I’m going to wave my cane around and tell you how things were back in the day before all this new-fangled internet came about.
Back in my day, there was no email, no cell phones, no twitter, no pagers, no instant messaging. If I wanted to contact a friend I had to call him on a land line and sometimes I’d call and get nothing but a busy signal for hours. The entire family shared a single phone line and they were much busier back then since it was the only means of remotely communicating with friends and family. If your friends and family lived far away, you couldn’t talk to them very often or very long because long distance was expensive. And if you were away from home and needed to make a call, you had to stop at a pay phone. Imagine that, regular people using pay phones all the time.
Oh sure, things like cell phones and pagers existed, but only businessmen and drug dealers owned them. The first cell phone I ever saw was a gigantic bag phone that someone in our church brought in with them in the 1980’s. It was 3 times the size of his wife’s purse. So even if you could afford a cell phone then, you’d look like a douche carrying it around.
Most high-tech communities revolved around C.B. radios. They were huge back then and you could find normal rednecks chatting with each other on a dozen channels in any given night. There were battles between rednecks, just like in chatrooms and online communities today, which sometimes evolved into tire slashing or coax cutting. Guess that doesn’t really compare to the harshness of SWATTING someone, though.
I had to look up facts in things like dictionaries and encyclopedias. There was no instant access to any kind of information I could possibly want 24 hours a day. If I needed some information and the library was closed, I was out of luck. My parents didn’t even own one of those giant sets of encyclopedias so I had to trek to the library to find anything. I couldn’t even access the library’s computer from home. If I needed a library book I had to look in a card catalog that was taller than me, flipping through hundreds of cards manually and hoping to find what I was looking for. The Dewey Decimal System owned me.
Phone books were also a necessity in any home. I couldn’t text Google for a number or look it up online. I either had to find it in the phone book or call 411, which charged money for it. And 411 only handled information in Illinois. If I needed a number across the river in Missouri, I had to call 314-555-1212 for Missouri information. Just to contact information in a different state, you had to know an area code in that state. Sure, 411 could tell you the area code, but then you’d be double-charged for information.
In 1990, I finally got a computer that had a modem (that only displayed green text on a black screen) and I became interested in BBSing. But to connect to one of the dozens of BBSes in my area, I had to get past the busy signal first which could sometimes take hours on the really popular boards. Luckily my modem software would automatically redial a BBS number over and over until it picked up while I did other things. Hopefully I would notice when it connected, before the BBS would hang up on me and become busy again. Oh, and remember 56k modems? Imagine the speed of a 56k and divide that by 46. That’s how fast BBSing was at 1200 baud. When I upgraded to a 2400 baud a year later, I was astounded by the increased speed. And when I finally got a computer with a 40 meg hard drive (that’s MEG, not GIG), I knew that I could never use up all that space.
When I left home in 1991, I didn’t have MapQuest to plot my route to Texas and I didn’t have GPS to bail me out if I made a wrong turn. I had to buy a map to get me there, and at each rest stop I’d have to refold it so I would be looking at the part I was on. There was no little green dot on a screen to guide me anywhere. Once I arrived in a new state or a new city, it was time to buy a new map. By the mid-90’s I had a huge collection of maps that I was dragging around the country with me.
Pornography was not easy to come by. My parents didn’t have any porn in the house, so my brother and I would have to rely on friends to supply us with Playboys and Hustlers. The soft-core images in those magazines was about as good as it got. We might score a new magazine or two maybe once per year. Compare that to the unlimited supply of free porn available to any kid on the internet today. The difference there is just unbelievable.
When it came to watching movies and TV shows, I was at the mercy of cable TV. When the monthly TV Guide arrived in the mail, I would flip through it and highlight the movies that I wanted to watch. Then I would just have to hope that I didn’t forget about it. There was no automatic popup on the TV to remind me that my movie would start soon. There wasn’t even an on-screen guide to show me what shows and movies were playing. I either had to memorize the TV schedule or refer to the TV guide, which was usually buried deep under a pile of newspapers and magazines.
There was no database of movie and TV trivia either. I’m sure there were movie magazines back then, but I’d never seen one. If I wanted to know which actor played a character in a movie or what a song in a movie was, I had to find a time when the movie was playing and wait for the credits to roll. The only problem there was that the resolution on our TV wasn’t meant for reading the tiny text on credits. I was lucky if I could make any of the words out in the credits. And it’s not like I could pause the picture to try and decode the print. Movie trivia just wasn’t accessible back then.
Imagine a life with no Ebay and no Amazon. I lived that life. If we wanted to purchase an item, we had to purchase it at a store and pay full price for it. Our only hope for a discount was to drive from store to store, comparing prices and hoping to save a few bucks. If I wanted a cassette tape, I paid full price. I couldn’t log onto Ebay or Amazon and find a few hundred people selling the same cassette for a fraction of the cost in a store. I was almost always stuck paying full price for just about everything.
And if I wanted to get rid of some old junk I had, there wasn’t much hope of making any money at it. Garage sales were about our only option. My parents had a garage sale once and I put my old TRS-80 computers out, hoping to make $10 off of each of them and some other low prices from the accessories. Years later, I tried selling those same TRS-80’s at a yard sale of my own, for 50 cents each. No takers. Just a few years ago I tried selling all my old TRS-80 stuff on Ebay and I made over $100 from it all. Without the internet, I either had to keep stuff forever, practically give it away for free, or just throw it in the trash. Listing an item for sale in the newspaper was your best shot, but if nobody bought it then I was stuck paying the fee for the classified ad.
If we thought school would be closed due to the snow, there was just one AM radio station we could check to find out for sure. Sometimes it would take up to 30 minutes to finally catch the announcement and we’d wait quietly as the DJ read through an enormous list of closed schools, hoping ours would be in the list. Today, my kids’ school sends out an automatic email or text message to let us know. I don’t even have to wake them up.
People always talk about how great the 80’s were, but how could anyone want to go back to when none of this existed? I love having my entire life’s music collection, my address book, calendar and hundreds of pages of personal notes in the palm of my hand. Being able to take a call in the middle of the woods or at the lake or in your car is awesome. So is instant access to any kind of information imaginable 24 hours a day and an active social life beyond local friends. As a teenager in the 1980’s and even the early 1990’s, I never could have imagined how awesome things would turn out just a couple decades later. And I can’t wait to see how much things have progressed in another 10 or 20 years.