Thursday, March 17, 2016

Yesterday & Today

Yesterday & Today

If you were born anytime before 1985, then you will be of the generation that has lived and remembers the years before cell phones, video games, and the Internet.

Life in the "dark ages" certainly had a different flavour to it. There were fewer forms of communication, entertainment, and social interaction.

Instead of having instant access to the world via your cell phone, people had to actually find a telephone to call a friend or a business. That meant you were in the vicinity of a land line. At home or in the house of a friend, you could call quite easily. Away from your home, you had to find a payphone to make your call, but it was never all that easy using a payphone. You had to have a dime or quarter, and you had to ensure that the payphone hadn't been vandalised. You had to consider that the payphone you were using must have been previously used by hundreds of other people before you. If you were lucky, none of those people had some rampant flu, cold, or some even more exotic disease. It was literally like risking your life just to call home to say you were running late.

When you did get home, your hours of idle time were spent reading a real newspaper on real newsprint for the latest "tweets" — the news or opinions of the day — well, not exactly of that day, because newspapers were delayed by at least twelve hours.

Imagine. No "trending" and no "viral videos." No instant peeks into the comings and goings of your favourite celebs or the state of world politics. Moreover, any information you did find in the newspapers was written by a select few, an elite group of journalists who filtered and wrote about what they thought you should know and even how you should feel about such information. Sometimes, you might disagree with what you read, but your rancour had no outlet. You didn't have a way to give an article a thumbs down reaction or the means to write an instantaneous comment to chronicle your opinions.

Even the ever-popular radio was an ineffective means of interacting with the world as a whole. There were no "talk-radio" shows, no call-in programs, and unless it was 6:00 pm, you weren't likely to find a news report. No, radio stations offered you a choice of popular music or radio dramas. Like the local newspapers, radio was, as Marshall McLuhan observed, a "hot" form of media that required only that you listen. You didn't get to respond, since no means of interaction was available or desired.

Television was no better than radio. You watched what the networks wanted you to watch. If you were lucky, you managed to pull in maybe eight channels if you twisted those rabbit ears just right. You felt blessed to be able to watch Dr Kildare or 77 Sunset Strip. You trusted Walter Cronkite's CBS news reports, because, quite honestly, you had no reason not to trust him. After all, what could be more truthful than the cold, hard, and seeming factual news. There was simply never any dissenting opinion, no conspiracy theorists, no fringe websites, no bloggers, no news feeds.

In the "dark" ages, people were a trusting lot. Human interaction was simply far more interpersonal. You actually had to occupy the same space as the ones with whom you discussed your day, your emotions, your hopes, your dreams, and so on.

If you knew someone who lived somewhere far across the globe, you hoped for a handwritten letter to read. You could have a "penpal" with whom you might share letters, but nothing even remotely as immediate as you might have today. No email, no chat rooms, no Skype or Messenger apps, no instant face talk, nothing like what we have now existed. If there was an upside to your handwritten letters, it would be that you could be fairly certain that the person you were writing was a "real" person, not someone with an @ in front of his/her name or "handle."

Yes, you had "real" friends, not a composite of clickable faces on your computer screen, and you had to be really you. You didn't get to hide behind some anonymous profile photo or pretend to be someone you couldn't possibly be. You were who you were. You had to accept that what you said was all on you, not some self-glorifying persona you had created. Times were tough, because the distinction between truth and fiction was obvious to anyone with half a brain.

Last but not least, there was no cybersex during the dark ages. There was real sex, maybe some phone sex, but nothing like the back and forth, the push and pull, of sexting. No, if you wanted sex during the dark ages, you had to find a living, breathing companion and do it the old-fashioned way.

Was sex in the dark ages more satisfying? It's hard to say. Certainly, it required more effort, more courting, more panache, but some will argue that the traditional form of sex, especially among young people, spelt STD's and unwanted pregnancies. The worst you can get from sexting is a sprained wrist, carpal tunnel syndrome and maybe a somewhat wishful-thinking sticker.

Call me old-fashioned, but I can't help but think that change is not always for the best.



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