by Hayley Doyle
I feel like a right granny when I say this, but I thank my lucky stars that I grew up before the digital age smacked us all in the face. Okay, so it kisses us gently at times, too. We could sit here all day and weigh up the pros and cons of social media. But being part of the generation that remembers the world how it was before, I find myself pining for the Good Old Days. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, forever lighting up memories with a warm rose-tinted glow, and I often find myself saying to my fellow millennials, “Thank God social media wasn’t around when we were growing up…” And, to be fair, they strongly agree.
So for those who don’t remember a world before tech, what was so great about it?
1. The Telephone
Before we carried around magical pocket-boxes with the world’s entire mass of information at our fingertips, we dialled a number (usually from memory), just to talk. We’d sit on the bottom stair or lie on our on our parents’ bed, twirling the cord around our fingers, calling our friends for nothing more than a chat. A long chat. A two-hour chat. Okay, you might compare this with the time social media now steals away from us. But there’s a difference; a) engaging in one singular conversation, developing that relationship deeper, versus b) scrolling never-ending timelines and stories, achieving absolutely nothing. But what about a quick call to arrange a meet-up? Well, there were no excuses. No, ‘I didn’t see your text,’ or ‘I don’t check my messages,’ or ‘My battery died.’ You heard it loud and clear. And you’d always - always - show up. (Oh, and if you didn’t, you were literally presumed dead.)
2. Going Shopping
“Shop ’til you drop” is a phrase bursting with honesty. Historically. Come pay-day, millions of consumers would shop and shop and shop until their shoulders couldn’t take the pressure and their fingers were ready to snap from the weight of carrier bags filled to the brim with goodies. The convenience of online shopping has seen the high street rapidly decline and created tech-fans globally. We’re becoming scarily close to actually clicking our fingers for whatever we desire to appear before our very eyes. But nothing can take away that excitement of going shopping. Need a birthday present? Off you’d go and search, shopping and mooching until the perfect gift presented itself on a shelf. Items on display inspire creativity and evoke memories. The task becomes personal. Because let’s face it, although you can personalise any item under the sun with a few online clicks, there’s something incredibly impersonal about googling an idea or three, making a choice, and then paying a extra few quid to get somebody’s name printed onto it.
3. The Video Shop
Every town had one. Maybe two. You couldn’t beat the thrill of entering that hazy, awkwardly quiet room of empty video display cases, a dull whoosh of dialogue bumbling from behind the desk where the cashier sat all day watching movies. If you were lucky, you managed to get the latest box office blockbuster before anybody else, and had it to yourself for a grand total of 48 hours. In that time, you would watch that movie at home on repeat - even if you weren’t that keen - to get your rental’s worth before returning it, ON TIME, or you’d face a fine. Thanks to local video shops, movies were sacred. They got what they rightly deserved; your undivided attention and appreciation for the immense work that goes into every frame. These days, it’s hard to get through 10 minutes of a movie, and not because “they don’t make ‘em like they used to”. Oh, no. It’s because we’re given too much variety mixed with a recently embedded fear that we’re missing out on something “better”, when we’re not. We just lack a decent attention span. Thanks social media!
4. NO Cyber Bullies
Bullies are scum. They always have been and they always will be. Being bullied twenty years ago was still cruel as hell; from punching and kicking to spreading rumours and the evil, stomach-churning silent treatment. But nowadays, bullies have a tech-weapon. And we all know that tech is designed to make our lives easier, so what does it do for bullies? Makes bullying even easier. Imagine being a kid trying your best to “fit in” and being left out of WhatsApp group chats or trolled for every inch of who you are. And the pressure to be like-like-liked. Before social media, you could be blissfully unaware of who didn’t like you. These days, it’s plain for all to see. In fact, before social media, people just didn’t have so many opinions on everyone and everything because there weren’t any platforms encouraging this way of thinking. At least, back then, there was some truth in the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones…” Words come far too easily today. And sadly, they cut ever so deep.
5. The 4 Channels
You watched one of four TV channels. You’d sit around a single television set with your whole family, engrossed, invested and talking to one another about the same subject matter. Nobody was sucked into their own personal tablet or screen, locked away from reality, engaging in zero conversation with the humans sitting next to them. Watching TV before social media was like being part of a national club, unified in the knowledge that when you went to school the next morning, everybody would be taking about The Crystal Maze or 999 or the latest scandal on the soaps. Rather than streaming whatever song you fancy listening to, you’d wait eagerly every week for Top of the Pops, beside yourself with excitement at who would be crowned Number One. And in 1997 when the Spice Girls famously launched Channel 5, there was a sense of uncertainty. How could we possibly get our heads around a WHOLE extra channel full to the brim with new programmes? Crazy, eh?
