Skip to comments.Grad student lives 1950s lifestyle for project
Posted on 02/21/2007 10:07:19 AM PST by Incorrigible
By TRACY DAVIS
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 http://retrochicky.blogspot.com. 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, EnchantedLearning.com, About.com, Fcc.gov.
(Tracy Davis is a reporter for the Ann Arbor (Mich.) News. She can be contacted at tdavis(at)annarbornews.com.)
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
A Generation X'er goes... Back.... To the future!
I know Civil War reenactors who live in the 19th Century.
As for those Renaissance Faire people...
Wonder what she uses for birth control. :)
That's a very novel idea for a grad project! Good for her. At least she's not bashing Bush to get her degree, like a lot of other programs.
She gets an F. I was born in 1949 and my parents had a tv before I was born.
She should use crisco to cook most of her suppers. Light up a pack of Winstons a day. And use DDT spray the bugs in the summer.
It's a silly project lacking in any real scholarly merit. She could easily interview some folks who actually lived during the fifites, but then again she would not get all of this attention.
Well, at least she can't catch aids since it does not exist....
I'm excited for her for all the things she's learning, but I agree, this doesn't have much scholarly merit. I've done some living history - 1860's homesteading - and it's great fun!
Exactly. How could you FReep without a computer?
We were at a Civil War reinactment in Virginia a few years ago and waiting in line for food when the woman in front of me, dressing for the period and carrying a basket instead of a purse, reached into said basket and pulled out her cell phone and started chatting. LOL
Wonder what happened to the word habitual? And why has it been replaced by addicted?
I suspect it all boils down to government grants and lawsuits.
And now we know the value of a Master's Degree from her school.
If I did that I probably wouldn't spend a dime. I'm never off work when the banks are open to take out money.
Does she get to pay 1950 prices too?
I used to pride myself on my penmanship. Those nuns at All Saints would be proud of me. But in the last ten years, it has deteriorated significantly since I rarely write anything anymore beyond signing the odd check; I pay almost all my bills on line.
Don't know why all the cranky naysayers on this thread.
You can get a lot of old radio shows on tape/CD/whatever and they're great to listen to w/out video (using your imagination? How dare!)
Some of the old newsreels are hillarious. I remember one from the 1930s touting the wonderful development of all those 'new fascists' growing up in Italy, ha ha ha. 'What a fine group of young fascists' it proclaimed as young men did military exercise regimens. Something to emulate!
I would give her a bye to use new technology to really re-create the news/entertainment atmosphere.
I think it's interesting she has explored 'new' ways of living, like reading and actually speaking to people. Anyways, just my 2 cents.
Why would she need birth control?
In Ann Arbor there was no TV in 1950. The Detroit stations were up and running but IIRC, the signals much weaker than today, making reception with an indoor antenna (which is what most middle class people had, at best) quite difficult.
Wasn't there a movie about this?
Interesting article. She's kind of cute too and has a good attitude.
Don't forget the pipe!
They make some pretty cool "retro" electronics that look old but still perform like a modern pieces of equipment (For example a multiple cd player inside a wood-style radio housing) It sounds like a fun project..best of luck. Don't forget a bomb shelter in the backyard!
I know an entire political party that lives there with them!! LOL!!!
That's what I was thinking, too. What's the point??
Should've picked 1940 instead -- no penicillin.
Wonder if she'll re-institute the smoking lounge?
She can't have non-seasonal fruit and veggies in winter, either, just canned.
She can only listen to am radio and records.
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.
Title is wrong. She's trying to live a PRE-1950's lifestyle.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.