4 Things I Remember From Before the Internet
I don’t miss most of it. If you didn’t experience that time, you could hardly imagine how we lived back then.
Most people agree that the Internet is one of the most important, if not the most important invention in human history.
But there are already millions of people alive today who don’t remember the pre-Internet era at all. When these young people say that the Internet is the most far-reaching invention in human history, they understand this statement only on a very abstract level. But they need to realize that their parents and grandparents actually came from a very different world than the one we have today.
I am 47 years old and spent my entire childhood and youth without the Internet. When I look back on that time today, I realize that there is no way I would want to go back there. Nostalgia is not my thing. Here are a few reasons why.
Any information was hard to come by
Today, if you want to know what the capital of Peru is or what bats feed on, you type a question into the Google or Wikipedia search box and find the answer in seconds.
Before we had the Internet, we were often at a loss in such cases. Unless you happened to have a ten-volume printed encyclopedia at home, there was no chance of finding any of this information in a timely manner.
If the question was urgent enough, one decided to go to the nearest library. If you were lucky, you would find the answer to your question in one of the encyclopedias that every library had in stock. But if the problem was very specific, you had to find a reference book where you could find the information you were looking for.
If you have never searched in a sea of thousands of books for the answer to a particular question, you have no idea how time-consuming it can be. And sometimes, at the end of the day, it turned out that the answer you were looking for was not in any of the thousands of books available in the library. Then you had to go to a larger library or write a letter to an expert at the nearest university.
Other information was not available at all. There was no way to find out where gasoline was cheapest in a ten-kilometer radius. You had no chance to compare the prices of a product in over a hundred stores. All the information that is now available in databases accessible to everyone worldwide was inaccessible to ordinary mortals back then.
Finding your way around was incredibly difficult
Without the Internet, navigation devices would have been unthinkable. That’s why there was no such thing before the Internet.
I remember traveling by car, where the passenger always had a terribly complicated folded map on his lap. The driver had to rely on the passenger reading the map correctly and finding the way to the destination on it.
Often they had to take a break in a parking lot so that everyone could look at the map together. Everyone then had different ideas about how best to reach the destination according to the plan. We had to agree and then write down the next stages on an extra piece of paper so that we wouldn’t miss any turn-offs or highway entrances within the next hundred kilometers.
If you hit a roadblock or roads that didn’t exist when the map was printed, you had a real problem. A navigation device can calculate alternative routes within seconds. Anyone who has tried to find a spontaneous route change with a printed road map knows how difficult it is.
Finding old friends was almost impossible
In the past, if you wanted to contact someone, you had to know where they lived or what their phone number was. The only way to find out was with a printed phone book. Alternatively, you could call the directory assistance, but even these people only had printed phone books to look up.
At that time, many people only had their name and phone number entered in these books, which was especially inconvenient if someone had a common name like John Smith.
You then had no choice but to call every goddamn John Smith to find out if it was the John Smith you were looking for.
I organized a class reunion a few years ago. To do so, I had to contact nearly sixty people, most of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty years. Thanks to the Internet and especially social media, I found most of them within an afternoon.
Such an endeavor would have taken weeks or months in the pre-Internet days.
You could only be a writer if someone let you be one
Before the Internet, writers and journalists were unattainable demigods. Only if a publisher or newspaper deemed someone worthy were they allowed to use their infrastructure culture to reach out to the world.
A handful of people decided which books or articles people got to read. They had to try to guess what people wanted because there was no advertising tracking and no real-time sales figures.
Anyone who dreamed of writing their own book had to rely on sending their manuscript to publishers repeatedly for years, waiting many months for a response, and doing it all over again after each rejection.
Today, anyone can publish a book or put their own newspaper on the Internet within minutes. Publishing is no longer a problem. Today, all we authors have to do is attract the audience. Platforms on which we can present ourselves without anyone’s approval are more than enough today.
What don’t you miss from the days before the Internet?
Those four things I mentioned in this article were undoubtedly only a fraction of the things that were much more difficult in the pre-Internet days.
What do you think of when you remember the pre-Internet days? What is better today because of the Internet than it was in the past? What areas of life are easier for you today?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.
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