Younger generations are blissfully unaware there was life before the internet. Teens today don’t know a day when The Simpsons or a variation on Law and Order wasn’t on television at any time on any given day. Hell, some of them can’t recall a life before Family Guy.
But such a time existed, where information was printed on paper and ink and references required strenuous research as opposed to a few clicks of a mouse. Information was once hard to come by. People went to stores to rent movies, shop for groceries, check out tomes of words known as books. But a series of tubes gradually replaced all that noise. We live in a world in which this is currently being read on Mac, PC, PS4, XBOX One, iPad, iPhone, iSubconscious, iBoredatthedoctor’soffice and maybe even Kindle.
The internet changed everything, for better and worse. One of the paradoxes most feared when theorizing time travel is the concept of living in a world without history – a constantly changing Butterfly-afflicted nightmare. But we’re already there. It’s called Wikipedia and I just made it say that Donald Trump is related to Adolf Eichmann (wiki him). And it just got edited so he is no longer related to an escaped Nazi. Now he is again. Now he’s not.
So before all you youngsters TL;DR this, consider some of the finer life experiences you’ll never get to have. For the older readers, let’s get nostalgic for:
20. Renting Movies
There are still snobs that insist nothing sounds better than an LP, but in truth a proper CD player with the right speakers and equipment can duplicate the sound perfectly. The snobs just enjoy putting needle to vinyl. And no one could fault them for that.
But even buying a CD in their heyday was exciting. You may have caught a music video on MTV when they still actually ran music videos, or you heard the single on the radio, but the anticipation of a new album from your favourite artist can never be replaced by simply clicking a button (or illegally torrenting it).
18. Making a Mixtape for a Boy/Girl
It’s one thing to put together a playlist for the object of your affection. That’s just a matter of drag and drop. It’s one thing to even burn said playlist to CD. The songs need to be selected carefully, as you only have 80 minutes to fill. And there’s something sweeter about actually going through your collection to find the right songs. It’s a kind gesture.
But there is nothing more romantic than putting in the hard work involved in making a mix cassette. For one thing, you have 90 minutes to fill, and you can’t just use half a side, otherwise your sweetheart would be annoyed having to fast forward to the end before flipping sides. Then there’s the song length issue. You don’t want a song to just cut out when the 45 minutes of one side are used up. It has to fit just perfectly. Your timing, much like on a date, has to be precise. There’s pressure.
And then, after you’ve selected each track, going about recording it is another ordeal, sitting there, listening and recording each song, then stopping to change CDs or cassettes to get to the next track. A carefully, lovingly crafted 90 minute tape could take days to get right.
But when it is right, when you know you have it just the way you think she’d like it, when all the little hints and clues in the lyrics you’ve intentionally put in are in place, you draw a little design on the front and sheepishly hand in to her during study hall.
17. Things Being Out of Print
Young ones will never know the thrill of the hunt. As a young film geek and avid reader, I was an active seeker of works long forgotten, whose rights were lost to the ether. I had two white whales: after years of reading about what a great horror film Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator was, I was determined to see it. I was also a fan of Joe Dante’s work on Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I had to see his first, Roger Corman-produced Jaws send up, Piranha. By all accounts, both were staples of a true fan of both horror films and completists – of which I was both.
The shelves of local Blockbusters and Hollywood videos in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona had all but been exhausted. I started calling stores just slightly out of town, scavenging about antique shops and fairs that sold VHS no longer in circulation. I finally tracked down Piranha at a little store about 40 minutes away known as Director’s Chair Video. After watching it triumphantly, confirming it was everything I’d hoped for, I set about dubbing a copy for myself before returning it.
But I was an amateur, and the dubbing somehow neglected to include sound.
Less than a month later, it was released on DVD for $24.99 retail. As for Re-Animator, I managed to find an old VHS for five bucks at one of those antique shops. It sits proudly on my shelf, though it’s been released on DVD no less than three times, with director Gordon’s autograph.
A quick look at a torrent site reveals thousands of available downloads for both. The only “hunt” worth a damn anymore is Jerry Lewis’ notoriously unreleased The Day The Clown Cried, of which footage was recently leaked online. Nothing is sacred save for convenience.
16. Appointment Television
Ah, television. Upon first appearing in nearly every household in America, it served as a way for families to be together, for the nation to gather as one and watch a man set foot on the surface of the moon and let the world know that despite the horrors of the world here on Earth, mankind is still aiming as high as reaching out and touching the face of God.
After 11 seasons, MASH ended its successful run as a television series in 1983 with a two and a half hour finale entitled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” To this day, it stands as the most watched television finale of all time. Rumours persist that New York City’s plumbing system broke down due to the number of toilets flushed in the three minutes following the conclusion.
Now, think carefully and try to imagine such a finale today. Going into work the next day, rather than rejoicing with colleagues around the proverbial watercooler about just how special the night was for you and your family, the workplace would instead be a minefield you had to tread carefully – because you saved it on your DVR and haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.
If you missed it in 1983, you’d be dying to hear what happened the next day, because no one knew whether or not it would be rerun anytime in the near future. That communal feeling that you’ve all seen something special has been replaced with a terse, “No spoilers!”
