Friday, December 24, 2010

Project 1969: The Cabin That Time Forgot

Throughout the past year, Megan and I have frequently discussed foregoing modern amenities in the name of "saving green" or "going green." However, during the past two days we have taken the experiment to another level and in a different direction.

Pilot Knob Inn, Cabin 1
About a week ago, the two of us were discussing our annual trip to Pilot Mountain and trying concoct ways to make it more "awesome." Last year, we braved an ice storm that had closed much of the state, hiked to the top of the mountain, did some rock climbing, and then cuddled up in a cozy tobacco barn-turned-log cabin. This year, with no snow in the forecast and less motivation to do the climbing, we were struggling to find some other way to make this holiday trip special. When I suggested that we leave behind our phones and laptops, Megan one-upped me by suggesting we should leave behind all technology. Within a few minutes, though, we realized that "no technology = no fun" and opted to choose an arbitrary year as our technology cutoff. 

We eventually settled on 1969. This was almost two generations ago, which meant we would be walking in the footsteps of our grandparents. It also was just a few years before Megan and I were born, so it is distant enough to be challenging but not impossible for us to imagine the lifestyle. It was also a pivotal year for technology. In July, men walked on the moon. In October, the first data packets were sent over DARPANet, the network that would later become the Internet.

We spent a week watching movies (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy) and listening to music (Led Zeppelin's first album, Jimi Hendrix) from the 1960s to set the mood. We wouldn't be able to watch or listen to any of these during the trip because we don't have an 8-track player or a record player or even a cassette player. We quickly discovered that even AM radio no longer offers the musical selection it once did. After doing a bit of research on the Web, relying heavily on Wikipedia and the 1969 Sears Wish Book, we left behind the following items that we would have normally taken:

  • iPad
  • mobile phones (smart phone and dumb phone - we left them in separate rooms so they wouldn't get into trouble)
  • GPS navigator
  • laptops
  • digital cameras
  • CD/DVD players
  • automatic door lock key fob
  • clothes with Thinsulate
  • digital watch
  • Bailey's Irish Cream (not invented until 1974!)
  • dark chocolate M&Ms (not invented until 2006)

While credit cards existed in 1968 (the predecessors to Visa and Mastercard appeared in 1958 and 1966), we opted to take only one and try really hard not to use it, relying instead on cash (invented 3000 years ago). A few other things that I packed that I felt were very appropriate for the 1960s included:

  • guitar
  • white cotton undershirts and briefs
  • thick wool socks
  • cotton/polyester blend sweatshirts (non-fleece)
  • Boggle
  • Yahtzee
  • wood pencils
  • Jiffy Pop popcorn (in the foil pan)
  • peanuts
  • beef jerky
  • buggy whip and oil lamp (just kidding)

We tried to find and purchase a 35mm camera for use on the trip. At Grandpappy's Antique Emporium, we found a few that dated back to the 1950s. However, I was not sure if these would take a modern 35mm cartridge. Trying again at Camera Corner, we discovered the only 35mm camera they had was a disposable one! Once out of its cardboard packaging, it looked and worked (only 27 exposures, simple flash, no LCD preview or photo review) much like the Kodak cameras of the late 60s so we felt this would meet the requirements of the project. Megan really wanted a typewriter but the only ones we found were about $25 and did not come with extra ribbon and we had no idea how to get a ribbon to fit. She thought about various strategies for re-inking an existing ribbon, but time was a'ticking.

While I have three watches, I rarely wear one since I can always check my iPhone for the time. Of the three, only two are analog and only one of those has a working battery. However, after watching Peter Fonda throws his watch to the ground before beginning his cross-country journey in Easy Rider, I opted to go without a timepiece for my own time-traveling adventure. Megan thought that not having watches made it fun when it was time for the free B&B breakfast, since there was only a one-hour window and missing it meant struggling to find a 1969-style breakfast in a pinch. Luckily, we made it both days.

Stopping to get fuel for the truck along the way, I insisted that Megan sit in the driver's seat while I did my best to play the role of the gas station attendant. I vaguely recall full service gas stations and enjoyed slowly checking the fluid levels, cleaning the windows, and addressing Megan as "Ma'am" a lot.

When we arrived at the cabin, one of the first things I did was stow the microwave and the VHS player into the closet. I left the color TV out, though it was useless since without a satellite receiver or VHS/DVD, it would have only worked with analog TV signals that are no longer broadcast.

