I must have been 12 or 13 when my father suggested I go downtown with him to get some money from the bank. It was a Saturday afternoon, and, although he was a senior executive at the “Multibanco” in Chihuahua, I doubted he was going to be admitted on the weekend to help himself to some pesos. So I kept watching soccer on TV. My team, Atlético Español, was finding a new way to lose; that’s what they did.
But no, Dad was clearly up to something. “C’mon, I have a card that will get me cash,” he said, grinning. He did have a sense of humor and an adventurous streak, so I figured I should play along.
“OK,” I said. “Vamos.”
We got into our un-air-conditioned orange VW Caribe and headed downtown. The Multibanco was right across the street from the zócalo, in the shadows of Chihuahua’s 18th-century cathedral, the first and last baroque structure built in our otherwise unpretentious city.
Outside the bank, by the parking lot, was a small kiosk I had never noticed before, like a walk-in phone booth. We walked over to it, and my dad fumbled for a card that he reverentially slid out from a little envelope and into an opening that caused a buzz and click, and in we went to the booth, where he proceeded, before his wide-eyed, jaw-dragging son, to retrieve a few hundred pesos from a machine. I don’t think I could have been more astonished had he beamed us into the 23rd century.
Three decades later, I type down this memory on a plane as I listen to one of a few hundred albums on my iPad before settling in to read one of the dozens of books on the same nimble tablet with the interactive screen.
We live in an age when we can have nearly anything all the time, and my first inkling of that coming age came that languid Saturday afternoon in Chihuahua, when Dad pulled his act of magic at the city’s first ATM.
There were other milestones along the way, of course. The Walkman seemed like a huge leap forward, providing stereophonic mobility. So did having an AT&T long-distance calling card. When I first came to school in the States, I had to drag rolls and rolls of change to the payphone down the hallway to connect for a few minutes with Mexico to speak to my parents or to enjoy some awkward, static-filled small talk with a certain Margarita. Then came these calling cards that let you commandeer any payphone as if it were your own, without the need to have a piggy bank in tow (although those monthly bills were an invariable shocker).
Oddly enough, what should have been more obvious milestones on the road to “everything all the time” didn’t seem like such. My first desktop computer in college felt more like a spiffier typewriter than a potential conduit to all the world’s information, but then it wouldn’t be another decade until I “dialed” online after getting one of those AOL CDs in the mail (it was probably the 10th one I’d gotten). And even that didn’t feel so noteworthy, truth be told; I quickly grew bored of a couple of chat rooms and went back to the TV.
Amazon did feel epochal, this notion that you could be sitting in your PJs at midnight and order a book from your bedroom that would show up a few days later at your doorstep. The memory of those first orders in the late ’90s still gives me chills, even now when I can download two entire books onto my iPad in the time it takes to board a plane, as I just did.
Let’s get back to TV for a second. That’s been an entertainment constant throughout my life, but precisely because it has been a constant—at least the physical act of staring at a screen—it’s the starkest illustration of how we’ve moved from a life of fleeting moments to this everything-all-the-time age.