How Old Is Grandma, Anyway?

My husband recently shared a FB meme going around, a recitation that–in addition to being generally interesting–sheds a good deal of light on the reason so many older Americans are disoriented, uneasy and cranky.

The story went like this: A grandson was asking his grandmother what she thought about shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general.

In response, the grandmother notes that she’d beenI born before: television, penicillin, the polio vaccine, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees and the pill. She was born before credit cards, laser beams, ballpoint pens, pantyhose, air conditioners, dishwashers, and clothes dryers.

When she was born, men hadn’t walked on the moon.

In her youth, she’d never heard of FM radios, tape decks, CD’s, electric typewriters, yogurt, or guys wearing earrings. Anything “made in Japan” was junk. Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and instant coffee were unheard of. 

The list didn’t even include the Internet or social media…

The meme ended with grandma saying that, In her day,’ “grass” was mowed,  “coke” was a cold drink, “pot” was something your mother cooked in, “Aids” were helpers in the Principal’s office, “hardware” was found in a hardware store and.”software” wasn’t even a word. 

Add to all that, when we did get TV, news anchors, weathermen, sports reporters etc. were all White men…women were just entering the workforce (except for Black women, who had mostly only been allowed to be domestics.) Gay people were still way behind the coats in the closet.

The meme’s big “reveal”–“grandma” is only 70 years old. She was born in 1952.

Full disclosure: I did not go through this list and check its accuracy. It seems incredible that so much of our environment–so many of the things we simply take for granted and assume have always been around–weren’t part of our realities until after 1952.

I was born in 1941, and I can confirm the absence of many of these inventions. I can also confirm the disorienting impact of many of them; the laptop computer on which I compose these blog posts–not to mention the advent of the Internet–still doesn’t feel natural. (I’m reasonably okay until the computer has a problem…)

I know that a significant percentage of those who read this blog are in my general age cohort, and can probably add items to the “when did that happen?” list. We older folks should also stop to consider that living through immense changes in technology and society have presented “grandma” (and grandpa) with significant personal challenges.

Some of us–including yours truly–have welcomed most of these changes. Others have found them to be very threatening.

When Morton Marcus and I were researching our recent book–the one I’ve been shamelessly promoting--we were essentially exploring the changes in grandma’s life. Morton wanted to understand how technology had emancipated women–how appliances like washing machines and innovations like frozen food had enabled women to enter the workforce. I wanted to document the enormous importance of the pill and other medical advances allowing women to control their own reproduction, and I wanted to trace the political consequences of efforts to nullify those advances.

There’s a side benefit to reviewing the enormity of the changes in “grandma’s” environment; it should generate a bit of sympathy for the numerous older Americans who have found the extent and pace of those changes unnerving. These are folks who look at a world that is immensely different from the world into which they were born and socialized and who feel unseen and unmoored.

As anyone who’s had children can attest, different personality types respond differently to change, and we have arguably been living at a time when the rate of both technological and social change has greatly accelerated.

For eons, humans occupied relatively stable environments. Since the time of the first Industrial Revolution (scholars tell us we are now in the second), that stability has been regularly upended. It is inarguable that the inventions and innovations have made life far better for most people–but constant disruption comes with a cost.

I’m pretty sure that the MAGA Americans screaming about making the country great “again” are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of the people most uncomfortable with modern life. They want to return to a more familiar environment–one in which they not-so-incidentally enjoyed a superior status. They want their grandchildren to inhabit that same world. 

That worldview can be dangerous–especially when those who hold it are armed. It is also doomed. The culture has moved on.

That said, memes like this one about grandma’s age ought to elicit some sympathy for those of our fellow-citizens who find themselves visitors in a world they didn’t expect and no longer understand.


  1. Some errors in the meme. Penicillin was invented just after WWII and was in wide use in the late 1940s. Television arrived in Indianapolis in 1948-1949. I think the rest are essentially correct.

  2. Well said, Professor. I have nothing to add. Very well said, Professor.

  3. This is a true statement. How does it feel to be a woke grandma? 😉

    My 96-year-old veteran father has realized the world has moved past him, and it’s painful to watch. When insurance companies move from one prescription provider to another, and it requires all automated prompts to get help, he’s lost. How many grandmas and grandpas get lost with simple human takes these days?

    That’s when empathy kicks in for our brothers and sisters. As the Buddha said, “All things in life are impermanent.”

    It’s our clinging on to the old that causes the pain. That’s where many of our far-right brothers and sisters are – – closed-minded to changes. It’s very uncomfortable for them.

