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Life Before There Were Cell Phones and Facebook. The Dark Ages?

by BS on March 13, 2010

What did kids do before there were cell phones and Facebook?  This thought came to me as an email I received about how easy kids have it now.   It made me think if life was harder when I was a kid or was it just simpler?  If you are over 45, you will relate!

At the ripe old age of 52 and all 3 of my children grown up, I can’t help but look around and notice the youth of today and how much technology has changed their lives, their expectations and how they interact.  It is easy and almost comical to point out how much easier a kid’s life is in so many ways compared to what I had growing up, but how much is really good and how much makes  life harder for them in the long run?  I do not have an answer, but would love to share some memories..

Remember this?

How Did We Find Information

When I was a kid we didn’t have the Internet or Google.  If you wanted to know something or had to write a report, you had to ride your bike or walk to the  public library.  Then you had to use the card catalog to find find the subject and book that might hold the information we needed.  Once we found that we would need to know the Dewey Decimal System to go on a hunt though the stacks for the book we were looking for!  Once the book was found we either had to sit there and read and copy down what we needed (using a pencil and paper) or we used our library card and took the book out and lugged it home to read.

How Did We Communicate

There was no email!!  We had to actually write somebody a letter – with paper and pen!  Telegram if something was important like the birth of a baby!   We used complete sentences and words that were in the dictionary.  Then we had to seal in an envelope, add the person’s address, stick on a 10 cent stamp and find a mailbox or give to the postman who would walk down your street everyday.  It would take 2-5 days to reach its destination and you could expect a response in 10-14 days from sending.  Not what I would call “Instant Messaging”

How We Got Disciplined At Home

Now I do not advocate hitting  kids, but Child Protective Services didn’t care if our parents spanked you or how you chose to raise your children when I was a kid.  I am not even sure if there was such a thing as Child Protective Services then.  As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to whack us if we got out of line or did something stupid!  Nowhere was safe!   We learned to respect people, live by a set of rules and expectations and with inappropriate actions came consequences.

My Dad could snap a candy cigarette right out of your mouth with a flick of his leather belt.  For years I did not understand the difference between a “brown belt” and a “black belt”, because I was not into martial arts and to me they hurt the same when they came in contact with my butt.

How We Enjoyed Free Music

There were no iTunes, Napster or LimeWire!  If you wanted to steal music, you had to ride your bike to a record store and stuff a 45 (and I do not mean the gun) into your pants and hobble out of the store!  I never actually did this, but I did have a friend who on his almost get-a-way jumped on his bike with the record still shoved into the back of his pants and shattered it.  Not only did he get caught, but had to pay for the record.  There were no police called, just his parents.  You can refer to section above to understand how it was dealt with.

My strategy on getting free music was to wait around all day to tape it off the radio.  My luck was that the big mouth DJ would usually talk over or try to sing with the beginning of the song and mess it all up!  There were no digital music, iPods, CD players or Satellite radio! We had 2 AM stations and 1 FM station we could get good reception on.

I did have a cassette tape decks in my car when I was 17.  Some of the cool kids had 8 Tracks.   We’d play a whole song or album and then “ejected” the tape when finished.  Of course the cassette or 8 Track would eventually get caught in the player come undone rendering it into a useless pile of brown crap that was tossed out the window.  We did not hit the channel button every 5 seconds scanning 5,000 satellite channels or scrolling through an iPod connected to the car via a USB port.  Our choices were what we brought or what was playing.

The Home Telephone

We grew up with one phone number and back then it was only 4 digits if you were calling somebody in your town.  Ususally we had one phone in the kitchen and one in my parents room.  We didn’t have fancy stuff like Speed Dial, Call Waiting, Caller On Hold, or Voicemail!  If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that’s it!  If you did not pick up, you did not talk to them and you never knew who called.

There weren’t any cell phones either. If you left the house, you just didn’t make a  phone call unless you popped 10 cents into a pay phone and you never receive any calls away from home. You actually had to be out of touch with people when you were not home or at a friends house!  Amazing…

We didn’t have Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was!  It could be your school principal, the girlfriend, your grand parents, your Dad’s boss… you just didn’t know!!!  You had to pick it up and roll the dice!

