Life Before the Internet

History Lessons from the Historically Ignorant.

I was alive before the Internet so I remember it quite well. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what it was like before there was such a thing as “cyberspace.” Mostly because I’ve never been asked.

Hence the need to write a post about it. LOGIC!

Okay. So first off, the earth was a cold, barren place. The sky was filled with darkness and a sense of foreboding hung heavy in the air. I assume you’ve seen the first ten minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Also, humans roamed in packs like wolves, but with shoes.

Yeah, we had shoes.

Actually, it was totally fine. There was a lot of really great, amazing shit happening. As a kid, I was pretty content with my Casio mini-keyboard and my backyard for entertainment. Even though we had no Internet, let alone iPads or cell phones, I was never bored because I would just go outside, talk to myself, and make pretend-tea out of dirt and puddle water. I also had Hungry Hungry Hippos so, yeah, life was pretty sweet.

And then the Internet came and shit changed. Some for the good, some I could totally do without. Like I don’t need Tumblr or Twitter in my life. But I do like Medium <insert winking whore emoji>.

So for those of you who were born in late 90’s or some made-up decade like the “aughts,” or you older folks who’ve mostly blocked-out anything that happened prior to say, 1994*, here’s a completely incomplete list of how the Internet changed the world:

1. Listicles didn’t exist as such. Oh sure, people made lists, but mostly things like shopping lists or to-do lists. Or even list jokes that they recited live and in person. Also, there was The Book of Lists which is literally days and days worth of entertainment that I haven’t the capacity to recommend enough.

2. Which brings us to Books. I don’t know about you guys, but I remember a little something called the en-sahy-kluh-pee-dee-uh (or encyclopedia). I also remember grabbing the L-N volume and reading nineteen pages about the Louisiana Purchase. I then proceeded to switch back and forth between the encyclopedia and the thesaurus trying to find different words to use so I wasn’t accused of plagiarism while writing my 5th grade essay entitled “The Louisiana Purchase: Turns Out You Can Sell Shit You Don’t Actually Own!”

3. No one shared pictures of food. The only people who took pictures of food were food photographers who got paid to take pictures of food. It was a very confusing time.

4. You had to look up movie times in the … newspaper! Whuuuut?!

If you didn’t have a subscription to the local paper, you might as well go stick your head in the dirt because you, sir, had no fucking idea when Back to the Future was playing. Unless, of course, you called Moviefone.

5. Speaking of paper, don’t forget The Great & Powerful Phone Book.

How do I find a plumber? How do I get a pizza delivered? The phone book, idiot. It’s not like there’s some series of tubes that contain this elusive information.

6. On the topic of phones, you either called your friend on a telephone — corded and then eventually, cordless—or spoke to them in person. Creepy, right?

And that phone had NO camera or games.

And yet, we JUST. KEPT. USING. IT.

7. Thanks in part to Title II of The Communications Act of 1934, and the overdue 1982 breakup of the Bell system, corporations couldn’t hold public utilities (systems of communication like telephone and radio) for ransom. Sadly, the repealing of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 began a deterioration of the public interest standard for broadcast television, yada, yada, yada, then the Internet came along and… well, now the FCC is the official ball-cupper of the ISPs. For more info read: Net Neutrality

8. If you didn’t know if that guy who played Kojak was still alive or not, you were just left to forever wonder. Or get in your car, drive to a bookstore and buy a current Almanac (a book).

9. Also, libraries.

10. Anonymous people who wanted to write mean things to other people had to spend money on postage. Or at least take the time to find your phone number… thanks again, phone book.

11. You either had a paper map or you got fucking lost! And you liked it!

12. You had to watch what was on television when it was actually scheduled to be on television. None of this on-demand “I wanna watch it right now” whiny bullshit. If the only thing that was on was a rerun of Alf, you sat down and you fucking watched it (I didn’t have cable growing up because my parent’s didn’t love me).

13. “Google” was a sound a baby makes and not a terrifying data-mining overlord that knows every embarrassing thought you’ve ever been stupid enough to type into the search bar.

14. You didn’t have a tiny WiFi computer in your pocket to pass the time at the dentist’s office, so you were forced to read Golf Digest. Thus pain, boredom, and golf became forever linked in your psyche.

15. Slide projectors and photo albums were a necessity for anyone that gave a goddamn about precious memories and vacation photos. These were also considered instruments of torture.

16. Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB didn’t exist, so you watched Siskel and Ebert. And you genuinely liked it!

17. No email. You could literally be unreachable. Takes my breath away just thinking about it.

18. Fake news was The National Enquirer or a new weight loss diet that involved pigeon feet and vinegar (or buffalo meat and Alka Seltzer).

19. You PAID musicians for music. And you listened to the entire album because you just spent like $13.99 for it. And it came with artwork and liner notes and a bunch of cool stuff. And if you bought a cassette, there was a 50/50 chance the cassette player in your car would mangle it.

20. You didn’t “blog.” Nobody cared what you had to say. You just shoved all that creative energy down into a deep, dark place that you never acknowledged and got an accounting degree. After years of misery you started scrawling depressive poetry onto cocktail napkins and once you developed a serious drinking problem, then and only then, did you get a book deal. Or you were a journalist for money or something.

21. You had to buy fancy résumé paper and envelopes and actually use the US postal service to apply for jobs. Like an adult.

22. YouTube was known as “public access television.”

23. When you went out to eat, you either stared silently at your dining partner or you had a conversation. Divorce was very common.

24. You didn’t “post” on “social media.” You composed pretentious holiday newsletters that irritated the ever-loving the crap out of all those unfortunate enough to be on your mailing list.

PS. No one cares that Timmy’s in Aspen on a ski scholarship or that Nancy married the Ambassador to Fiji. Honestly, I think you’re hiding your unhappiness with expensive wine and lies.

Sorry. That last part has very little to do with the Internet.

25. If you wanted to watch that scene from The Breakfast Club where Principal Vernon says “You mess with the bull, you get the horns,” and walks away with the toilet seat cover stuck in his pants, you had to go rent it (post VHS or course) or wait until it came on TV — and then watch the lame, heavily-edited, commercial version. That’s how we learned to deal with adversity.

26. Jeff Bezos was just some well-off, Princeton grad with a crazy dream to someday control the means of production, food, space and time.

Two down, two to go.

27. I almost forgot pay phones! These were germ-infested, public communication devices for when you needed to call your parents to come pick you up from the mall. This also required that you keep a quarter in your pocket (small, round currency made of alloys).

28 — 30. You basically just walked around not knowing a lot of shit. But neither did anyone else, so no one really noticed.


* Look, I know about ARPAnet and all that jazz, and how the web was technically around prior to 1994. But honestly, Prodigy and CompuServe subscribers were mostly just hanging out on message boards. And it wasn’t until I created my Hotmail Account in the mid-nineties that shit got real. So there.


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