On Being a “Boomer”


When I was growing up in the 1950s and onward there was not all this talk about generations that seems to have become a fascination of the last twenty years. Although I became aware of the baby boom and even the term baby boomers (now apparently just boomers), I instinctively assumed the baby boomers were the people that had the babies. It was only recently that I realized that it referred to the children and I was one of them.

Indeed the original ideas for this blog had nothing to do with boomers but was simply to recount how lucky I was to be born at this time and live through all these changes, particularly the technological ones. But since labelling us folks born during this time as boomers seems to be the in thing I thought I might as well go with the flow, thus the title of this post.

This meant at least some cursory research into generations which Wikipedia explains this way. But the first thing I learned is that these generations are simply time periods people talk about in their own ways. There are no officially defined generational periods, no consensus on what the names of these periods are and not even a consensus on how long a generation is, even within individual generational schemes. So it's a good thing I am not talking about generations but just my time on this planet.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950s and 1960s, at least in northern Ontario, was a great time to grow up. It was a time when all elementary school kids could walk or bike to school because we had eight room neighbourhood schools. Yes, we didn't have proper gymnasiums or any sort of shop rooms, or even libraries, but we managed without that until high school. There were no computer rooms because there were no computers, It was a time when on weekends we could wander away wherever to play in the rocks and bush by the railroad tracks and creek and the slag dump. We could bike all over town and once I even biked all the way to our camp (cottage for you non-northerners).

Progressing into the high school period, school spirit was a big thing. Anyone from Sudbury remember the school lunch bag contests ? Music was the other big thing. School dances always featured live bands. When the bands took their breaks and records where put on everybody stopped dancing. The groups were often other high school kids. Anyone remember The Sound Expressway. Local Battle of the Bands contests were a regular affair usually emceed by one of the local DJs who were more than minor celebrities in their time. Radio was our main source of music, and calling in requests and dedications were what you did while doing your homework and listening to your favourite DJ on the radio. Remember G. Michael Cranston.

Unions and the Middle Class

One of the most important facts about this time was the role of the labour movement and the fact that the 1950s was a time when we still built things in North America. Unions enlarged the middle class from being just the professional and merchant class to include working people enabling me to have a middle class upbringing and life as the son of a hard rock miner.

Public Health Care

It was in 1947 that Medicare, as our public health care system is known, was first introduced in Saskatchewan, and it was adopted by the federal government and all provinces during the 1950s and 1960s.

Social Change

The period from 1950 until present day was a pretty good time to be a heterosexual white male Canadian of European descent. If you did not fit that category (or even if you did) it was a period of great opportunity to fight for social progress. This included the 1960s and 1970s, decades defined by battles for social change, particularly on university campuses. Laurentian University at the time was known as the Berkeley of the North, It included the civil rights movement, women's liberation movement, LGBTQ rights movement, and the adoption of multiculturalism in Canada.

From the 1950s to current day we saw a huge change in the role of women in the workforce and economy (and the role of men in the home and family) and we saw the LGBTQ community advance from being whispered about in the shadows to fully accepted members of society.

This is not to say that discrimination, bigotry, racism, misogynism, etc no longer exists but we have matured as a society to where inclusion and diversity are accepted Canadian values. We have come a long way.

The Peace Movement and The War Against The War

No discussion of the time of the baby boom generation would be complete without mentioning the struggle against the Vietnam War, the War Against The War waged during the 1960s, inspired by a long history of the Peace movement, and more particularly the late 1950s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Canada played it's part as "Vietnam War resisters were welcomed as heroes in Canada" (Montreal Gazette).

It was perhaps the generation's most defining moment.


Indeed I could talk much more about social change during this period but these advances were not the original motivation for this post. Rather it was to talk about how we were so fortunate to live through this period of technological advances. Other periods of history have seen technological advances such as the printing press, industrialization, still and moving picture photography, the telegraph and radio, but never so much so fast as this era from television to the Internet, where we have in many cases surpassed science fiction.


I was three years old in Sudbury when television was first available to the city. Although it was a few or several years before TV ownership became widespread enough that we had one I was old enough to remember first getting television. I guess one could call it our generation's “screen time” although we were not nearly as enamoured with it as people seem to be with “screens” these days. It was something that amused us when we were finished our homework and it was too dark to go out and play or early weekend mornings before we went to meet our friends.

But that was just the beginning. Those of us born in the 1950s would see television go through many evolutionary stages from the development of cable television with cable only channels to streaming services over the Internet. Cable and satellite television came to be dominant over broadcast TV and may soon be supplanted by Internet streaming. We may even see the complete end of traditional broadcast television in my lifetime.

