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 retrochicky.blogspot.com. Of course, it hasn’t been updated since January because 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.

To read more about Wall’s project, go to 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.


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