15. Scrambled Nudity
In history books, its difficult not to think it will be written that the internet was largely created by nerds who wanted naked pictures faster. Typing in virtually any word into google will most likely lead you to at least one pornographic website. The religious right wing of America has recently turned their attention back to where it was 50 years ago: smut. They’re talking about ways to reduce or all but eliminate pornography from the average Americans daily culture intake. Pornography may be something we only know when we see, to paraphrase the Supreme Court justice, but there’s ample evidence to see online.
However, during the days of pay-per-view channels and early cable, the adult channels would come in fuzzy unless you called the company, talked to a representative and awkwardly requested the name of the particular film. How this system, void of anonymity, was so successful goes to show how futile the right wing’s crusade will be (again). And God help you if you had a parent who scrupulously looked over the cable bill at the end of the month. For those of us who did, our pre-pubescent selves were reduced to staring at fuzzy, scrambled images, catching only slight glimpses of nudity when the scrambling was at its least effective.
14. Faxing Documents
Journalist Hunter S. Thompson often spoke with a mix of disdain and affection for his Mojo – an early version of the fax machine with which he would transmit whiskey-stained pages of screeds and bitter, satiric witticisms. It took approximately 20 minutes per page at the time.
By the 90s, waxy paper would slowly print from your telephone set up with documents, often that needed only a signature. Such technology is still used today, but sparingly, as internet-based alternatives have taken over. This is one part of pre-internet life I don’t particularly miss, as feeding the documents into the machine was a real pain.
13. Actually Playing Video Games With Friends
Though this still occurs, multiplayer gaming is done remotely, often with complete strangers – generally 14-year-olds with a vocabulary of vulgarities that surpasses even Quentin Tarantino.
This peaked for me in the late 90s after Goldeneye’s multiplayer on the Nintendo 64 became a smash hit. Also gone is the exclusivity of four good friends seated around a television, each threatening to blow the other into the next dimension with a rocket launcher or a remote mine. And if you were Oddjob, you were an ass. No one liked the guy who chose Oddjob. He stopped getting invited.
12. Mailing Payments
Stamp collecting has long been derided as one of the nerdiest hobbies one could have, but back when using the mail was a necessity rather than a kitschy throwback (or for an eBay order), it sort of made sense. Monthly, you couldn’t simply transfer money from your account to the various credit card, cable and phone companies you used. And the returning stamps were diverse. It also made sense that most mass shootings pre-Columbine took place in postal offices by their employees, as the job must have been mind numbing. It was extreme filing. These micro-tragedies became a focal point for local news every few years, and brick wall comedians every three punchlines, until it culminated in 1995 with the Unabomber.
11. Recording Things With a VCR
VCRs are what played films and television shows already recorded onto VHS before DVD, kids. And if you knew you wouldn’t be home for that very special episode of The Golden Girls, Night Court or Herman’s Head, you could set the machine to automatically begin recording at the correct time and on the right channel.
This became the butt of many a joke, perhaps most famously in the Billy Crystal comedy City Slickers, in which three urbanites argue about the correct way to set the machine while herding cattle. This was, at the time, the height of technology. Those of us still with VCRs feel more like the herded cattle than the high tech urban man. Or, perhaps more accurately, we feel like Crystal, so very far out of touch with the youth of today, yearning for a time when all you needed to pick you up was a hot dog at a Yankees game.
10. Setting Up Meetings Via Telephone
I had the surreal experience of visiting my former high school to see an old teacher several years ago. Just passing through the halls, I saw no less than four teenagers on their cell phones; texting and playing video games and reading things like this article – doing everything but actually calling anyone.
It seems less and less cell phones are used as actual devices of verbal communication. In my school days, perhaps three fellow students out of 2,000 had cell phones, and they were primarily there to be tethered closer to their helicopter parents.
If you were to plan to meet someone, you would call them from home and set up an exact time and place. You couldn’t be too vague, or you’d miss each other and have no way of staying in touch. Punctuality mattered back then. Today, it’s simply a matter of a street corner or a bar or a restaurant and “around 3.” If they don’t show up, whatevs.
9. Music/Film/TV Discovery
There are so many blogs, websites and message boards today that finding what media would appeal to your tastes is a matter of a few clicks. Though I would avoid Netflix suggestions. For some reason, Netflix seems to think that because I watched Community, I would like The Revenant. I distinctly remember no bear mauling in Community.
Long ago, however, the discovery of new media was fresh and exciting. So your friend would burn you a copy of an early White Stripes album, your older brother would play you George Carlin LPs in his bedroom before you got the dirty jokes, your father would sing along poorly to old Bob Dylan songs. Call it shallow, but you are what you like, and those things you came of age with in the early 90s, be it Weird Al or Nirvana, is a part of you. These things matter.
8. Scholastic Book Order Forms
Once a month in elementary school, the teacher would hand out a four or five page catalogue printed on the thinnest paper you’ve ever felt between your fingers. And it’d all be there – the new Goosebumps, the latest Calvin and Hobbes collection, Garfield, Get Fuzzy, and whatever incarnation of Hatchet Gary Paulson was working on at the time.