  4. Lol, I remember when there were no cell phones, and pay phones anywhere. Also, I remember when there was no internet, and nobody had home computers. Those items right there, has pretty much, as Sheila says, upended society and human interaction.

    Folks stay buried in their video games, their laptops or desktops, their smartphones, smart watches, and streaming services! It’s actually quite addictive, probably more so than crack cocaine, lol!

    Of course, it has given rise to all sorts of alternate realities and bubbles. That really in itself has sped up the decline of society. Above everything else, it’s given the lunatics a gigantic platform that they never had any time in history other than right now. And it’s shredding the fabric of cohesive thought and compassionate conduct.

    The age of immediate and instantaneous communication has given the con artist and lunatics, the The hypocrites and frauds, slicksters and flim flammers, the biggest gift They could ever imagined, a platform or soapbox that allows them to reach gullible and delusional millions. That’s not good for anyone!

    A small glimpse or prequel if you will, should have been a shot across the bow concerning all of this. HG Wells war of the worlds on radio, Orson Wells had people shooting water towers and neighbors and even committing suicide! Now compare that with what you see and hear today.

  5. I was born in 1942 and my first memory was of people dancing in the street, horns blaring and music pouring from open doors. It was August, 1945, aka VJ Day. We obtained our first TV in 1948, a 9 inch squint screen.

    Human progress is nothing new to the species. Oh, there have been times of stagnation like the two “DARK AGES”, but mostly humans have built new stuff on the shoulders of their ancestors. The invention of the plow, for example, required men to do the field work replacing the women who, heretofore, were “gatherers”. That single invention altered the roles of males and females in the community unit forever. That series of events occurred around 5000 years ago – give or take a millennium.

    Humans keep inventing things to serve their purpose. Who, do you suppose, was responsible for discovering the methods for smelting iron? Imagine showing somebody how superior your cutting tool, sword or spear point was compared to the bronze implements. It surely must have been yet another of the “holy crap” moments in human history.

    MY point is that change is what we do. It’s how we survived as a slow-footed, but clever creature that managed to outsmart our predators, both macro AND micro, well enough to get to the point where we are now the most populous mammal on the planet.

    Too bad about the guns, though. We probably wouldn’t have screwed up people with spears and clubs slaughtering children at schools or innocent revelers in night clubs if they were not the weapon of choice for the weakest minds among us.

    THAT sort of change, along with atomic weapons, are the ironic messengers of our arrogance that says we can make the species extinct because we can. BTW, in 1952, the United States exploded its first H-bomb. Just sayin’

  6. My grandma was born in 1888, and I’ve often marveled at the changes in technology, and the world itself, during her lifetime. From the time of her birth until her death in 1976, the use of electricity—and lightbulbs!—became commonplace. The automobile and airplane were invented. Insulin was discovered, antibiotics were discovered, radios and television were invented and became household staples. Refrigerators and freezers; vacuum cleaners…the list is endless. Most striking, perhaps, was seeing humans traveling into space, and landing on the moon.
    In so very many ways, there really wasn’t that much good about “the good old days”, all things considered.

  7. Every generation in the past 250 years has been subjected to revolutionary change. My grandfather was born in 1856. Think of what he saw by the time he was 70 in 1926. Telephones. Automobiles. Radios. Airplanes. The Gatling gun. Tanks. Conversion from coal and wood to petroleum. The Pullman Car. Unions. The Emancipation Proclamation. Prohibition. Teddy Roosevelt. Movies. The Civil War. WWI. Standard Oil. The Panama Canal. Women bobbing their hair and dancing the Charleston.
    Every change prepares us for the next one. Change is invigorating and it can become addictive. A few months ago the magazine rack at CVS had a dozen different offerings on the air fryer. Today not a one. Yet we survive, we adapt, and our complaints may be a form of bragging about our underlying adaptability.

  8. It isn’t just the new inventions and discoveries that rattle the elderly. It is what is lost, what has fallen away in society that sends people like me into fits. Take manners for instance. When did we decide to not have manners? And respect? How about more respect for each other? How did we get to a point when rudeness, disrespect and cynicism have become sought for entertainment?

  9. I was born in 1952 and fully embrace the new technologies I use every day. I spend far too many hours clattering computer keys and staring into a monitor. But I also value retaining the knowledge and skills to change the oil and filters on my car (if I choose to do so myself), navigate from point A to point B using a road map instead of a faceless voice telling me where to go from my car radio speaker, and entertain myself without a cell phone or other electronic device.
    It would be interesting to see how Norman Rockwell (remember him?) would paint one of his iconic portraits of the American family gathered around the dinner table or riding together in a car today.