I won’t even bother to bring up texting.  Needless to say, we did not have it.  The only other non-telephone or mail communication we tried was our poorly planned attempt to send smoke signals to each other while burning leaves one fall.  It ruined several blankets caused a couple calls to the fire department and we ended up having this lack of judgment be re-enforced as was discussed in the discipline section above.

Playing Games and Sports

We didn’t have PlayStation 3, Wii or Xbox Live video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics!  If you wanted to play a game you went to the closet and pulled out Life, Monoploy or maybe a puzzle.  The fact is that we were rarely inside though.  Our parents told us to stay outside and play… all day long.  They did not worry about where we were as long as we were not bothering them or getting into trouble.  If you came back inside other than lunch or dinner… you were doing chores!

Sports was not based on Madden 2020 and we did not have access to every sporting event on TV.  Games we played were not organized requiring uniforms, the latest equipment and regulation fields.  We cut hockey rinks out of the swamp in the summer and in the winter we would play hockey until it was to dark and we lost the puck.  In the summer we would clear an empty lot and play baseball all day long and in the fall we would pull up the burlap bags full of sand that were bases, steal lime from our father’s garage and make lines to play tackle football.  We actually had to use our imagination!!!  If you got hurt there was no 911.  You either sat out for a few plays or dragged yourself home and probably got chores.

The Boob Tube

Then you have television.  There was one per home (maybe two).  They were not big, color, HD, 3DHD  and we usually watched it as a family and not saving it on a DVR.  The local news was at 6pm and the national news was at 7pm. You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were really stuck when it came to channel surfing!   There were only 3 channels (NBC, ABC and CBS), until we got a UHF antenna and got channels 38 and 56.   You had to get off your rump and walk over to the TV to change the channel, because there was no remote….

There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning.  We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons!  No VCR’s, DVD’s or Sesame Street. We did get Speed Racer and Kimba on channel 56 during the week though, if we were allowed inside.

How We Ate Meals

Dinner was served in the evening about the same time and we all showed up.  There were not multiple seating’s based on what you liked.  You ate what Mom served or you starved.  We didn’t have microwaves and we didn’t have choices.  If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove!  Fast food was called a “TV Dinner”.  got those Friday night if my parents were going out.

Going For a Ride!

We did not have car seats for kids unless you were a baby and no one used seat belts.  Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on.  If you were lucky, you got the “safety arm” across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling “shot gun” in the first place!

Finally… Social Networking

We had social networking.  We called it playing with kids in the neighborhood when you were younger, playing sports in an empty lot or “Capture the Flag” in the woods as you got older.  We would ride our bikes or walk all over town  to visit friends and socialize.

When we got older “Social Networking” was the weekly dance at the Youth Center or going to the beach from 10am to 5pm.  No sun tan lotion, we used baby oil.  That gave us a nice crispy look at the end of the day.

A “Chat Room” was after school detention and “Instant Messaging” was a folded up note passed across the classroom.

There was no Facebook, You-Tube, Twitter, AIM, Buzz, World of WarCraft, ChatRoulotte or any of the 25,000 websites that call themselves “Social Networks”.  If you wanted to network socially, you needed to do it in person.

Final Thought

I love technology and the fact that I am writing this blog post with my laptop computer laying on the couch and not writing it into a personal journal (guy’s don’t have diaries) is just another example of how our world has changed and how we evolve along with it.

Life was simpler when I was a kid even though we did not have all the STUFF that everyone expects and counts on today to make life more convenient and survive.  With the virtual shrinking of our world and the advent of constant information and instant communication  comes a shift in expectations for ourselves and our children.  What was once keeping up with the Jones’s next door has now evolved into keeping up with the whole World…..and that is not easy.  The question is whether it has made life really easier for our children to grow up?  Just my 2Sense Worth!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Judilyn March 13, 2010 at 1:02 pm

My brother is brillant… you are so right! Sometimes I miss the way things used to be.

Arcadia Rink July 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I loved your post and, yes, I am at the age where I can totally relate to every last section. I think you should write a book about this subject. I enjoyed going back to the past and remembering the era.

