The cassette generation

"My friend’s 5-year old daughter chats with her father on MSN. She sends him all kinds of nudges, winks, and smileys, although his office is a short drive from his home. Times have changed indeed. When I used to call my father long distance to Europe (punshing the number over and over—via ‘pulse’ dialing) I used so scream to make myself heard..."

The cassette generation

Sami Moubayed


I have been writing too much politics in FW: lately; now is the time for some light nostalgia.

I walked into a music store with my good friend Karim Tabba the other day, and asked for a cassette. “We don’t sell them anymore” replied the attendant, with a big smile on his face. It suddenly hit me; the generation gap that diffrentiated us from our elders and which we once mocked repeatedly, has quickly crept onto our lives as well. When we were 18, for example, we would glare at a balding 30-year old, with white streaks on his hair and children, as “Ancient!” 30 was so far away. I remember when CDs were invented, followed-up by medium sized Video-CDs, and then the modern version of the DVD came along. Our generation learned to use the Internet during their final years in college, or when they first began their working careers. The new generation—now in college—do not remember the world without DVD or Internet. They never used “Double-Cassette Players” to customize a cassette of songs for their high school sweetheart. I once asked a young girl, now turning 19, whether she had ever written a hand-written letter in her life, “bought stamps for it, licked them onto the envelope, and then mailed it from the post office, either to a friend or beloved?” She smiled and looked back at me, as if I were a Brontosaurus Rex. One of the most intimate and warm methods of communication, I still beileve, which outdoes email by a thousand years, is a hand-written letter—sent or received—or a love-letter from one’s beloved.

My friend’s 5-year old daughter chats with her father on MSN. She sends him all kinds of nudges, winks, and smileys, although his office is a short drive from his home. Times have changed indeed. When I used to call my father long distance to Europe (punshing the number over and over—via ‘pulse’ dialing) I used so scream to make myself heard, because of the bad connection. Our Damascus had no mobile phones or Internet; no “tunnel” in the Umayyad Square, just orange and red lightbulbs for decoration, and a colorful variety of Mazdas and Lancers, driving around in circles. We played football in the streets and got a tremendous kick out of the first fast food joint to open in Damascus—Express Restaurant—at the Meridian Hotel. It offered items that looked like McDonalds; Big Macs, nuggets, and real French Fries.

During our early romances, we used to passionately call up a loved ones home, what we know call a “landline,” and hang up over and over whenever her parents picked up (they often said very bad things to us). Young lovers nowadays don’t do that anymore; they don’t even dial the number. They just press a Fast Dial on their mobile phones, and it calls her cellular number. She picks up directly and immediately, or sends an SMS telling her courter when exactly he should call her back. We used to eagerly wait for dance parties in Damascus (with a astronomical entrance fee of $500 SP) and hope that a young lady would agree to join us for a dance, dreaming that it would be a long one, like Bryan Adams’ track from Robin Hood. They never—ever—let us get “too close.”

Our favorite location was a small, worn-out parlor called Uno—our Syrian version of McDonald’s in the 1980s and early 1990s. We frequented a ice-cream shop called Ramez. There were no ‘nightclubs’ in Damascus (back then they were called discotheques)…no Backdoor or Marmar, certainly no In-House, Segafredo, or Costa. The famous hang-out, Sahara Café, was a classy restaurant we would go to on Thursdays with family, and behave because of the ‘serious’ atmosphere. Our entertainment came from Syrian TV, Syrian TV Channel 2 (in English) and Jordan TV. We had no cable TV until the mid-1990s. We played videogames on an Arabic computer Sakhr (with a huge cartharege diskettes) and were made to believe by our parents, that if we played too long, the adapter would explode! Only those growing up in Damascus in the 1980s would understand the joke, I believe.

Having said that, those who preceeded us—those who grew up in the 1970s—had none of our worries, and also, none of our pleasures as well. They listened to Abba and danced to John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever. We listened to Ragheb Alameh and Michael Jackson. Our parents generation swayed to Elvis Presley, Um Kalthoum, and Frank Sinatra. Of course there have been cross-generation iconic figures—like Tintine, Um Kalthoum, Abdulhalmim Hafez, and Nizar Qabbani, but many of them have not been passed down to the generation that is now in their early 20s. I remember walking into a class of 40 people, all aged 18-19, the day Syria’s legendary playwright Mohammad Maghout passed away. Not a single one of them knew who he was. I explained that he had written the political masterpeice Ghorba, acted by Duraid Lahham. Surely they would know Ghorba, if not from re-runs on TV, then from their parents. Only a few had “heard of it.”

Black & white classics were still popular when we were in high school and college. Young people don’t watch them anymore. Why would they, with the colorless images, poor sound quality, and bad resolution, when they can get Hollywood mega-productions on DVD, with Dolby Sound and great visual effects, on their LCDs? When I was a child, I believed that the world had been black & white and became “colored” during my lifetime. Naïve and creative—no doubt—but its just a glimpse at how a younger generation views the world we lived in, with no Internet, mobile phones, SMS, or DVDs.

Magazine, Sami Moubayed Magazine, Sami Moubayedipod

Magazine

Sami Moubayed is the editor-in-chief of FW: Magazine, Syria


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13 Responses

  1. That’s an interesting, and warm subject.
    I am only 22, but can still claim nostalgia to many things. I remember my first modem (way before the internet age), and the thrill of typing words into a terminal and get them at another house far away. That was 1997. And DOS still gives me the chills. The times are moving a tid bit too fast I guess, even for our generation.

