My son called in alarm from college. Hurrying to leave on a team bus for an away game, he had stopped short upon a realization.
"I might have missed the deadline for absentee voting!" he told me.
It was latter October. Weeks earlier, I had mailed him a hard-copy application.
I said, "Okaaay. The election is still 12 days away. Go ahead and send it, there might still be time."
"So how do I do it?" he, newly 19 and a freshman, asked. "Like, get an envelope and stick a stamp on it and put the address on?"
I said, "I don't believe we are having this conversation."
It's an email and text world. Oh, and make that a debit-card world, too. I saw my friend Alice hiking on the Arbaney-Kittle Trail and she said that her son, the same age, asked her a year or two ago, "How do you write a check?"
Each autumn the Beloit College annual "Mindset List" describes the world for current entering freshmen. Originally intended as a resource to help faculty avoid dated references, it is now an annual world touchstone, with many followers.
Today's freshman, the Mindset List observed this year, was "born into cyberspace" and has known a world where the secretary of state has always in memory been a woman, and luggage has always had wheels.
Not long ago, I had a repeat of a minor endodontic surgery, leaving my cheek and jawline bruised scarlet and blue. In an update to my sister, I emailed, "If this doesn't work I guess they'll have to pull the stupid tooth, and then I really will be a crone."
"You're not a crone," she replied with amusement, adding, "Sometimes I use words like that and Sam" - her son, age 11 - "says, 'God, Mom. That word is so-o-o old school.' Like bee in your bonnet. That one amazed him."
"Eighteen-year-olds today have never used a floppy disk!" I wrote back.
"Nor an eight-track cassette or a typewriter. Or tapes!"
"Creme rinse! Beauty parlor! Ha ha!"
Years ago in college I drafted my honors thesis, 105 pages long, on a typewriter, handing each chapter in turn to the typist. The typist! I was considered unusual at the time in even drafting on a typewriter. And felt fortunate because I had an electric one (salvaged from an office that closed).
Only four years later, my brother wrote his thesis on a computer, making changes up until hours before it was due; and a year after that I wrote my 30-page masters' project on a borrowed computer, but had to drive to a friend's college to do it. Now I can't live without email, the Internet, my cell phone.
Last week I was in touch with some old officemates from a sports magazine in Boston, and someone shared a favorite memory.
A writer named Joe, a fine talent who was published in top magazines, but had a rather hard-luck manner, had sent - yes, mailed - us an article. It arrived on a lovely spring day, during which our young boss Chris opened the windows to his corner office. A stiff breeze roiled in, picked up the article and other papers, and blew them all out the window and away down the city street.
My old friend and co-worker Tracey still marvels, saying, "I was standing in Chris's office when it happened."
Of course it happened to Joe, poor Joe, and we wondered aghast if he had another copy. I laugh every time to think of Chris's shame-faced phone call.
"Joe, hi ....Your article blew out the window."
"It," said Chris, "just blew... away."
As it happened, Joe did have a copy, an earlier draft, marked-up but existent, on his shelf.
Kids today are, of course, prepared for all kinds of things that we weren't. They will go on to make their own stories, but a few comedic elements are lost for good.
This generation has never needed an airline ticket. I recall at least three tales of friends losing or misplacing theirs. Here is one that will certainly never happen again: Sue, on her way to the airport to go to London, lost her ticket when she tossed it, among a handful of envelopes, into a U.S. mailbox.
- "Femaelstrom" appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.