And of course. the the quality of the picture has improved with the quality of the screens used to watch it. First with the introduction of colour and then flat screens replacing CRT tubes along with higher resolution images for much better picture quality.

As to content, that has evolved in two directions, while production values have improved and the amount of high quality content has increased, the multi-channel universe has created space for an increasing amount of crap (can you say reality TV) on our screens.

Computers and Personal Computers

While the history of computers can be traced back to Charles Babbage in the 1800s, the first commercial computer UNIVAC was put into service in 1951. The early commercial computers were first designed and produced to perform specific tasks for specific customers. General purpose computers came later. The programming language COBOL was develop in 1953 and Fortran in 1954. The IBM System/360 was first produced in 1964. These mainframe computers revolutionized business and industry. The revolutionizing of our personal lives would come later.

We got our first personal computer in 1981, an Osborne 1, the world's first portable computer. It was a powerful computer with a 4.0 mHz processer and 64K RAM and two 92K 5.25 inch disk drives. $2,500 Canadian with another $800 for an Epson 9 pin dot matrix printer. A huge 10 Mb hard drive was available for $10,000. But this was a powerful machine for it's time. It was usable out of the box with bundled software, including WordStar and SuperCalc, plus MBASIC and CBASIC, and the CP/M operating system, a suite of software worth the price of the computer by themselves. We also managed to acquire a cope of dBASE II.

Previous personal computers were aimed at computer hobbyists and nerds who wanted to learn about computers and programming. The Osborne 1 was one of a new group of computers designed as productivity tools. This was only the start of the personal computer revolution which soon saw ordinary people with computers more powerful than the ones that put a man on the moon sitting on their desks.

Indeed, Wordstar made writing so much easier and SuperCalc allowed for financial wizardry on the Osborne 1. But Dbase II was the most interesting and fun with it's own programming language. My first big Dbase II project was creating an Index to The Portable Companion, the magazine for users of Osborne portable computers. My most ambitious project was creating a prototype key word indexing system for Hansard, the House of Commons Debates, and a computerized voting record database, at least 10 years before the House of Commons developed their own much more powerful Publication Search system.

Our next personal computer was an IBM XT clone, that ran MS-DOS, and following that new machines about every three years till we purchased our current machine on April 12 2013, with Windows 7, now running Windows 10.

Indeed it was quite a surprise when I checked back to see when I purchased this current machine. This is a clear sign that personal computing has matured and the average user does not need any more computing power. Of course gaming is a different matter. Putting a man on the moon did not require fancy 4k video imaging and fast graphics. It just required number crunching. Which is why it required much less computing power than making a game about it. That is also why today it is home computers that need more power and capability than business machines – number crunching requires much less power than high definition video.

But yet we may be soon coming full circle to the pre-home computing days when computing involved dumb terminals connected to main frames. The tech industry seems to want to go that way with all your applications and even personal data storage in the amorphous “cloud“ (a network server somewhere), somewhere in the great unknown.

Computer Networks from BBSs to the Internet

But home computers were not just for nerds sitting at home looking at a screen and writing programs. The first home computers soon led to computing networks that were the forerunner of the internet, computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) that allowed users to to share their knowledge via discussion forums and also share software via download capability. I used at least one BBS to share my index of The Portable Companion. Surprisingly, they still exist .

However they were replaced to a certain degree by larger proprietary online service providers like CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy. These systems provided information services, online forums, messaging services, downloadable files and programs, etc.. They were the forerunner to the Internet but they were proprietary corporate systems. They were very much like Facebook except it was very clear how you paid for access, with a monetary subscription fee. They died off, essentially by transforming themselves into Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as users embraced the open Internet, preferring that to getting all their online information from one commercial source (until Facebook).

Then came the The Internet but it was not accessible to the general public until Free-nets provided that access.

The word mark Free-Net was a registered trademark of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), founded in 1989 by Tom Grundner at Case Western Reserve University. NPTN was a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing and developing, free, public access, digital information and communication services for the general public.[4] It closed operations in 1996, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.[5] However, prior use of the term created some conflicts.[6] NPTN distributed the software package FreePort, developed at Case Western Reserve, that was used and licensed by many of the free-net sites.

