Memoires of an eighties baby
The world has changed a lot since I was a kid. It can be interesting to reminisce on the things that you may well have been the last generation of human to experience. There was a last generation to experience working in a mine as a child. To experience receiving a telegram. To get beaten by a school teacher or think that the Earth was flat… oh wait, I guess we’ll have to come back to that one.
With the technical revolution that the internetr has wrought there are a lot off things I used to do that are now obsolete in the modern world. Things that I had all but forgotten about. That just faded away silently into the past without putting up any sort of a fight. We all have fond memories of old movies or music, maybe friends we don’t have anymore or family members that are no longer with us. But what about the little things that we did together without any thought. That were just a natural part of the flow of life.
These are the things I’ve been thinking about recently…
Calling in to a friend
This is something I did a lot as a kid. If you wanted to hang out with your friend you had to walk over to their house, ring the doorbell and then navigate a conversation with said friends mam. As you set out on journey you had no idea as to whether or not they would actually be there. It was a leap of faith. If they were there then great but if not you were faced with your next obstacle… finding them.
This was a time before mobile phones, before social media. You would have a wander around to all your usual hangout spots in the hope they were there, or maybe just give up on that particular friend and call into someone else's house.
Finding a friend to talk to back then could turn into a sort of quest. Along the way you would find some of your friends and continue your journey until the entire fellowship was assembled.
I can't help but feel like this added a lot more value to friendship than a button click on Facebook or a message on WhatsApp. It took actual physical effort to talk be your friends. It was a real personal interaction as opposed to emotions conveyed through emojis.
I wonder what percentage of interactions between friends are entirely digital these days. I wonder if people still call over to their friends house without knowing whether or not they are there…
"Where will I meet you?"
Back in the day the establishment of meeting points was an important part of almost every social interaction. As I mentioned in the previous section, we didn't have powerful computers that fit in our pockets, or access to a global communications network everywhere we went.
When making plans, be they for later that day or some point far in the future, you had to do a few things:
Pick a meeting point. Most groups of kids I knew had a few set meeting points. The shops, the rocks (a small group of boulders that was more or less equidistant from everyone's house) or the field (there would be lots of fields to pick from, but 'the field' would refer to your particular field of choice)
Pick a time. Not everyone would be able to make that time, so you might need to ask "Will you be there for a while, I won't be around until..."
Spread the word. You would let people know exactly when and where you were going to be, and this had to happen face to face: "Hey Anto, we're gonna head down to the field for a game of heads and volleys later, you in? Be around 4 o'clock".
“Where will I meet you?” has become "Where are you now?"
You don't need a meeting point anymore, you can instantly communicate your whereabouts to anyone at any given point in time.
Sure it's convenient but think about what your losing. The excitement of standing around at a meeting point not knowing whether someone will show. You don't want to be first and end up standing around on your own, but you don't want to be last either because you might miss out on a bit of craic.
Now you can find people that you don't even know through social media check-ins and Instagram photos. It's a little bit creepy…
Level by level, life by life
Before the age of the internet we did have computers and we could play multi-player games, we just generally had to be in the same room as the people we were playing with.
There were a few scenarios that would routinely play out when you went to play games with a friend:
Someone would get the crappy controller
Controllers have never been cheap (for some reason) so some houses would have the primary branded controller that came with the console and a secondary one that was a cheap knock off with sticky buttons and a shitty d-pad
Someone would complain about the other player looking at their screen
Playing multi player then often meant splitting the screen in two, with each player using half the screen. In a first person shooter, for example, you could look at the other half of the screen and see where your opponent was.
We would even turn single player games into a multi player experience. Level by level or life by life was how we did that. Take a simple single player game like Mario for example. If playing life by life you would hand off the controller every time you died. Level by level meant you would hand off the controller upon completing a level.
It was an elegant system. Combining the two meant that if you had a really good player they wouldn't get to hog the controller for ages. If you sucked at the game you might die a lot but you would at least get a shot with each level change. A childhood lesson in diplomacy.
What's even more amazing is we didn't have a global pool of information (the internet) to pull from in order find systems like this. It was passed down through generations and through word of mouth. I don't even know how I found out about it, but I bet there are kids all over the world that used this system without ever having had direct or indirect contact.
