What did we do before the internet?

This is a challenging one for those who were born in the noughties and beyond. So come on in and dip into my little trip down memory lane.

I was pondering a question posed by some of my students, they asked me what people did before the internet existed. This is a pretty normal subject for me as an ICT teacher but it got us as a class talking about things before the internet and how we coped without social networking platforms and also how we managed our mental health before the vast minefield of the internet and the pressures of social networking, trying to lead the perfect life depicted by so many Instagram influencers and the like. We discussed this at great length but it made me think it might be an interesting post to write.

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I thought about my childhood and what it was like to grow up in the late seventies/early eighties. I often see memes on Facebook about growing up in the days before the internet and mobile phones. How we popped to the shop to give back our glass pop bottles and got 10p for each one, and when we stayed out all day only coming home for food. Our parents seemed to trust us more then perhaps as they couldn’t check on us, we were out and stayed out in all weathers. We walked to school, very few were driven to school by their parents. If you lived further out from school you caught the bus.

I remember a childhood where I used to go out on my bike, and hop on space hoppers. We made daisy chains in the fields, checked to see of we liked butter with a buttercup, played hopscotch, ran to the shop with our pocket money for a bag of one penny sweets! Rolling down grass embankments, listening to music on the radio and playing records on a record player. I remember my first seven inch vinyl I bought with my pocket money was XTC Senses Working Overtime! All seems so idyllic, I know, I’m sure it wasn’t always perfect.

The only ‘searching’ I can remember was for four leaf clovers!

So, how did we manage to find out information, call people, find our way?

Well, we might have used or done some of these:

Encyclopedias. These were the gift that no one wanted but needed. They were really expensive and I remember school having a complete set of very old ones. Most of the information I’m sure was outdated but these things were our internet of the day. I remember having a couple of Children’s Encyclopedias passed to me from my parents from when they were kids. They were beautiful leather lined crafted books that were heavy but were well used when I was young. I may still have one of them somewhere. Although we have the internet and the kids can access what they need when they are using their laptops we still have a couple of more modern up to date knowledge books as my son is an avid reader and soaks up information like a sponge so he’s busy learning things in bed at night the old fashioned way not on screens.

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Magazines and books. I am a tactile person and love to read, always have. I remember the magazine/journal section in the school library being full to the brim of national geographic and other colourful delights for us to peruse. I like to have my gardening magazines even now and not just for the freebie packet of seeds that might be attached! I have several books on the go too. I’m currently reading the second in the Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and a book called The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas. Both very good I hasten to add. These were both Christmas gifts from dear hubs, he knew how much I liked the first in the Thursday Murder Club but also ‘The Couple at Number 9’ was one that is a Sunday Times top three best seller but also the title is a little personal standing joke to us. I won’t divulge now, maybe another time 😉

Maps (paper ones). I remember learning to drive and satellite navigation didn’t exist! When I was a kid we occasionally went out of day trips on the weekend when Dad had time off and would just head out somewhere. Often not really knowing where we were going. We always had a paper map with us or one of those big map books you used to get as a freebie with roadside rescue plans. More often than not the map would be out of date but it added to the fun of things. We got lost on more occasions than I can remember and we did the alien thing of asking for directions such an outdated thing to do these days! Shock horror!

Record players. I used to love routing through my parent’s vinyl collection, especially dads. I grew up listening to The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Status Quo! There was a bit of Errol Brown/Hot Chocolate mingled in there too. I can also remember listening to Black Beauty on vinyl, it was fantastic. The story and music all rolled into one. Fab. I guess it was an early form of Audiobooks.

Cabled telephone usually found in the hall. We had one cabled telephone in the house and as expected it was in the hall, some posh houses had one in the living room in the warmth. There was one of those old fashioned telephone benches where you could sit down but calls were quite expensive then so we didn’t really spend that much time on a call anyway. I know that there was never any privacy so calling a friend for a cheeky chinwag and find out who fancied who didn’t really happen! If we wanted to call someone in private we went out to the public telephone box after raiding our piggy banks for change and every excuse in the book to the parents otherwise they’d be suspicious 😎

Diary/paper calendar. Anyone remember the days of the Filofax? I had one lasted years. Even used it when I had a phone to do it all for me. I used to like the way you could just pop in new pages and organise things efficiently. They weighed a tonne though. My shoulders always ached from lugging them about. I did think I was the bees knees when I had one. I felt super ‘cool’ 🤣

Remembered things/wrote them on a list. I still do this today, although I need to write things down on a list otherwise I’ll forget things! I’m the type that can forget what I was doing whilst doing it. We didn’t have the internet or Alexa. We had to pay attention and listen to what was being said otherwise we wouldn’t learn anything.