  10. Read Future Sock by Alvin Toffler. Published in 1970 it’s all about the increasing pace of change and how it affects society. If my memory serves, the book predicated much of what’s been happening in our country.

  11. Yesterday our 3 1/2 year old great granddaughter told her father she wanted to FaceTime her 92 year-old great grandmother. She did. Top that if you can. They had a nice conversation.

  12. This grandma, great-grandma and one time great-great-grandma was born in 1937. As many of the above mentioned changes occurred, many of them led to speeding up the rate of all changes happening around us. I still pay bills with checks and reconcile my bank statement when I receive it monthly, I also have kept a full budget since 1990 so I can look back and compare income and outgo financial information. I have one credit card for repairs and emergencies; I do not have nor do I want a debit card but I do remember the “counter checks” in banks; if you remembered your bank account number (easy to do at that time) and don’t have your checkbook with you, you could fill out the “counter check” and withdraw cash. I didn’t avail myself of that option. Decades ago I recognized that progress does not always mean improvement and that millions have put themselves in a precarious financial position using all of the “plastic” available and created a market for Identity Theft which the legal system has not yet totally caught up with preventing. Identification is provided by our signature; consider the screens we must use our finger to sign to prove our identity. Also consider our signature is written in cursive which is no longer taught in many school systems. It is faster and less work for cashiers but puts us at risk and automatic deductions to pay bills and banking by cell phone saves those using it from having to think and use math to track their finances. Below is the latest global hacking which has hit millions in this country; known is two states, but undoubtedly we will learn of more. Stay safe, Grandma Jo

    CNN: “Millions of people in Louisiana and Oregon have had their data compromised in the sprawling cyberattack that has also hit the US federal government, state agencies said late Thursday.

    The breach has affected 3.5 million Oregonians with driver’s licenses or state ID cards, and anyone with that documentation in Louisiana, authorities said. Casey Tingle, a senior official in the Louisiana governor’s office, said Friday that more than 6 million records were compromised while noting that that number is duplicative because some people have both vehicle registrations and a driver’s license.”

  13. As usual, interesting and thought provoking post and comments.

    I was born in 1952; I remember several of the things she said she didn’t have in her youth – maybe she meant toddler-hood. Change has been happening since before there were people and will continue to happen and probably the pace will continue to accelerate. Some people do better with change than do others, no matter the age.

    How we deal with changes comes from fear of the unknown, what/who we listen to, our internal makeup, or whatever.

    There are some things I lament, such as noted in a previous comment – the loss of manners, lack of respect, and the coarsening of language/actions. I would like to see a re-emergence of respect and decent manners (like looking at the person you are at dinner with and having a conversation with them; not shooting people just because you can). Other changes are to be marveled at and, in some cases, appreciated greatly.

  14. So well said. I am 71. My mother is 96. She has welcomed every change. When I think of the daylong work women did in the home to prepare food, clothing, etc., I marvel at anyone who wants to go back. They have no idea.

  15. Yesterday, there was a post from the EJI (Equal Justice Initiative) about a man being released from Arizona death row after 29 years. The Attorney General of that state having found that he was innocent of the crime for which he had been convicted and sentenced.
    I thought of the character in the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption”, the prison librarian, who committed suicide after his release. He had been dropped into a world he no longer recognized where he could no longer find his way.
    The complete disorientation resulting from the ever accelerating changes wrought by technology makes many of us grandmas and grandpas feel overwhelmed and discouraged, sometimes angry. It can explain a lot about how some of the MAGA cult came to be where they are.
    The true danger is when the anger is armed with military grade weapons. The wealthy and powerful benefit from all the advancements in the short term. I wonder what their world will look like when the inevitable changes finally reach them in a very negative way. Putin deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus comes to mind. Nuclear weapons do not discriminate for class or wealth status.
    Scary times for this grandma. To quote another, “I am glad I am old.”

  16. Cranky grandpa has other changes sadly noted – vulgar curse words were reserved for hitting your finger with a hammer, not everyday speech or brand names; prescription drugs were not allowed to be advertised; political donations weren’t “free speech”; bra straps were hidden; Walter could be trusted to give us relatively unbiased news; Archie and family could wave our prejudices in front of us in a thoughtful way….I could go on. I am sure others can add….

  17. I was born in 1938. Regarding the media, I remember sitting on the living room floor, listening to radio programs on what the radio personality Jean Shepherd referred to as a “Notre Dahm” radio, because of the intricate patterns carved into the tall wooden case. I use a cell phone, but it is what is called a “flip” phone, in that the case flips up. It has a keyboard with keys that you have to push to get them to register. I have never tried to use the browser capability because that is not what a phone is for – besides the screen is too small to be able to make out much detail besides numbers. So, I am a card-carrying member of the “old-fogey” association, who is amused when he sees essentially everyone walking around on the street with an I-phone to their ear, or who are looking at its screen and tapping it.

