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Grad student lives 1950s lifestyle for project
Newhouse News ^ | 2/21/2007 | Tracy Davis

Posted on 02/21/2007 10:07:19 AM PST by Incorrigible

Grad student lives 1950s lifestyle for project



Christina Wall uses only technology that was in existence before 1950 as part of her master's project. (Photo by Eliyahu Gurfinkel)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Christina Wall has traveled back in time, to a place where there is no television, no Internet and no e-mail.

In this pre-1950 land, there are no frozen dinners, no non-stick skillets and no fast food franchises. She can't use a dishwasher, clothes dryer or microwave; she has no access to ATMs, DVDs or CDs.

Wall, 32, an Eastern Michigan University graduate student, hasn't left her west-side Ann Arbor home for another plane in the space-time continuum. She's simply going a month — through March 2 — without using any technology created since 1950. It's part of her master's degree project on the impact of technology in modern life.

When she has a headache? Uncoated aspirin instead of ibuprofen. When she needs to contact a friend? Snail mail or an antique rotary phone. When it snows? Sledding instead of reality TV. Her project is a completely original conception, said Professor Denise Pilato, who teaches in EMU's College of Technology.

"In some ways it's an experiment,'' she said. "And being that it's an experiment, there are a lot of surprises for her.''

Perhaps most surprising is that there have been so many happy ones. For example, Wall estimates she'll save up to $400 this month because it feels more "real'' to spend cash than to use an ATM card.

And she has found her day has more hours.

"It's amazing,'' she said. "I literally feel I like I have 40 hours in a day. I realize how much time was sucked up with TV, and more specifically the Internet and e-mail.''

The classically trained pianist now has time to practice 45 minutes daily, to read books, to sit down to breakfast and to reconnect with friends.

Neighbor Margaret Steneck, a retired University of Michigan history professor, has taken great interest in the project. "It's not just what was available in 1950, but what would someone living in her house, in her socioeconomic range, be able to afford and have available to them,'' she said.

For example, television had been invented by 1950, but it wasn't commonplace. And certain types of cosmetics — lipstick and hair conditioners were around but don't appear to have been commonly used by most women, according to Wall's research.

Wall's friends, family and students have had to readjust as well. To the ire of some of her students, Wall, a graduate student instructor at EMU, is not available via e-mail and is not posting her lectures online. Now, students have to phone Wall or go to her office hours to talk to her.

"It was interesting and it was sad,'' she said. "You can just see how addicted students are now, and that they have the expectation things are going to be spoon-fed to them. ... Now, they feel like they can't have a normal conversation. And by losing that skill, they become fearful of them. I feel like part of the reason to do this is we're in this spiral that's not good.''

She hasn't decided yet how her life will be changed when she is done, but it will definitely be changed, she said. She's considering doing more work on the idea and pursuing a Ph.D.

Wall admits she has "cheated'' by using a video camera to record some of her experiences. She hopes to make a documentary when she's done.

Wall graduates in April, so she'll soon start writing up her project. But on what? Typewriter or computer?

"I haven't decided yet,'' she said with a laugh.

To read more about Wall's project, go to Of course, it hasn't been updated since January since Wall can't access her computer or use the Internet, but you can read about her research and preparations.


Examples of modern conveniences that were not invented or not widely available before 1950:

— Four-wheel drive. The vehicle credited with being the first four-wheel drive internal combustion engine car was built shortly after 1900. But four-wheel and all-wheel drive didn't become commonplace among consumer-driven road vehicles until well after 1950.

— Garbage disposals first came onto the market in 1938, but because many cities forbade putting food waste into sewage systems, they weren't widely used until years later.

— Disposable diapers were invented in 1950 but not widely available; cloth diapers were standard.

— Voicemail. Its inventor, Gordon Matthews, applied for a patent in 1979. The first answering machine was invented in 1935 and was three feet tall, but the machines were not widely used until decades later.

— Smoke alarms. The battery-powered household devices were first designed in the late 1960s.

Sources: Christina Wall, Wikipedia,,,

(Tracy Davis is a reporter for the Ann Arbor (Mich.) News. She can be contacted at tdavis(at)

Not for commercial use.  For educational and discussion purposes only.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: Michigan
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To: reagan_fanatic; MamaB
My mom was telling me how when "I Love Lucy" came on in the 50's she and many others would all go over to the house of the one neighbor on their block who had a TV.
41 posted on 02/21/2007 10:35:21 AM PST by Gator101
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To: Incorrigible
TV argument aside (we didn't have a tv until the mid 60's) I'm not sure she is fully compliant.

This is a pic from her web site, presumably showing her living arrangements. I could be wrong, but I don't believe there were VHS tapes or post-it notes back in the '50s.

42 posted on 02/21/2007 10:35:58 AM PST by Dr._Joseph_Warren
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To: Incorrigible

Title is wrong. She's trying to live a PRE-1950's lifestyle.