Wrote letters/cards. This is something I tried to instil in my kids as I like to write thank you cards to those who may have gifted me something but despite my best intentions even I have started to wane on this a little. It’s just so easy to send a thank you text or message, but it doesn’t have the charm of a personal letter or card. Perhaps this is a dying tradition that just needs a little push to revive it. Note to self: make an effort! 

Went to the library. Ooh I used to love trips to the library to borrow books. I always came back with an armful. I’m an avid book worm anyway and love the tactile quality of books. The feel and smell of a book is a pleasure to me. I don’t get to read as much as I perhaps would like to, but I still love books. Libraries are vastly different today. They are ‘hubs’ for just about everything, sort your council tax out, collect more recycling bin bags and claim your benefits are amongst some of the things you can do at libraries these days.

Banking – paying with cash and cheques. I can’t remember the last time I paid by cheque and certainly wouldn’t know where to find my chequebooks or paying in books for that matter. But I used to enjoy going to the bank to empty my piggy bank of pocket money and put into my bank account. My parents encouraged good money management quite early on, and I remember having my first cheque book and paying for something with it. I felt so grown up! I used to enjoy the little chats with the cashier when checking the bank balance or paying money in, seeing it through rose tinted specs it was so much more personalised then.

Shopping – catalogues. Remember when there were big paper catalogues for things? Scouting through the pages of a catalogue and ordering something, only to wait weeks for it to arrive. I know we have catalogues these days but it’s all online and even the Argos catalogue is online an instant delivery.

Playing cards/board games. I’m an only child, and can remember the board games I used to cajole my parents into playing with me. I had no other siblings to annoy so pestered my parents instead. Board games are still expensive and can remember playing Monopoly, and my favourite, Cluedo over and over again. All very fun and much more social, although I’m sure my parents didn’t think so at the time.

Going to the travel agents. I asked my students to consider life before the internet and social networking. I asked them to imagine there was no internet, no social networking and consider how their lives would be different. They were horrified! Shock horror, noooo, you can’t take away the internet and social networking. What would we do!?! I did say they could call and text using a phone but that just sent them into a swathe of sheer panic! I wanted them to consider how they might book a holiday or flight as it’s something they do regularly for when they go home (International students from all over the world). They hadn’t a clue. I said that they could visit a travel agents. This was something completely new to them. They didn’t even know what a travel agent was let alone that they still had some shops out there that you could visit and book holidays and flights. It just made me realise what a vastly different world we now live in.

Cutting out coupons. We do still get paper coupons but they are few and far between these days. I have a ration book used by my grandparents and think about what life must have been like. How hard it would have been. I can remember milk tokens when I was a kid, and Mum used to cut out a coupon or two for discounts on the weekly grocery shop. I even had coupons for Freebies from the hospital when I had my kids so it’s still a thing, just mostly digital these days. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the ‘free Tena pants’ coupons that come through the letterbox. I’m not quite at that age or stage in life… yet.

Using cameras with film in. I think I still have my 35mm camera. I haven’t used it for ages, and probably won’t, but it’s a lovely piece of kit. I used to love going to the shop (Lloyds Chemist we used to use) and getting my films sent off to be developed. I can remember the negatives in the packs too. Something great about looking at a negative with the light shining through.

Photo albums. My parents have loads of the old fashioned photo albums, there must be at least thirty on the shelf in their living room. Although we don’t look through them as much as we perhaps used too, it’s still nice to see the old grainy photos from yesteryear. I have a few of my favourites. I was so upset when I thought I’d lost some my Mum had sorted out for me. They are special memories that once lost are lost forever. I can’t remember everything from my past and having an old photo or even an object brings back those moments in my head. Warm and fuzzy feelings most of the time.

Clubs. Aah… I remember the youth clubs of my day. The local village kids club, the church youth club and then the big town youth club where we could go to keep us off the streets. I used to like the clubs when I was younger but as I moved into my teen years I started to like them less, although it did allow me to meet other people who didn’t go to the same school which was nice. Having friendships outside of the school environment is so important I feel. Clubs aren’t seen as being trendy enough these days and funding has dwindled so much very few places have any ‘real’ youth clubs. Many organisations have to rely on Lottery Funding and fundraising events to keep going.

Face to face, in person meetings. Word of mouth, conversations with others.  Something which still happens in business although the Pandemic has had a huge impact on home working and online meetings these days that this is a dying trend. It has been for some time with the introduction of more and more accessible technology but there is something nice about a catch up chat at the ‘water cooler’ in an office, or a meet up at the coffee shop with friends. I’m a person that does like a good chinwag and can talk the hind legs off a donkey but I also like silence on occasion, so being able to mute someone during a group call is nice sometimes – oops did that come out. I do get bored at pointless meetings where it could have been summed up in an email but that’s all down to poor management skills not the meeting itself.