You’d circle what you wanted, hand it proudly to your parents and, with a little luck, they’d fill out the payment form. Such was the glory of the Scholastic Book Order.
7. BUY ONE CD? GET 12 FOR 1 PENNY!
“Hello, this is Tom from Columbia House calling. We’re still awaiting payment on that Travis Tritt album you received on August 1st.”
“What? I never ordered any Travis Tritt.”
“It came in the bundle of 12 you selected from our catalogue this month.”
“I only ordered for July, I expressly told you I didn’t want to continue my membership beyond a month.”
“Well, sir, our records show you are still signed up. Your current bill is-”
“Wait, wait, wait. I don’t like Travis Tritt, I’ve never listened to Travis Tritt, nor do I ever intend to listen to Travis Tritt. So you can take that bill and shove it up your -”
“Sir, if you do not send us a payment, this will be forwarded to our collection agency at which time it could negatively impact your credit and-”
“Travis Tritt. Who the hell listens to Travis Tritt? Do I sound like a Travis Tritt fan?”
“I don’t know, sir. We’re also still awaiting payment for Michael Jackson‘s Dangerous-”
6. Getting Song Lyrics Wrong
If they weren’t in the liner notes, your were pretty much screwed if you misheard a lyric. For years, I sang “There’s a bad moon on the rise” as “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Everyone has this experience. Now, however, we have the luxury of looking up the lyrics to just about every song ever written and recorded.
Part of the fun of mishearing lyrics was being in the car with a friend and hearing them belt out Snow’s “Informer” so inaccurately that it became hysterical. It also likely played a hand in the success of Weird Al Yankovic in the early 90s, where he would often directly address misheard lyrics in his parodies. Way to spoil the fun, internet.
5. Using Actual Maps
For the outdoorsy, there was some kind of perverse pleasure in unfolding an endlessly large map of the area and pinpointing their exact location. Some would go so far as to use latitudes, longitudes and minutes just to impress their less skilled fellow travellers. Follow the guy with the map, for he clearly was in the boy scouts as a child and probably has a Swiss Army Knife.
When was the last time you charted a course on anything but Google? You don’t even need a map on the open road thanks to GPS technology. If you want directions, you can even get them in the voice of Snoop Dogg or Larry King should that be your pleasure.
4. Casually Detailed Directions
“Hey man, you want to come over, watch the season finale of Spin City? It’s Michael J. Fox‘s last episode and I looked it up in my print copy of TV Guide and it says it’ll be on at eight.”
“Sure, how do you I get to your place again?”
“Okay, so you go down Harrison, make a right. Go a couple of blocks, three or four, then you’re going to see this tree that’s kind of shaped like the sculpture of David if he let himself go, take a left there. Keep going for a while, I mean a long while. They stopped paving after a while and just painted the sand. So when you hit gravel, after the third pink mailbox – the one that still has the Perot bumper sticker on the side, make a right. I’m the third house in the cul de sac – right after the one with the tower of empty PBR cans on the front porch.”
3. Developing Photographs
If you’re not a professional photographer, chances are you haven’t spent a lot of time in a darkroom. Even if you are, most photographers I’ve spoken to have embraced the wonder that is digital. Classic Photography is a hobby, and an expensive one today. I was fortunate enough to have an art teacher who offered a photography class. She also claims to have spent time on Ken Kesey’s ranch in the 70s, which is just a nice way of saying she was involved in several orgies.
2. Disposable Cameras
If you were on vacation, if you were a private detective staking out a love shack, or if you just enjoyed taking pictures, there was nothing better than the disposable camera. They’d usually come from a vending machine, which outside of Japan makes them the strangest object to come from such a machine.
Once you finished the roll of film, simply drop the whole camera in a bag and drop it off at your local pharmacy. You can still get a one-time use digital camera, however there’s really no point. Their extinction today is easily explained. With every phone pulling double duty as a camera – both video and still – why on earth would you purchase something you’re going to immediately discard?
Also gone are the days of dropping off rolls of film to the pharmacy. That, combined with email and texting, have both complicated and uncomplicated the life of Anthony Weiner.
No, I’m not talking about the NSA reading over your emails for hints of extremism. There’s no need to address Russia hacking the DNC or North Korea allegedly leaking a slew of films in response to the James Franco/Seth Rogen buddy picture The Interview. The kind of privacy referred to here is one we hardly think about in our day to day lives.
Today, if – by some miracle – I go out on a date, I have to wonder just what my companion has Googled about me. As a writer, my profiles tend to be fairly public. And naturally, she’s wondering the same thing. We can’t go about meeting anyone anymore without our online persona being a natural extension of our physical selves.
That’s what has really been eradicated since the internet came into our lives. It’s a wild, wonderful thing that also has the ability to deaden the senses, at once destroy and embrace a sense of individuality, and mock the innocent and the guilty.
Monday, Donald Trump referred to hackers as “a 400 pound guy sitting on his bed.” But that guy, and that stereotype no longer exists. We’re all the internet now. All your bases belong to us.