From the Class of 1989 to the Class of 2013, #congratulations and LOL

This column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on You can find more interesting stuff on the Lifestyle/Entertainment section's Whatever blog.

Congratulations, High School Class of 2013. As I look out at your faces beaming in achievement, or perhaps that’s from the glow of your smartphones, it’s time to discuss the future.

Which I’ll do by starting with the past.

I, too, once sat proudly with my graduating class while draped in a shower-curtain gown and wearing a cap that looked like something from the Disneyland gift shop. The members of the Class of 1989 were just like you. Heads full of hair, minds filled with big dreams, and absolutely no clue whether the cap tassel should hang on the right or the left.

Unlike you, however, we couldn’t look up the answer on our phone.
Not long ago, phones were just phones. (Photo: Irfan Nasir)

Mobile phones were around in 1989, but they weren’t very smart. They were bulky, cost thousands of dollars and featured designs with less style than a neck brace. Air time was also a major hit to your Velcro, potentially neon-colored, wallet. You had to burn a dollar a minute to call someone to brag that you just saw Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout or that you were headed to a Milli Vanilli concert.

And text messages? LOL.

Mobile phones in the late
Eighties only made phone calls. They had the versatility of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor and were only slightly more cutting edge than calculator watches and The Clapper. (Everyone over age 30, join in: Clap on! Clap off! The Clapper!)

But what does this have to do with us? Weren’t you going to talk about the future?

Sorry, I’m getting there. It just seemed like the progression of mobile phones, now a staple of our lives the way a wristwatch once was, would be a perfect way to show how much, and how quickly, the world has changed.

And now, proud members of the Class of 2013, think of what lies ahead. Push forward two decades and the LCD displays and ultrafast processors of today’s phones might seem as quaint as dropping a coin in a payphone.

What? A payphone?

Immune system: Prepare for attack!
Oh yeah, some of you might not be familiar with payphones. They used to be found in most public places, and for a mere 25 or 50 cents, you could talk for a few minutes while challenging your immune system with an infantry of germs. Sometimes there was a Yellow Pages dangling below the phone, generally with the page you needed ripped out.

That doesn’t seem long ago, but things change quickly. The present becomes the past, the future becomes the present and years seem to zip by in the time it takes to import contacts into a new phone. You might feel the same someday as you unpack a phone that charges itself wirelessly, projects holograms and provides counseling when your Facebook status update doesn’t get enough likes.

Crazy, right? But who knows what the future holds?

Tonight, as you sit in your fashionable graduation garb, it might be hard to think about your future. Understandably, this is a time when you want to enjoy the moment, be proud of your achievement and take camera-phone shots of your friends turning their caps into Frisbees.

But as you receive your diploma and move your tassel to the left (yes, to the left), remember that graduation isn’t a finish line. It’s like another starting line, which makes it appropriate that those graduation caps look like unfinished art projects.

You’re still a work in progress, just as we all are, really. And no matter how much the world changes, and how much smarter your phone gets, you’re in control of your future.

Welcome to adulthood. The next move is your call.

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