a lot of things to my infant son so that he can understand where I'm coming from. And I'm resigned in advance to the fact that whatever age he happens to be when I explain these things, he won't really listen, understand, or care, but it'll still make me feel slightly better to try to describe the world of my youth.

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Video stores are an obvious place to start, what with the fact that we'll likely have movies and "TV" "shows" streaming directly to our Google Glass or cerebral cortex within the decade.

"When we wanted to watch a movie that wasn't on TV or in theaters, we went to a place called a video store and looked at box after box containing movies, which were recorded on magnetic tape." And in some ways, this could be the highlight of a night out with friends or a date – you'd spend half an hour – or an hour – or two hours – walking the aisles of the video store (my favorite was Four Star Video Heaven), debating what to watch and why, arguing about film, asking clerks for recommendation, and generally immersing yourself in culture. Going to the video store wasn't the prelude to the activity – in many ways it WAS the activity, and it was awesome, and you're never really going to get to do that. On the other hand, you've had access to the iPhone since birth, so you've got that going for you, which is nice.

"When we wanted to go online, we used something called a modem." And generally speaking, we were talking to people in our area code on a system called a BBS. And the modems were so slow at 300 or 1200 baud that even text would load relatively slowly, and graphics were agonizingly slow unless they were composed of text. (Thus: the rich library of ASCII graphics that is still bouncing around out there for some reason.)

"Phone calls were place-to-place, not person to person." That means that when I called my high school girlfriend at home, the odds were good or excellent that the first person I would talk to would be her mom – or dad. An interaction that might be best punted three or six months down the line in a relationship happened early on, and you just needed to be ready for it. The up side of this is that my parents drilled excellent manners into me at an early age, and my likable phone persona meant that parents instinctively liked me, despite having no real idea of my checkered academic background or disgraceful disciplinary record.

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