Tuesday, February 18

Then and now – a baby boomer’s POV of our changing times


THE Pew Research Center defines baby boomers as those who were born between 1946 and 1964. In the United States, the generation can be segmented into two: the leading-edge are individuals born between 1946 and 1955, those who came of age during the Vietnam War era. This effectively means if you’re between 55 and 73 this year, you can consider yourself a baby boomer!

In more general terms there was a temporary boom in the population right after the Second World War ended on Sept 2, 1945.

If you just started school in the 1950s or 1960s, you’d have been caught right at the start of the so called ‘Beat Generation’ and the ‘Swinging Sixties’ – the age when so many new things were starting to happen.

The beat of popular music changed – from crooning, silky, melodic songs from Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Rick Nelson to the rock and roll of Elvis, Little Richard, and the Beatles. In 1965, the mini-skirt was invented, made popular by the UK’s Mary Quant. That same year also saw the popularity of the birth control pill, with over 6.5 million users in the USA alone; it was introduced amidst controversy only five years before.

Books like ‘Lolita’, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and all the Henry Miller books were banned as were movies like ‘Midnight Cowboy’, ‘The Wild Bunch’, and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. Music didn’t suffer as much, although brief bans were put on ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’!

Today in the age of YouTube, internet torrents, and online streaming 24/7, it’s useless and ineffective to ban anything at all. Even if the authorities or enforcement agencies were to do so, the viewers would very quickly find ways to circumvent such restrictions. Such has our technology advanced in leaps and bounds that so many traditional businesses, especially those mortar and brick retail and wholesale businesses, have had to close shop.

In the 1960s right up to the 1980s, the many businesses offering traditional entertainment the good old fashioned way made a good living, many prospered. Just to highlight one aspect of the way we used to listen to music and buy our hardware and software – we frequented the handful of record stores selling 45 rpm singles and 33 1/3 rpm albums, which we had played over our record players or stereophonic hi-fi systems that we bought from specialist audio showrooms at great expense. Today, not a single one of these shops have survived, although in recent years with the resurrection of the vinyl record, there’s a strong demand which is mostly met by online merchants or very specialist high end retailers. They’re no longer affordable to the man on the street when a piece of vinyl album which used to sell for RM12.80 in 1968 now costs well over RM100. Reasonable audio equipment to play them on usually have price tags with four or even five digits these days.

In between vinyl and what we have today, we also saw the ebb and flow of the cassette (both audio and video), the laserdisc, the CD, and then the DVD with BluRay being the last of that line. Many of us music and film lovers invested rather heavily on our hobbies – many too who had started businesses dealing with these formats, while cashing in initially when the craze was hot, eventually had to close shop, and call it a day.

Today, for some of us, even if we can find a buyer on Ebay or give them away to friends who are collectors, we’d be more than happy to part with these artefacts – the valued personal items from another era which have served their intrinsic purpose of having entertained us.

Today we listen to music in so many newer ways, although truth be told I still enjoy mine mostly on CDs, very seldom on the record player, and sporadically on the cassette player (yes I still own one of those antiquities, and a large collection of CDs and cassettes). However, sadly I no longer own a Sony Walkman.

As for movies, my DVDs collection gathers dust on the many shelves – I’ve gotten rid of those prone-to-mould videocassettes and even the VCDs – having spent a small fortune building up a rather sizable collection over the years. I shudder to count the dollars and cents of it all, suffice to say probably a brand new Proton Saga could be in my garage instead!

Today I download on torrents whatever I want to watch, the latest hit TV series, a long lost documentary that has just reappeared, some foreign classic (at last with English subtitles), or the latest big-ticket flick (albeit I have to bear with the Korean subtitles at the bottom). All of this with just a couple of clicks and tabs on my PC keyboard; of course having paid for my high speed Unifi subscription and having to upgrade my PC once every two years or so, and also investing in a number of external hard drives to save titles to watch later.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for books and printed material and as far as music is concerned there are some limitations as to some titles available for free. The one thing that I am still stuck on are printed books – hard copies of, rather than the online, internet, Amazon supplied read-only on Kindle way of reading, which I have not found myself capable of adapting to.

There is virtually nothing that I cannot find if I search hard enough on the internet for it! It’s all there, completely free, totally uncensored, and available for you to watch at your own time and pace.

The world has indeed changed. Is it for the better, or for worse or are we now just at the crossroads? Where do we go from here?

As a baby boomer I have lived long enough to have seen so many fantastical things come to pass, things I hadn’t even imagine or dreamt of when I was just a boy, growing up in the suburbs of our little home town Kuching.

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