Cassette tapes and VHS
We didn't need the internet to pirate movies and music in the 90s, we had tapes. With a tape recorder you could simply turn on the radio and hit record to 'download' any songs you want to your tape. We created mix tapes from the radio that would have tiny snippets of ads and cringy radio DJ banter because you didn't stop recording fast enough when the song ended.
We also shared tapes with friends and used recorders with two tape decks to make copies. This could be done with any kind of tape, even the ones that contained games for early consoles that used tape drives. There were even flea markets where you could trade them. It was beautiful.
Tapes did have their downsides however. Rewinding and fast forwarding. Imagine telling a kid today that they can't simply jump to the song they want to listen to. That they have to hold down a button that will move through the tape at a faster speed so that they can get to the song they actually want to hear. That just wouldn't fly now, not in today’s instantly gratified society.
We would also rent movies from a store, a concept that has become extinct a bit more recently than the humble VHS cassette. Sometimes upon returning home from Xtra-vision (or whatever your equivalent was) you would find that tape hadn't been rewound so rather than just watching your movie you would have to spend time rewinding it back to the start. There is a special place in hell for those that didn't rewind their tapes before returning them to the video store.
This is no longer something we have to worry about as you can simply stream movies online. It's easy... maybe too easy. We had to work for it back in the day, so we didn't take it for granted. When I was younger I'd never give up on a movie just because it was shit. These days I regularly turn off a movie after ten minutes because I'm bored and just move on to the next one.
Rolling up your windows
Ever wonder about the origin of certain phrases? Rolling up a car window will certainly be one that is questioned by future generations. Today we have electric switches to open and close car windows, but back when I was young you literally had to wind this spinning handle around to do it. You were literally winding and unwinding a lever to open and close your window. If you're young and have only ever known electric windows then that can be your etymology lesson for today.
With electric windows you're missing out though. You can't have window races. Furiously winding window handles to see to can open and close them the fastest. Did I mention we were more easily entertained too.
Trek through the snow for days hunting Woolly Mammoths
It was a different time back then, before the internet. A time when the women would stay at home as the men went out to fetch the meat that would stave off starvation for another few days.
Adult males would congregate with any of their children that were of age and set out. Sometimes your dad would head out with your friends dad so you'd get to hang out with real friends rather than being awkwardly paired with some kid you didn't know, or like, for the hunt.
We'd set off for days at a time. The kids these days just don't understand the hardships we endured. Battered by snow storms as we navigated tough terrain, we tracked the herd. Frostbite was a very real risk, as was loosing someone to a sabre-toothed tiger.
Eventually we'd find a herd and try to single out an infant or adolescent, the adults were too risky. The bounty would be immense but those things were big and could do some serious damage.
The advent of modern farming, food storage technology and extinction of the Mammoth due to over-hunting means that the modern child will only ever know of food as something that comes from the supermarket in plastic wrapping. Shame.
What does it all mean
Technology is great. The list of ways it has improved our lives is immense and I don't want to be a technophobe, but I can't help but feel it's important to not forget about life pre-software. A time when physical contact was a requirement.
I still have CDs from when I was a kid. I know people that still have working Nintendos, Segas and a library of games from the early 90s. Now, however, most games require an internet connection. That or they are downloaded directly onto a computer, so no physical copy is necessary. This means that if the computer dies or a game studio stops supporting the game you lose the ability to play. It disappears. No physical copy.
Last year I listened to over 100,000 hours of music on Spotify. I like music. But if Spotify shut up shop tomorrow it's all gone. I'd have nothing to show for the money I spent using that service. Worse still, I'd have no music.
These are just things however, and we’re probably better off without them for the sake of reduced energy consumption and waste production. But technology has the potential to eradicate human physical contact too. For many their entire life is digital. We find partners and one night stands online. We have self checkouts in supermarkets as well as home delivery. Offices around the world are beginning to embrace remote work. Communications technology has advanced to the point that you don't even need to be in the same country as your colleagues.
If the whole ting collapsed tomorrow what would we be left with? A world full of people that no longer know how to exist without a technological crutch. Myself included... And that I find scary.