How to manuals/books. Hands up if you’ve never read an instruction manual (dearest hubby you are excused). Always kept and subsequently lost, these were the things that never really helped much anyway! So much easier to watch a video these days on good old YouTube, we are very lucky these days. 

Newspapers. I remember we didn’t have much by the way of newspapers, we kept up with the local news by going to the village shop and buying a local Bicester News, Malvern Gazette or something like that (depending on where were living at the time) and we watched the BBC news in the evening after our dinner on telly. I can remember my early childhood being surrounded by Farmers Weeklies! I think that may have been one of the weekly papers my Dad would read to me when I was a baby, no wonder I’m a tomboy!

Typewriter. I’m old fashioned enough to have one of these. I think it’s what started off my love of writing. Mine wasn’t one of those old metal black ones you see in ‘Murder She Wrote’ but a Maritsa bluey green plastic cased one. It was really expensive at the time and I still have it to this day. My Dad bought it for me as a birthday gift and I’ve loved it and looked after it ever since!

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Yellow pages/phone book. Every house had a Yellow Pages and most often a BT Phone book where you could look up business numbers and private dwelling numbers. Of course more often than not the books would be used to prop up a table or be used as a doorstop. They were super heavy and people used to attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records by ripping up yellow pages books!

Whilst it’s so easy to see our childhood and growing up through rose tinted glasses, it wasn’t always easy. We had blazing hot summers yes, but we also had really cold snowy winters. We didn’t have houses with central heating, I remember an open fire blazing out on a winter’s day that would pretty much heat up the living room and if you were lucky enough to have the bedroom above! Bedtimes were always accompanied with a hot water bottle and several eider downs. We had a Rayburn (like an AGA for those who weren’t sure) in the kitchen with a back boiler that fed the water heater (and radiator type heaters in the house if we were lucky enough to have them). In one cottage ‘Red Cottage’ I remember it being called, we had the fire brigade over so much, they would ask if we were putting the Rayburn on if they saw us in the village shop, our chimney stack went on fire so often. It was a standing joke, wouldn’t be allowed to happen these days, but you just got on with it.

We didn’t have double glazing, we had metal framed single glazed windows that froze both inside and out. Condensation would run down the windows and soak the window sill. I used to mop it up with a towel in the mornings before heading out to help Dad on the farm or school. Insulation wasn’t a ‘thing’ back then. If you ran out of milk and the shop was shut, tough. You had to rely on your neighbours for things like that!

And I’m sure there will be some of you reading this that will be saying I had it easy when I was a kid, but I’m only in my forties. It was harder but in many ways it’s a different kind of hard these days.

If we were bored we didn’t have instant gratification from a screen. We had to find things to do to cure our boredom. My kids are always asking me “what can I do?”, “I’m bored”.  I’m forever saying find something to do. Be bored, it’s good for you. Let your imagination play. They always moan at me as I’m not thinking for them, they are part of the instant gratification generations that have grown up with something there at their fingertips. But they are also more anxious than I ever was, although they are only young and perhaps aren’t exposed as much to the general horrors of the news, Instagram and social media platforms as much as teens are, they still feel the pressures all the same. Getting the balance right is the tricky part and is a big part of being a parent. Knowing when to protect and when to step back. I’m still learning. Not sure I’ll ever get it right, but at least I’m trying.

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The internet and social networking has opened up a whole new world for us. We have access to information at the touch of a screen, we can book a holiday at the drop of a hat. We can order an item online and have it delivered the next day, stuck for something for dinner – Deliveroo are there to rescue you! We have so much freedom with the internet, yet we are somehow prisoners and slaves to it. We have come to rely on it so much, we would struggle live a life without it.

Do you remember using or doing any of the things I might have done? What did you do before the internet existed? How did you keep yourself out of mischief?

Take care, stay safe.

Becks Xo  

2 thoughts on “What did we do before the internet?

  1. It’s funny how we get so used to something that has the power to completely change our lives. I can remember my high school only having one computer, it was in the library and had a black screen with green writing. It was an early BBC computer of all things. It was so alien to us at the time, and of course there was no internet then either. My first ‘after school’ job in 1989 was in a shop and it was all new electronic tills and although tech was starting t really come into play it was still a bit strange. The internet has helped and hindered in so many ways. Take care, stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yeah. I think my generation is the last to experience life without the internet, and as a writer, I now wonder how I’d have done things had I started working in the eighties. Even tiny things like the meaning of words and phrases are so much easier with the help of the internet. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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