Column: Old movies harken to days of once-amazing technology

In the 1979 movie “The China Syndrome” the main character played by Jane Fonda returns to her home and listens to a message on her answering machine. It was the first time I saw an answering machine. It used cassette tapes and looked pretty hefty. It would be a few more years until answering machines showed up in most homes.

You can still find some of those old-fashioned answering machines, but they are rare. So how do you explain cassette-tape answering machines to children? You rent “The China Syndrome.”

I’ve long been fascinated with how new technology debuts in movies and in television shows, often as a way to advance plotlines. In recent weeks, I’ve noted two times where texting and instant messaging have made debut appearances.

In the Netflix original series “House of Cards,” the main characters text a lot, especially the younger woman who is sleeping with an older man. The texts show up on screen like balloon captions in cartoons. Easier to read, and more dramatic, than pointing a camera to the screen of a cellphone.

And in a recent “Glee” episode, a character chats online with a young woman he’s never met, and their Internet chat is posted in those balloon captions, too. So in five or 10 years (or next year?) when a young person says: “What was texting? What was instant messaging?” you can show them these episodes from “House of Cards” and “Glee.”

GAS SCAM: The young man was well-dressed in a 20-something way. Clean, pressed jeans and a blue long-sleeved shirt.

He stopped me as I walked by him in downtown Spokane.

“Excuse me, but I am late for work and I left my cellphone and wallet at home,” he said. “I know this sounds weird, but my car is low on gas and I won’t make it all the way home to get my stuff in time for work.”

I said: “Come on! The gas scam?”

The gas scam really irritates me, because con artists target older people. Usually in parking lots of malls and grocery stores. People ask for gas money because their wife or child needs to get to the hospital. Or they have another kind of emergency.

I told the young man I would follow him to his car, and if his gas tank was indeed low, I’d give him money.

He agreed. We walked two blocks together, and I explained how I hated the gas scam. I also confessed I was a journalist and would likely write about this encounter. At this news, he panicked.

“You know, I don’t need to put up with this,” he said. “I have friends at the coffee shop (he pointed down the block) and I’ll go in and ask them.”

He scurried away. I walked in the opposite direction and turned my head to see if he entered the coffee shop. Nope.

My sisters and my husband later scolded me for walking with the young man, though the streets were filled with other people. He could have grabbed your purse, they said, or once you got to his car pull out a gun or knife.

But I was never afraid. I was just mad. The gas scam. It’s everywhere. Don’t fall for it.

INDEBTED NATION: The U.S. Census Bureau released some debt information last week. Highlights:

• In 2011, 69 percent of U.S. households held some form of debt, a decrease from 2000 when 74 percent of households held debt.

• Those 55 to 64 years old and 65 and over experienced the largest relative increases in household debt. These changes were primarily driven by increases in secured debt. Translation: They borrowed against their home equity.

• Credit card debt declined from 51 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2011, for people of all ages. But debts due to educational loans and medical bills not covered by insurance rose from 11 percent to 19 percent.

REALITY CHECK: “Healthy old old age is costly, and unhealthy old old age is even costlier. If, as a society, we see longevity as a good thing, then we’re going to have to pay for it.” Susan Jacoby, in her book “Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age.”

THIS WEEK, A SAMPLING:

Uniquely Yours Landscape: basic concepts in landscape design, plant and ornamentation choices, hardscape options, waterwise alternatives and how to get the look you want in Spokane’s environment. This Wednesday and April 17, 1 to 4 p.m., CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Room 205, (509) 279-6027.

“Psychological Impact of the Dutiful Daughter Role within the Mexican American Community,” a lecture-discussion by Nancy Munoz, Women’s and Gender Studies major at Eastern Washington University, Wednesday, noon, Monroe Hall, Room 207 on the EWU campus in Cheney, (509) 359-2898.

For more events, go to spokane7.com.


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