    Nonetheless, I do think it goes both ways. You see, I could never comprehend the magnificence of a vinyl record until I was 20. And that goes for many people, and many things that are now called “vintage”. So maybe we are just moving both ways, trying to adapt, but also trying to dig deep back in search for different colors.

  2. I thought the same thing… the article is indeed warm. It took me forever to fish for the comment I sent Sami a few weeks back via email – after reading this post in its first draft:
    ————————-
    I read the article, it’s super! As a half Syrian, it made me happy to know that I have been to Uno and Sahara in the 80s… I had tears in my eyes reading about Ghorba, and it most definitely touched a very personal chord reading about double-deck cassette players… One cannot leave the article before reading it all, feeling lots of fuzzy feelings, and admiring the wit and insight it carries – and enjoying it to the max as it has a warm-hot-chocolate-with-marshmallows kind of effect in this weather!

  3. I always loved retrospective article, sometimes all you need is a word and it triggers a huge load of memories, really enjoyed reading this one..

    I laughed out loud when I read the black and white part, reminded me of a study I read about that says people who grew up watching B&W tv are most likely to have their dreams in black and white, go figure.

  4. Sami.
    As a memeber of the John Travolta generation I’m pleased that I can still find casset recorders in Damascus. “Dawn” acrose from Nora off of Abu Rumaneh, is where I suggest you go. Mazen Laham is one of my dearest freinds and he’ll record for you Gordon Lightfoot’s Edmond Fitzgeral on a casset and offer you the best glass of tea ever brewed. Actually it may be that Damascus is the only place on earth where big old Buicks still roam the streets along with smart cars. I am sure that eight tracks are also still in play there, not just cassets. I’m not into ipods, and thats why I love Damascus’ timelessness.
    Ayman.

  5. Sami,
    I simply love you,
    I was totally amused with your article. I can’t tell you where did I go with the memory line with every word of the article.
    When you talked about those who grew in the 70’s listening to Travolta I realized that I was one of them. God , I am getting old.
    Basel

  6. Hi Sami i am a freind of your mother & father and here i am sending an email , receiving and reading your articles and many others . I liked your non political article so much it reminded me of the gap(i never admited it)between my grandchildren and I ,anyway i remember the freindship between your teta Nabeeha and i ,she was the age of my mother eventhough she was the most avangard lady i ever met ,so i admit gap in civilization but not in thinking or analysing things. I suggest that you write a book or a series of articles about this interresting subject bigginning with the generation of your grandparents till now.I can help you with a lot of incidents and the way of thinking in the sixties. My daugter asked me why i gave away the huge pick up and radio we used to have ,that was ages before the cassette you are talking about ,you make me feel so old but at the same time very happy with my experiance jumping from gap to gap while i am still up to date .Congratulation my freind your article has made you a better writer a writer that could write novels and books, and not only articles.

    Rabah Hammour Darwaza

  7. This comment came in via email (1):

    Good one 🙂 Can completely relate to it with regards to the new generation gap! The other day I was chatting with an 18 year-old girl about university, and she was surprised that I still remembered anything about it!! Bad karma I guess from when I too used to think that 30 year-old’s were ‘ancient’ 😉

    LD

  8. This comment came in via email (2):

    good one, I will one day write a similar generation gap article – with one before you!!

    RT

  9. This comment came in via email (3):

    Sami,
    You remember the changes that you saw–telling kids about typewriters and those horrid white bits of paperwe used to try to type over mistakes–well, it is funny to think about. Still, I think somehow the younger generation has a lot of contacts and speedy messaging, but little depth and focus. Their concentration is also not as strong as yours of your generation. Nice article. When I taught Syrian stidueis the first time, there was no internet, so we just pretended to design a website!

    Regards,
    Teri

  10. This comment came in via email (4):

    I liked the article.. very true..
    we are from the generation who know about the Internet at the the last year of school too and maybe after.. you let me remember the places and restaurants that we used to go when we were children, maybe we are younger than you, but our generation know the life style of ur generation (who is not too older from ours, less than 10 years) more than the new ones ” concerning landlines, restaurants and music such as Ragheb Alame :)”

    Farah

  11. […] The Cassette Generation, Sami Moubayed, Forward Magazine “Our Damascus had no mobile phones or Internet; no “tunnel” in the Umayyad Square, just orange and red lightbulbs for decoration, and a colorful variety of Mazdas and Lancers, driving around in circles. We played football in the streets and got a tremendous kick out of the first fast food joint to open in Damascus—Express Restaurant—at the Meridian Hotel. Our favorite location was a small, worn-out parlor called Uno—our Syrian version of McDonald’s in the 1980s and early 1990s. We frequented a ice-cream shop called Ramez. There were no ‘nightclubs’ in Damascus (back then they were called discotheques)…no Backdoor or Marmar, certainly no In-House, Segafredo, or Costa. The famous hang-out, Sahara Café, was a classy restaurant we would go to on Thursdays with family, and behave because of the ‘serious’ atmosphere.” Iraqi City calls for US raids on Syria, Damien McElroy, The Daily Telegraph “The US must launch a widespread offensive against Syria to have any hope of taking control of al-Qaeda’s last bastion in Iraq, it has been claimed. […]

  12. Hello,

    I did enjoy very much reading this article, it is very warm!!

    I am not Syrian and Im 23 years old but still i feel that idont belong to this new generation. I love to write long letters full of gossip 🙂 tomy dearest friends instead of just sending short SMS…Anyway, thank you for publishing this nice artile.

    Good luck,
    Fairouz

  13. If you want to read a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for 4/5. Decent info, but I just have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed parts. Thank you, anyway!

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