Remarkably, we spent the rest of the weekend doing pretty much the same things that we would have done even if we weren't trying to get by on 1969 technology. We hiked. We made a fire. We drank wine. We talked. My hand would reach for an iPhone that wasn't there each time sat down at a restaurant. No check-ins to Foursquare. No updates to Facebook. Megan argued convincingly that my hand should be reaching for HER HAND when we sit down, instead of grasping my electronic pocket pal. Still, it was mildly odd to be so detached from the internet. Megan and I usually are quite quick to broadcast some interesting experience or photo with friends and family. Broadcasting in 1969 consisted of speaking loudly to the people in the same room, or maybe having a ham radio. Without the ability to instantly update her status or Google for some fact, Megan started a queue of things to do when she returned to her digital life. She kept a list of things she needed to look up, wrote her Facebook statuses in a journal with a pen, and attempted to timestamp each one. Of course, without a watch, that was an exercise in guessing.

As Megan pointed out, being as unplugged from the world as we were borders on irresponsible. To leave behind phones or to not check email daily is seen by many to be shirking duty to family and to work. ("What if there is an emergency!?!") However, by disconnecting from the world, I felt we connected with each other better. Without the distractions of the ever-present glowing rectangles, I could focus more intently on what Megan was saying to me. When Timothy Leary popularized the phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out," he was extolling psychedelic drugs as a way to remove oneself from society and to gain better knowledge of oneself. Forty years later, I think that simply pressing the OFF button might be a better alternative.

And now, Megan's list of "mosts" for your enjoyment.

Most Missed Item: contact lenses

Least Missed Item: cell phone

Most Annoying Thing to Try to Do in 1969 Style: operate the car as if it did not have automatic locks

Most Disappointing Thing: Jiffy Pop

Most Thrilling: walking around with giant wads of cash

Most Guaranteed to Make You Feel Poor: using a disposable camera

Note from Megan: Dude, in 2010 even Barbie dolls come with video cameras in them now. People looked at this expired, plastic cheapo camera like it had cooties when we handed it to them to take our picture. Actually, maybe we smelled like 1969 and that face they made was really about us. Oh, now I feel bad...

Thing We Most Need to Bring Back from 1969 into 2010: hot food served a la carte 

Note from Megan: An egg sandwich should be one egg on toast. It should cost $1.25. It should not be served on stale "ciabatta" with limp frisee and come with two crappy side dishes and cost $6.99.

The 1969 Thing That You Didn't Expect to See in 2010 But Actually There Are a Lot More Than You'd Think: pay phones

Thing That She Refused to Give Up for This Experiment Even Though It Didn't Exist So She Totally Cheated and She Doesn't Care What You Say: fleece 

Note from Megan: I mean, are you crazy? It's 20 degrees out and I'm not buying a whole new wardrobe for this cockamamy project. Please. Polyester was invented then, just not in this particular format. It's close. Cut me some slack.

Things That Were Technically Invented But We Still Didn't Use: credit cards, ATMs (1967), TaB cola, fast food, soft contacts (invented but not commercially available in the US until 1971), microwave (1946 but not commercially available until 70s).


  1. Interesting project! Our focus on many distractions today was obvious in your experiment. We need to focus on one another more and that occurred with you two. Analog TV signals are not broadcast but available through modern converter boxes reverting digital signals back to analog. I remember when there were three major TV networks and quality programming was standard. There was always something interesting to watch on TV when there was only three networks to chose from. More than a hundred channels today with mostly nothing of quality to watch and we have to pay for this service.
    I'm an amateur radio operator (extra class) so the isolation could have been broken with morse code and low power QRP pre-60s equipment. However I like the quality of conversation with one another rather than playing with toys.
    Maybe everyone should try this experiment. We could all learn from doing this.

    Thank you for sharing!
    Roger Jefferson

  2. Hey, I lived through this. In 1969 my parents lived in a place in WVa so remote they didn't get TV. But I was gone by then. Reading the Bible in the evening was not a satisfactory replacement for the glowing rectangle.
    You could try a CB Radio, no Ham license required to talk to some neighbors. It was our Facebook in HS.
    Thanks for sharing this, it was fun.

  3. Next time, take the kids along for a fun filled family that's a vacation!