Family Life

How I Survived Before the Internet

There’s a talk I’ve been meaning to have with my kids. It’s serious. Maybe the kind of talk I should sit all three of them on the couch for, side by side, so I can look them in the eyes. I think they’ve heard pieces of what I need to tell them, but never the whole thing.
Here goes.

There was this time, it was way back in the 1900s when we didn’t have cell phones, internet, or even cordless phones.

I watch them try to process this, heads tilting slightly to the side.

Do you understand what I’m saying? When I wanted to know if a friend was wearing a certain thing to school, I had to go into my kitchen, right where my parents were making dinner and doing parent things. I had to reach over to the wall and pick up a phone that was attached to the box on the wall with a twisty cord. It was only 10 feet, so I was stuck in the kitchen. Or just outside the doorway if I stretched the cord really tight.

I had to dial seven numbers to call her. No, these were not saved as a contact in the phone. I had to remember the number of every person I wanted to call. As I waited for someone to answer, I had to be ready for anything, even talking to her parents. If my friend answered, it wasn’t so bad, but sometimes her parents or her brother would answer and I had to actually talk to them. “Hi, this is Becky. Is Sarah there?” It was terrible.

Then, she would get on the phone and we would chat. We had to be careful though. At any point, someone could hear us, or worse, pick up another phone in the house and listen in. Siblings seemed to be great at that.

They elbow one another, imagining listening to each other’s calls. It’s funny to them because it’s like a fable. They never had their brother hear that they had a crush on a certain boy at school and then have him taunt you about it until you cleaned his room to keep him quiet. My youngest raises a hand, as if in school. Clearly, she is taking this seriously. “Why didn’t you just text her?” she asks. And at that moment, I want to hold her little face and say, “Oh, sweetie.”

Those phones didn’t have texting. Texting didn’t exist.

This settled like a rock in a lake, and I watched the ripples as they processed this.

There was no texting. No emojis. No private phone lines. No talking wherever you want. Just that phone in the kitchen. Eventually, I got my own phone in my room, but that was still risky. Anyone could pick up another phone in the house and hear everything.

Their eyes were wide with disbelief. It was time to go all
the way.

We also didn’t have internet. Actually, we didn’t even have computers. In high school, I got my first computer, and the internet was not what it is today.

“How did you find stuff out?” asked my son.

We had to use books. We had to look things up. We had to go to the library every time we needed a random fact about seahorses for a report. We had to wait and ask the teacher if we didn’t understand how to do our homework.

“What about the weather? I ask Alexa what the weather is every day. How would I know?” I wanted to be snarky. But I resisted. This was a different world I was describing.

For the weather, you looked outside or stepped outside to see how cold it was. You could even turn on the TV and wait for the weather to be reported on the morning news. It was usually every eight minutes or so. It wasn’t bad.

“Mom, this sounds crazy.”

Sounds crazy? That’s only because it’s not what you know. Do you know what was crazy? When I had a five-page report due and I had to write it on real paper. In cursive.

“No way!”

Or what about when I wanted to show my friend a picture? I had to take a picture. Actually 24 pictures. Then wind up the film and drop it off or send it in the mail to be developed. After that, I would wait a few days or a week and get an envelope with all 24 pictures. And I had to hope one came out the way I wanted. Then I had to carry that picture with me to show my friend.

“How did you take a selfie? What did they do about filters?”

We didn’t take selfies and there weren’t any filters.

“Woah.” They all got quiet for a few moments and I just looked at them; they were so unaware. Finally, my oldest spoke, “I’m so grateful we have this stuff mom.” I smiled and nodded. Yes. Good talk kids, good talk. My work is done.

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