A salute to 1971, the coolest year, from a cool kid wannabe

From the cool year of 1971, a cool kid wannabe peers out from his high school yearbook

I stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article the other day that outlined what a watershed year 1971 was in many, many ways. (You can read it here with a WSJ subscription.) 

It was the year that Nixon/Kissinger reached out to China and opened the U.S. to an important trading partner that had only been seen previously as an arch enemy.

It was the beginning of the end of AT&T’s monopoly of the nation’s telecommunications industry, with an FCC ruling that opened the door to a second long-distance calling provider.

It was the end of the link that tied the U.S. dollar to the value of gold, opening the way to what are known as “floating exchange rates.”

Walt Disney World opened in 1971, as did a little coffee business known as Starbucks, as well as the Nasdaq trading market. The 26th amendment passed that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Intel introduced the 4004 chip, considered the first “computer on a chip” and launching a wave of technology innovation that continues today.

The Journal article pointed out that all of these events happened in a single year exactly 50 years ago.

Then it hit me. I graduated high school in 1971, which means I’ve been out of high school for half a century.

The thought almost brought me to tears as I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I’m not nostalgic for my high school class, because I never, ever sat at the cool kids table. I was a cool kid wannabe, but never made the cut.

I was mostly invisible to my classmates at Southside High School in Fort Smith, Ark.

So, why did this article hit me so hard? I think it’s because I had never really given any thought to how many years had passed since Graduation Day in 1971.

And how I’ve lived sort of my own version of Forrest Gump’s life in the intervening 50 years, still trying to be one of the cool kids and never quite making it.

But I’m proud of the newspaper career I pursued for more than 30 of those years, a career that brought me to OKC where I would meet the woman who became my wife, the kids we raised, yada, yada, yada.

Enough of that.

Just know that 1971 was a really, really cool year. I’m proud that it’s the year of my high school graduation.

Even if I wasn’t one of the cool kids.

My 2007 test drive with the original iPhone

Steve Jobs holds an original iPhone at the Apple launch event in 2007.

Editor’s note:  In honor of Apple’s special product event today, I’m reprinting a column I wrote as technology reporter at The Oklahoman in 2007 after using the original iPhone for a week at the invitation of AT&T.  I’ve been an iPhone user now for almost a dozen years. However, in the months after the iPhone debuted in 2007, I had only a lowly flip-phone and some serious iPhone envy. 

I was seated prominently in a popular lunch spot along Western Avenue on Monday afternoon talking on the new iPhone that AT&T provided me for a one-week tryout.

I was there to show it off.

Parked at a table in the center of the busy restaurant, I whipped out the shiny new high-tech toy and proceeded to flaunt it for 45 minutes.

Important e-mails were read and sent, using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard that magically appears when any typing is needed. Web sites were accessed, appearing just as they do on a desktop or laptop computer. Tunes were cataloged on the device’s iPod. Photos were taken with the camera phone.

Nobody seemed to notice or even look my way.

Obviously, the crowd was suffering from a serious case of iPhone envy.  Their jealousy caused them to look the other way, even as I held it up to input an important appointment on the calendar.

So, I stepped it up a notch and took a very important phone call. I let the telephone ring several times before answering it. Loudly.

People continued their conversations at neighboring tables. I’m sure they were seething because they had no iPhone like the one that was providing me with such child-like wonder.

Meanwhile, I was seething at their ignorance. Or was it apathy?

Of course, they had no way of knowing that the very important phone call I took came from a coworker whom I had asked to call me at that time so I could make a show of taking a very important phone call.

I was engaged in animated conversation on the iPhone for several minutes when I looked around and noticed that the entire section of the restaurant was empty save for me.

I gave up, inserted the phone back into my shirt pocket and quietly walked to the car. Lunch was a bust.

When I walked back into the newsroom, my mood brightened. At least I had a captive audience who couldn’t run when I whipped the iPhone out. I could show off its many great features, from the easy YouTube access right on the main screen to the Google Maps button that let me see a great close-up satellite view of my house.

So, I walked into an editor’s office and pulled it out of my pocket. He was armed only with a Blackberry, which was suddenly relegated to old school technology status. The editor wanted to see the iPhone’s Web browser in action.

We had no WiFi network for the device to automatically find and use, so I called up a page using AT&T’s wireless network. We waited. And waited. Finally, we both had to go back to work.

“I’ll bring it back in when it’s feeling better,” I said, walking out.

On the way back to my desk I passed a co-worker I’ll call “Paul” and sprung the iPhone on him.

Just as I was about to list some bragging points of the device, he reached in his pocket and pulled out … an iPhone.

Paul had had it for a week and never told anyone until that moment. I almost quit on the spot.

Instead, I put the phone away and slinked back to my cubicle. An editor shouted some instructions from her desk.

“Write something about your experiences with the iPhone.”

Oh, great. Well, at least my wife liked the device until I told her about the $600 price tag. She made me put it in a drawer for safekeeping until I could give it back to AT&T.

iPhone, I hardly knew you.