6. Student Nights
You’ve got to feel for students in this day and age. Making new friends, finding their feet, navigating their way into grown-up-dom via house parties and drinks promotions, whilst their peers film, share, and post every single step. Their anxiety must be out of control. Before social media, a night out might have been recorded if somebody was wealthy enough - and bothered enough - to bring a camcorder. You were more likely to get snapped on a disposable camera and even then, it was a hassle and expense to get the film developed. In short, your coming-of-age/party days were smack bang in the moment, with minor consequences and an air of freedom that truly has remained in the past.
The ability to keep in touch with people nowadays is simple, effective and pretty phenomenal. But like anything that comes with great ease, well, poetically, romantically, something beautiful has been lost. When was the last time you sent your family a postcard from your hols? Have you been meaning to email your friend back, but just keep forgetting? Millennials are the last generation to remember the beauty of sending letters. Putting pen to paper. For centuries, letter writing was not only a way of communication, but also deep, heart-felt expression. Words were carefully selected, along with the style of handwriting. It took time and effort, and it was - and still can be - considered an art form. As a child and teen in the 90s, letter writing was dedicated to penpals, friends made on holidays, and of course, love letters. Today, teens feel lucky if their crush slides into their DMs, free of emojis and written with minimal abbreviations.
8. The Moment
Before smartphones, if you were being filmed, it was a huge novelty. If somebody showed up to a family party or kid’s dance recital with a camcorder, it was the cue for everybody to act like a complete and utter clown. Mums went nuts on bouncy castles. Dads wore silly and inappropriate aprons whilst turning the sausages on the BBQ. Little kids stripped off and pranced around the garden. Somebody always fell over, spectacularly, usually whilst doing their “party trick”. And when the record button stopped, life resumed as normal. In the moment. Nobody was on edge about getting caught on camera. Days weren’t consumed with anxiously making a record of absolutely everything, just in case we forgot about it. OR because we felt an intense need to show other people, particularly strangers all across the world. We just trusted our memories without a second thought, remembering what happened because we were there, not seeing it through our devices.
9. The Library
It was sad to hear of so many library closures over the past decade. Going to the library might sound pretty dull, but actually it was a wonderful way to spend a few hours. It was the original browsing! Your focus was your love of reading or your research, meaning you could gather all the information you desired without being distracted by ads, stories, updates, reels, photos, shopping, that-girl-you-went-to-school-with-but-hardly-spoke-to… As a child, being able to choose a handful of books to physically take home was like going to a sweet shop and leaving with a marvellous treat. And you’d read them. You’d devour them. As a teenager, you could lend CDs, take them home and tape them onto cassettes. You’d learn every word to every song (thanks to the lyrics printed inside the CD sleeve) running on the energy of borrowed time, having to give it back soon. Inside a library, you could almost feel its superpower knowledge bouncing off the walls. But it was up to you, without influence, to seek how you were able to use it.
10. Playing Out
Knocking on your mate’s door, whilst on your bike, has become a scene from a retro movie. But it existed, and not that long ago! We’d say, “We’re going out,” and it meant just that. Out. Running from kerb to kerb making up games, climbing trees, or just wandering around the block - with or without a ball - sitting around and chatting. So does it feel like a thing of the past? In fact, do you still see children playing out anymore? Unless supervised at the park? The world has unfortunately just become too dangerous, ie. we all know too much. And if you do see a couple of kids or teenagers just hanging out, how often are they both hunched over, glued to their own device, or sharing one screen?
They say, ignorance is bliss. Do we need second by second footage of all the world’s news? What are our children absorbing from this? What are they picking up on that will diminish their innocence? A lack of information to hand certainly had its qualities. We didn’t so easily get sidetracked. Or overwhelmed. We lived in the moment. We endured a TV programme that was kind of boring, then got to the end and realised we’d learnt something, that an element of it had had a profound effect on us. We gave things a chance. We knew whatever we had was precious. Today, we have to constantly remind ourselves to be grateful, to enjoy the present moment, and ironically, these reminders come to us via social media. It was a privilege to grow up in a world where we didn’t need reminding.
Millennials are the generation who grew up in one world and are grown-ups in another. Some might say, we’ve had the best of both? I remember signing up to Facebook in my mid-twenties and thinking, this is a fad, a phase. It’ll never last. In some ways, I still think that way. That one day, I’ll wake up and it will all be gone. And I won’t feel pressured to take photos of everything I’m doing or feel guilty when I don’t post, share or film my kids doing something mildly amusing. The power social media has created, in such a short space of time, is mighty. But if it’s at the expense of our children being children for as long as possible, I’d rather live with a lengthy phone bill, a mixed tape and limited telly. I know it’s impossible to step back in time, but if things have moved so fast one way, could it be possible that we now learn how to slow down? And I mean really slow down… instead of creating content about doing it to gain followers on social media.