43 posted on 02/21/2007 10:36:08 AM PST by Kirkwood
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To: Incorrigible


44 posted on 02/21/2007 10:36:15 AM PST by markman46 (engage brain before using keyboard!!!)
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To: Incorrigible

Does she know how to dive under her desk in case of a nuclear attack and can she order a handgun over the mail from a magazine?

45 posted on 02/21/2007 10:37:03 AM PST by 353FMG (I never met a liberal I didn't dislike.)
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To: P-40
Wonder what she uses for birth control. :)

Her looks.

46 posted on 02/21/2007 10:37:13 AM PST by Yossarian (Everyday, somewhere on the globe, somebody is pushing the frontier of stupidity...)
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To: reagan_fanatic
I also remember the indian-head test pattern that my local station used to put on when they first signed on. How politically incorrect was that?

Off topic comment - It seems like rather than encouraging others to learn about and admire their culture(s), indian leaders are trying to bury it through political correctness. We'll end up respecting them into forgetful oblivion.

47 posted on 02/21/2007 10:39:19 AM PST by scan59 (No matter where you go, there you are.)
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To: marsh2
"She gets an F. I was born in 1949 and my parents had a tv before I was born."

Yes, indeed. Our next-door neighbors had a TV in 1947 -- complete with a water-filled magnifier in front to make the B&W image look a bit bigger. Used to visit and watch Roller Derby on it.

48 posted on 02/21/2007 10:39:34 AM PST by TXnMA ("Allah": Satan's current alias...)
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To: Incorrigible; ItsOurTimeNow; PresbyRev; Fraulein; StoneColdGOP; Clemenza; m18436572; InShanghai; ...
Xer Ping

Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.

Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.

49 posted on 02/21/2007 10:39:41 AM PST by qam1 (There's been a huge party. All plates and the bottles are empty, all that's left is the bill to pay)
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To: Incorrigible

She is dancing around an interesting question. Will technology be our slave or will we become a slave to technology? I have a love hate affair with technology. I used to have two cellphones and I have given them both up. The result has been very positive. And I when I watch television, which is mostly sports, I rarely turn on the sound. Try watching the shopping channels without the sound, you will get bored quickly but you will learn that those talking heads on the shopping channels are now the hardest working people in show business.

50 posted on 02/21/2007 10:39:43 AM PST by Biblebelter
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To: Dr._Joseph_Warren
I don't believe there were VHS tapes or post-it notes back in the '50s.

Kodachrome was invented in 1935, but I don't think color film for snapshots was in widespread use during the '50's (color snapshots on desk).

51 posted on 02/21/2007 10:39:50 AM PST by Alouette (Learned Mother of Zion)
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To: 353FMG

I can't imagine what she will do when she finds herself sharing a restroom with a "negro".

52 posted on 02/21/2007 10:40:00 AM PST by AppyPappy (If you aren't part of the solution, there is good money to be made prolonging the problem.)
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To: Preachin'
think this is a pretty cool project.

Very cool!

No push button phones, call waiting, cordless phones,cell phones, microwave ovens, digital clocks, radios....

I wonder how many types of shampoo, toothpaste, and soap were available.

53 posted on 02/21/2007 10:40:18 AM PST by Lijahsbubbe
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To: Incorrigible

Oh come on in the 50's if you weren't married you did not have $*x nor did you talk about it.....(sarc)

54 posted on 02/21/2007 10:41:22 AM PST by Kimmers
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To: Lijahsbubbe

"I wonder how many types of shampoo, toothpaste, and soap were available."

How about breakfast cereal? There are hundreds of choices today.

55 posted on 02/21/2007 10:42:40 AM PST by Preachin' (Enoch's testimony was that he pleased God: Why are we still here?)
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To: DustyMoment

It makes me wonder about the quality of a history department where professors sign off on such a project.

56 posted on 02/21/2007 10:43:11 AM PST by flying Elvis ("In...War, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst" Clausewitz.)
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To: Preachin'

You should check out these books if you can find them: Please Stand By A Prehistory of Television by Michael Ritchie and A History of Broadcasting (three volumes) by Erik Barnouw. I enjoyed reading them.

57 posted on 02/21/2007 10:43:36 AM PST by racing fan (Go Team Israel!)
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To: Dr._Joseph_Warren

From that photo...I didn't know we had VCR tape and pre-fab furniture back then. :)

58 posted on 02/21/2007 10:43:52 AM PST by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: AppyPappy


59 posted on 02/21/2007 10:45:15 AM PST by 353FMG (I never met a liberal I didn't dislike.)
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To: AppyPappy

She is in Michigan, not Alabama...

60 posted on 02/21/2007 10:45:18 AM PST by GreenLanternCorps (Hi, I'm the DREAD PIRATE ROBERTS! (TM) Ask about franchise opportunities in your area!)
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