The Land Before Online

Spire Digital
Spire Digital
Apr 25, 2017

In these always on, always connected, overly networked, information overloaded, big data bloated days of internet supersaturation, it’s hard to imagine that we ever lived in a world without the internet.

Ah, but we did. It was a time before FaceTime, a period where dots were known as periods, when the cloud was in the sky, and when clicks were how some African tribes communicated.

For those who may have forgotten or those who never lived it, let’s look back on what life was like before mass adoption of the internet…

Hashtags were called pound signs. Snaps were what happened when you pushed two fingers together. Instant messaging was a phone call. Words with Friends was a discussion. If you had a virus, you went to a doctor.

Social networking was how you arranged to get a dance with a cute girl at summer camp. Streaming was how men relieved themselves when they didn’t have access to a bathroom. If you binged, your belly would hurt.

You got your news on paper with articles written by trained journalists. You got your gossip from rags at checkout counters at grocery stores and you never assumed what was written was true. You bought music for money at shops operated by pony-tailed men whose recommendation algorithms were developed through years of isolation and snobbery.

Pretty much, the only searching you did was for your keys. When you needed to know a fact, you looked it up in an encyclopedia or an almanac or you went to the library, which, back then, was much more than an internet cafe for homeless people. When you wanted to know the weather, you watched the local news or you “went outside”.

For directions, you used a map, a physical map that had been folded over at least at least 14 times. If you were drunk, you asked the bartender to “call you a cab”, then 40 minutes later a smelly yellow car would arrive and drive you home in the least efficient, most expensive route possible.

If you wanted to go on vacation, you called cigarette-smoking women called travel agents who booked tiny rooms at corporate-owned buildings called hotels. When you got back, you didn’t really share pictures as much as you showed them, once they were developed at the Fotomat.

You found out what your friends from high school were up to via people called busybodies (or yentas, if you’re Jewish). If you wanted to complain, you called the Better Business Bureau. If you didn’t like a restaurant, you simply never went back.

Hangouts actually involved hanging out. Blind dates were truly blind, without the benefit of dossiers worth of publicly accessible information. When you had downtime, you would daydream or read or make conversation.

It was a simpler time. It certainly wasn’t easier, but it had its charms. Would I go back? Probably not. Once you’ve seen what it’s like to be The Jetsons, I think it would be hard to return to The Flintstones. Still, I’m nostalgic. It was exciting to figure out how to make things easier, which, by the way, led us to the internet and all the conveniences that came along with it.

I have no doubt that in 30 years, someone will be writing a similar piece about what life was like in the late teens, when everyone was face down in their smartphones doing silly things like texting and sending email. And I have no doubt that we’ll be nostalgic for these times, but won’t want to go back to the days without consensual telepathy and cognitive implants and autonomous flying vehicles and hyperloops.

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