Lisa Frazier September 22, 2011 at 1:30 am

I enjoyed reading your blog. I reflect on the topic often, and wonder if life is actually better as a result of our technological advances. I mostly think about it as I walk the hallway of the community college where I teach, and watch as most students are occupied with their devices. I miss the days when I was in college- we’d actually talk with one another while waiting outside our classrooms. I miss the simplicity, the demands, all those opportunities we had to develop patience. I’ve always considered myself somewhat progressive- but now (at 48) I’m realizing I’m nostalgic. Mostly, I miss reality- the real, tangibility that the past held.
In the past, we actually had rules and boundaries- phones were connected to walls, with cords, and if someone called during dinner time, there was an unstated understanding that whoever it was on the other end of the line- must either be in a state of emergency- or someone rude- because ‘who would call during dinner?’ Now, I hear stories from my students who return ‘texts’ while showering. There are no boundaries and we are readily losing the generation(s) who held them, who know what they were.
Now, there is no waiting; no editing; and a stream of consciousness that lacks consciousness. Reality will probably only become more and more blurred and unreal as technology advances. The crappy unraveling tape of the 8 track or cassette evoked emotion because a lot of choice was invested. Nowadays, there’s less disappointment; everything is at our fingertips- waiting- are you kidding me? Who has time for that? But the waiting we experienced in the past was full of anticipation- and fulfillment. Yes, you had to wait for a response to a letter. But what you eventually received was well worth it. Surprisingly, it would arrive in your mailbox. Handwritten expression- personal and tangible- save worthy would present itself to you softly. And, in leisure or excitement- that letter gave time and choice- it didn’t demand an immediate response- it respected your privacy and timing. Mostly, it wasn’t one of 100 others that you might have received that day. It was special and meaningful. I guess I feel like technology is stealing meaningfulness- the personal- the – in person – from our lives.

Sandra October 17, 2011 at 9:30 am

I loved this. I’m propably one of the youngest people who leave a comment here, I’m only 18, but still I found myself smiling while reading your post, and I wished that I was born earlier. I love writing letters and actually having real face to face conversations. I believe that there is no good reason for the existence of facebook or any other network out there, life has become so shallow and sad and I pity those who have stopped living and are only existing.
I wish you a wonderful day.

Carmen November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm

This was so interesting, and for this coming out of my mouth is so suprising. I really enjoyed reading about before facebook and cell phones.

Johnny York December 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm

You have to take into consideration that cell phones and internet does help millions of military families and immigrant families keep in touch around the world.

Sara March 23, 2012 at 2:16 am

I really enjoyed your blog! I want to add that all of this new non-stop technology is so recent that even I, about to turn 26, am new to it. I thoroughly miss the days of not having a cell phone, and the excitement of getting caller ID at home for the first time, thinking how amazing it was that we could see who was calling. When my friends and I would go play (outside) we did not have phones, texting, or even beepers. If we were going without, or missing anything, it sure didn’t feel that way back then. We were more worried about making friendships and playing street hockey and roller blading. My first clunky cell phone was at age 17 and I still felt young to have it.

I can clearly remember the first time I sat down to the internet and how big of a world it seemed to be. It feels uncomfortable now to have everything at the tip of my fingertips, even though I do participate. As years go by I find myself wishing I could just throw all of it away and revert back to the old days when we just spent time with our families and friends, no computers, phones, tables, blackberries, ipods, and all this junk.
Again, great blog!

Marie May 4, 2012 at 12:52 am

I loved this. I’m about to be 22 but I agree with this so much. Technology is great to a certain extent I love doing online classes and connecting with old friends that I no longer live close to. I do miss back when it was just about hanging out with your friends on weekends until it got dark and when people talked to face to face. I miss the days of sleeping over at a friends house, actually getting to know your friends family to the point that they were your own family as well. There’s so much I miss about the 90′s when I grew up. All kids really want to do these days is play video games, talk or text if they have a phone, kids are getting phones at such an early age now and want to watch tv they don’t care much about playing outside or doing anything that doesn’t revolve around technology in some way. It’s very sad and just imagine in years to come it might get worse than what it is right now.

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