Any person with a personal computer, or through access from public terminal in libraries, could register for accounts on a free-net, and was assigned an email address. Other services often included Usenet newsgroups, chat rooms, IRC, telnet, and archives of community information, delivered either with text-based Gopher software or later the World-Wide Web. (Source: Free-net - Wikipedia )

In Ottawa it was the National Capital FreeNet (NCF) that provided the public with not only access to the Internet of the time but also access to e-mail, which started a communications revolution of it's own. The free-nets also provided a way for community organizations to reach the public, not only in their home communities but internationally as the free-nets were all inter-connected via the Internet. At this time the Internet was completely non-corporate and there was a huge debate, the conclusion of which was clearly predictable though not so obvious at the time, about whether corporations should have access to the Internet. It would certainly be different if that had gone the other way.

At the start of the free-nets the World Wide Web had not been developed so the FreePort menu system provided the accessibility that would later be provided by the web.

As an early member of the NCF, user ab190, I was also one of it's first “information providers” operating an information service for the Bridlewood Residents Hydro Line Committee on FreePort which later became the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields Information Service on the World Wide Web. It was one of and possibly the first NCF information services to move from Freeport to the Web. One of my proudest moments was when the World Health Organization (WHO) linked to the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields Information Service.

I took it offline when I stopped updating it but the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) Information Service is available on a mirror site provided by The Swedish Association for the Electro HyperSensitive - www.feb.se (FEB Sweden), in it's final state.

When the Internet became easily available via high speed broadband through DSL or Cable Internet the need for the free-nets disappeared, though many, like the National Capital Freenet became non-commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) aimed at making the Internet available to as many people as possible.

Communications Replaces Computing

With the Internet computers became as much a communications tool as a data, word and image processing tool and newer technologies to come would lead to a dominance of communications over computing in our electronic devices. Telephones (nobody calls them that anymore) would be marketed for their photographic capabilities and voice conversations would be their least important use.

And it all started with Agent 86 and his shoe phone. Once the purview of science fiction now it seems every ten year old has a compact portable videophone that is rarely used for making phone calls. Desktop computers are the rare purview of computer gamers and purists like me who prefer a larger screen and a desk to sit at to do my computing which still includes not just communication but a lot of writing and some photo processing. For most people laptop or notebook computers have replaced the standard desktop and some folks just rely on the new fangled tablets, for their entertainment, information and communications needs.

The smartphone has replaced the personal computer as the electronic device of choice and it may only be a matter of time until the smartwatch (which may even include a minor timekeeping function) will replace that.

Smart homes

Smart homes are the latest tech trend. Well actually not so new as the first article cited below points out: 'In 1975, the first general purpose home automation network technology, X10, was developed. It is a communication protocol for electronic devices.“

I certainly recall many years ago homes being built pre-wired with Ethernet (and sometimes also Coaxial) cable for home networking. The individual components like programmable home thermostats and video monitoring systems accessible from the Internet and of course remote controlled lighting systems just to mention a few have been available for quite awhile.

What is new is the use of voice commands yelled at tabletop orbs as the hub of smart home controls. In reality I doubt any serious smart home will be controlled that way. It will much more likely be via a dedicated control panel that is probably also accessible on a computer or tablet, perhaps even smartphone or watch via the Internet.

Smart home resources


This period since the birth of the baby boomers has certainly been one of technological change, though not all of it progress. While much of the world still lives in abject poverty another portion lives in relative wealth, some absurdly so. I have not mentioned all of the technological “wonders” the age has bestowed upon us, some of them just plain silly like electric plug in air fresheners and refrigerators that talk to your milk cartons so they can order new milk when you run out. My “favourite” misuse of technology are automobiles now being marketed, not for having the best engines or transmissions, but the best “infotainment system”.

Being a baby boomer is about living through change.


I started talking about the gains made by the working class through the union movement during the baby boom years (1946-1964), gains we can actually thank the previous generations, including the so-called Silent Generation, for. They may have been silent but they were very active having been responsible for much of labour and civil rights movements and having built a more equal society.

That society has over the years become increasingly unequal, not only between the developed and third world but also within the so called developed world, with the latest generations, the so-called Millennials and Generation Z, becoming perhaps the first in recorded history to be worse off economically than the previous generations (except for a select few who control the economic system, what one might call the means of production). Their challenge is perhaps the greatest, to build a truly just and sustainable society, one that I discuss here: THE FIFTH COLUMN: Towards a Green Social Democratic Economy.

1 comment:

rww said...

And I just realized I made no reference to audio recording from reel to reel tape recorders to cassette recorders to digital recording or video recording from Super 8 to Beta/VHS VCRs to DVDs & Blue Ray to digital computer recording, nor to music players from radios to cassette players & 8 tracks to Walkmen to iPods/MP3 players.