  18. The amount of change has been amazing, but I suspect there are more factors at play than just the amount of technological and social change. I suspect part of what is going on is since Regan, is the idea of trickle down economics and “small” government has eroded the American Dream. These polices has put capitalism at full throttle with no brakeman and at the same time reduced the safety net for a lot of average people. Capitalism is brutal, if suddenly technology shifts, it’s cheaper to just close a factory than retool it. If some other country can make it cheaper, just close and shift. A lot of average guys got ground up by those kind of shifts.

    There are a lot of people out there that were not so lucky and the economic vision of Ronald Regan did not “trickle down” to them. Along with it, there has been an amazing concentration of wealth at the top, and a lot of people at the top are fighting to hold on to that position by shoveling out amazing amounts of money to enable the right wing propaganda machine that tells these folks how bad things are, and to vote for the guys that made it that way.

  19. Television was actually invented in the 1930s, but there weren’t transmission towers capable of transmitting video. My mother bought our first in 1952. It was the first anywhere in our neighborhood. We could watch CBS, NBC, ABC, and WTTV. on a cloudy day we could pull in the Terre Haute CBS affiliate. Programming ended by midnight, after which a test pattern was it, until the next morning. Imagine how left out the night owls felt.

    WWII greatly sped up the introduction of new conveniences, when much of Europe was destroyed. Sometimes I wonder if the US of A will ever be able to address the need for high speed rail systems, minus the total destruction of our current system. The same holds true for our health (un)care industry. Will our preference for low taxes be so strong that we have to come face to face with annihilation to overcome it?

  20. I was born in 1952, and have been less surprised by things that have happened than by things that haven’t. I do not feel detached or disoriented, even when I don’t recognize have the acts at the Grammy Awards. I do find myself wondering, especially when we’re down at our place in Florida in the 55+ community, what fucking rock have these people been under all these years? Sadly, that can be asked of a lot of people born way after 1952 (don’t get me started on DeSantis). I do feel a tad disoriented and a bit detached, though, when we’re in that self-segregated Florida neighborhood. And maybe that’s part of the problem- disengagement with the world. Lastly, I get real tired of ageist memes and other media that treat anyone over 50 as a doddering old crank who wouldn’t even know how to work a door knob. Things change. That’s the point.

  21. Regarding the comments about loss of manners and vulgar language, manners and language are ever changing. Culture changes. Most of the time it has little to do with respect or the fundamental values of compassion, forgiveness, generosity, etc. There was a time when “egad” was considered a curse word. Now “fuck” is likewise losing it’s punch. Just learn to go with the flow on the unimportant stuff and try to not be insulted when no insult is intended.

  22. A great book is The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible! by Otto Bettmann.
    It highlights many of the conditions of the years from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900’s.
    Yes, life was great for the privileged few, who had servants to do all of the drudge work while they lived a life of ease and grace. For the rest of the population, life was short and very hard. All change requires adjustment and it is inevitable. Go with the flow!!

  23. Sharon, WADR, if you are old and you don’t think that of today’s driving, dress, language, etc. ” it has little to do with respect or the fundamental values of compassion, forgiveness, generosity, etc., you must be living in a cave.

    If we all agreed with “if this is how it is”; it’s just change and we should go along with it…That’s why we have The Former.

  24. I heard or read (and obviously dont remember where or who) about the thing that hasn’t changed, which is what works and doesn’t work in human relations. I’m not talking about changes in the way language is used, and the constant evolution of it, but of the very basic things, like anger and intimidation is a terrible way to motivate, caring creates community, and sharing your embarrassements give other permission to share theirs, and makes community stronger. And within community, not telling people what to believe or how to act, broad acceptance of anything that isn’t harming you or others, relieves, or at least reduces the tension between community and freedom and brings us together. These things are all part of human nature, which hasn’t really changed .

  25. Per the OED: “egad” meaning: 1. an expression of surprise, anger, or emphasis: 2. an expression of surprise, anger – vulgar? curse word? Misogynistic aggressive term?

  26. Lester. WADR, I don’t include driving under the heading of language or culture. Obviously, reckless driving or anything that causes material harm, as opposed to things like dress, hair styles or vulgar language which simply offend your sensibilities, are in an entirely different category. I’m not referring to slander, libel or hate speech, either. Neither do I live in a cave and while I find that comment probably is intended to be disrespectful, despite your “WADR”, I don’t think you should be prevented from saying it.

