Alchemical Thoughts

Answering 20 questions from the days before cellphones and Internet

Posted on: August 21, 2015

I decided to try my hand at this after reading this post, “20 Questions I Have for People Who Were in Their 20s Before Cell Phones & Internet” found at forever twenty somethings.I was a bit younger than my 20s in those days, but I certainly faced these questions too. It was not a big deal then. To be honest, I wonder how easily spoiled today’s youth are by cellphones and the Internet. My cohort and I had to make do without, and we did just fine. In fact, in many ways, the pace of things was not as rushed. Now, to date myself a little bit, I grew up as a teen in the 1980s. I barely recall my early days of getting on the Internet. My first personal e-mail was on Hotmail, and I do still have and use that account though it is no longer my primary e-mail. My first real e-mail was in college, back when it was using a VAX system of all things. I do remember AOL and those pesky disks they used to send to try to get you to subscribe to their Internet service. Boy, have we come a long way in a short amount of time. Before that, I survived without all this technology just fine.

To be honest, a lot of this seems like a big first world problem, but I am doing it for amusement now. I copied the questions from the post. I will then type out my answers (some snark may be included):

1. How did you make plans?  You agreed with people beforehand on things like where you would be and at what time. You either talked in person or over the phone. Yes, we did have telephones back then. We had already moved past the telegraph.

2. How did you CANCEL plans?  Usually you tried to call as soon as you knew.

3. How did you know who was calling you before you picked up the phone?  Until the advent of caller ID, you did not know. However, once answering machines came around, you let the answering machine pick up so you could screen the call. If you were real snarky, you could even put funny messages on your answering machine to greet callers. Heck, if you did not feel like taping your own, you could buy those messages recorded for use. One thing you may keep in mind is that back then spam calls were not really the problem they were now. Back then, you knew most of your callers were family or friends, i.e. people you wanted to talk to. Nowadays, it’s not really safe to answer a phone, and since it is easy to spoof called ID, I still let the answering machine pick up so I can screen.

4. How did you rid of the fear that is calling people?  I would not label it a fear, but I do dislike talking on the phone. E-mail was a welcome arrival. I much rather e-mail people than call them.

5. How did you find out information about people before you went on dates with them?  You really did not have much options here. If you knew a common friend, you pumped them for information maybe.

6. How did you find people to date in the first place???  Well, school, church (back when I was a church goer, I did have an older girl hit on me after church. True story. That did not get far, but that is another story), other gatherings.

7. How did you keep tabs on exes?  Why the hell would I want to do that for? Anyhow, back then I did not have an ex yet.

8. How did you keep tabs on what your entire graduating class from high school was doing?  Given I did not (and still do not) give much of a shit what the folks in my high school class do, this was not nor is now much of a concern.

9. How did you look for jobs?  The newspaper and word of mouth.

10. How did your parents get in touch with you when you were out? Back then, you told your parents where you would be, and you better be there or else. Growing up back in Puerto Rico, this was common. You went to a friend’s house to hang out, you told your parents who it was and where. Odds are good our parents knew their parents, so they could call and check. Also, we had fairly firm curfews. I had to be home usually by 6pm or so, which was dinner time. One way to know was if in the house you were visiting the TV was on. When the news went on (this was before the days of CNN), you knew you had to head home. If the theme song of the soap opera that came after the news came on, you knew you had to run home because you just overstayed. Back then, the soap opera theme song was the one for the soap opera Cristina Bazan. The song was “Atrévete” by José Luis Rodríguez, aka El Puma. (Link to YouTube).

11. How did your survive waiting for meetings, appointments, trains, or anything without being able to pass time by pretending to look busy on your phone? If I had to and I could, I carried a book or some other reading material.

12. How did you do ANYTHING at work before email? You talked to people. You called on the phone. The work pace was likely a bit slower, but that was a good thing. We survived just fine.

13. How did you tell co-workers (or someone else you were meeting) that you were going to be late when you were stuck in traffic or stuck on some disabled subway car? They had to wait, and that was the end of it. You explained what happened when you got there, or if you could, you stopped at a pay phone and called in. Again, the world did not end.

14. How did you sign up for classes at the gym? You went to the gym and signed up. Or you called over the phone I guess. This was never a concern for me though. Why, how do people sign up now? Even if you sign up online, you still have to go to the gym in person, so I do not see any advantage from signing up online or doing it when you get there.

15. How did you know where you were or where you were going ever? See #10, apply it to other people. Again, people were more understanding and patient, so this was not an issue.

17. How did you always have change on you to use these pay phones? You learned to carry some change in your pocket, no big deal. To this day, I carry at least two quarters in my pocket for pay phones. It is more a ritual than anything else given I have a cell phone, but the habit remains. For long distance back then, you often had a phone card.

18. How did you research anything for school? Did you have to go through the Encyclopedia? What? You think research did not happen before the oh so precious Wikipedia? Yes. We had encyclopedias, and we learned how to use them. We also had libraries and librarians to help us with our research if need be. The tone of this question makes it sound like we lived in the Dark Ages. We had books then, and we still have them know. We also had journals and indexes to find articles just fine. You learned to use things like Reader’s Guide and got on with it.

19. How did you find out about the weather? I looked outside. I watched the news and got the weather forecast. Listened to the radio news for any alerts. Again, the world did not end.

20. How did you stay in touch with friends? Talking in person. Phone calls. A bit more distance, letters and cards via mail.

In the end, we got along just fine. The world did not end. People knew to be patient, and they knew to wait as need be. Sometimes I think cell phones and Internet have made people impatient because they have to know now right this second or else. Also, since people were a lot more patient and less tech, people were a little less rude. I mean, there were no cell phones, so you could not whip it out in restaurants and movie theaters, but you actually had to pay attention. You needed to let people know, you called ahead or told them early enough without so much rush. And that is how we survived just fine.

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