  27. Per Thomas Friedman this week: “[The Former] has not put us here by accident…he and people like him only thrive in a broken system…where rules are for suckers, NORMS ARE FOR FOOLS, basic truths are malleable…” This grandpa ain’t gonna “go with the flow”…

  28. Scientists and engineers keep inventing new tools. We get to choose what, or not, to use them for, typically preceded by a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of advertising showing only the potential good things.

    One down side to the whole process is that every tool comes accompanied by a dose of learning how to use it, a task enjoyed by some and avoided by others. Again we are beat up by our own diversity.

    I believe myself fortunate to have as both a pre- and post-retirement hobby collecting knowledge wherever I find it. It turns out that the universe is an endless supply of knowledge much greater than our individual capacity to harvest and consume it. I’m just a hunter/gatherer in a paradise of endless resources.

    Like the most successful hunters in tribal cultures I harvest way more than I need so give it away to anyone less fortunate in finding their share.

    Some say thank you, others no thanks.

  29. I’m old. I caught a train from Washington, Indiana, to LA and Catalina Island for training prior to leaving for the South Pacific. I don’t use four letter words but am hardly a prude, feeling there are better means of self-expression. I remember neighborhood gatherings for FDR’s fireside chats and Joe Louis prizefights. I have gone with the flow but at my own pace, being aware that change itself is subject to change, Take AI, for instance.

  30. Lester, despite your efforts to twist and stretch my post beyond all logical interpretation, I stand by it. Also, regarding “egad,” it was once considered blasphemous because people said it as a substitute for “ye god” much the way folks today use “frig and friigging.” Another example of the same point is “bloody” as a substitute for “God’s blood.” Once considered improper in polite company, neither raise an eyebrow today. When I suggested you go with the flow on the UNIMPORTANT stuff, that’s what I meant. TFG is obviously not unimportant.

  31. I remember my grandmother telling a story about the little town where my family lived before I was born. There was a woman who lived there who was the town prostitute. No one talked about her, but she scraped by and remained there for years. No one talked to her on the street. She was not allowed in either of the churches. She was an alcoholic. No one offered help. She was beaten now and then, and a local doctor would treat her for free, and some of the people in town tried to drive him away for it. She died alone in her little house, and they found her with a bottle by her side. She was buried in the local cemetery with a simple marker. My grandmother would put flowers on her grave. The poor woman lived a miserable, short life and died alone. Was this when America was great?

  32. So, it’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” redux!!
    A soft rule of thumb with which i’ve been familiar for some years states that Conservatives tend to be
    anxious people, and anxiety about the sea changes since WWII would fit that meme. Hey, “Meme” was not
    a word back then, I’m sure.
    I recently came across the response a centenarian woman made to the question about the most wonderful
    invention of her life: The washing machine…which freed her, and her mother, from hours of drudgery!
    John I think the Buddha is supposed to have said that everything is impermanent. On that note, another
    quote runs thusly: “For things not to not change, things must change.”
    I was born in ’42, also, and will be as old as my oldest grandparent got to be in 5 years. The changes in our world
    assuming there will still be one in that relatively short time, will probably be amazing, even to the most future oriented of us.

  33. Nineteen forty-two here. I have enjoyed these recollections and trips down Memory Lane. I pulled up short at Future Sock, thinking surely a typo. A few lines later, I began to realize maybe ‘future sock’ is exactly what this is…right squarely in the chops!

  34. I was born in the last half of 1948. When I see all the FB posts berating today’s society and glorifying the “good old days”, how much better our childhood was than kids’ today, I want to scream. My dad bought our first tv in 1952. We lived 40 miles from the nearest tv station and what we watched most was snow. I don’t look back on my childhood as idyllic, but rather boring. I relish new technologies. I do all my banking and bill paying through my bank’s secure app, using two-step confirmation. I keep my important files on my G-drive, reached only with a secure password, created by my password key chain, that includes no letters or numbers that are related to me or anyone/anything in my life. They are completely random. When my husband died and I downsized, I had to get rid of
    most of my books. I can carry an entire library on my iPad.

    Many of my friends, in my age group, have not bothered to master technology. That is their right. However, as someone mentioned in an earlier comment, I get quite frustrated, even angry, when people in their 20’s or 30’s assume anyone over the age of 60 (or maybe even 50), is a luddite.

    And don’t even get me started on how those “good old days” were controlled by, and for the benefit of, white males. I will never understand women who are on the MAGA side of the culture wars. But then I could not understand how any women listened to
    Phyllis Schlafly when we were fighting for the ERA.

    I, for one, will not go quietly when being dragged into the past.

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