XXXVIII – The Struggle Was Real

Many of today’s young people think that times are so hard for them. In many ways, I would have to agree. The social turmoil is intense; there are threats of wars in many places; political tensions are extremely high in much of the world; our economy sucks; much of the country despises Donald Trump. I get it, it’s a difficult time to be alive. However, despite this, kids today are lucky, or do I dare say blessed, to have all the technology and information that they have at their disposal. Those of us who grew up prior to 1990 lived in a seemingly different world—in retrospect, it feels like it was an entirely different dimension. The following is a list of things we struggled with that today’s youth will probably never understand!

1. LIMEWIRE, ETC.

In the early days of the internet, and prior to the government getting involved, there were ways of acquiring the music you wanted online. They were peer-to-peer file-sharing software. The original, and probably most infamous, was Napster. Go onto Napster, find a song or album you wanted that someone else had and was willing to give you, and download it. The Recording Industry saw profits fall and artists were losing royalties. They got Congress to pass online piracy laws. Many people were sued personally by RIAA. Napster died in its original form. Then came Kazaa and LimeWire: similar in nature, but along with them came dangers, such as viruses. That and when you found a song you liked, and when you downloaded it, it was not what it said (or it was the shitty Kidz Bop or god-awful “Glee” version🤮). Regardless, both were eventually taken down. You risked giving your computer AIDS to get a song you wanted for free.

2. THE LIBRARY

Back before the Internet, there was no Google or Wikipedia to find information. You actually had to go to the library and physically look through books, such as the encyclopedia, to search for your material. Ugh, so many books! And to locate a book in the library? You had to go to these miniature file-cabinet things called a card catalog (book inventories weren’t computerized!), and you had to use a three-digit code for books called the Dewey Decimal System to search for a book (for example, books on natural sciences were given a number between 500-599). Thank goodness there are easier ways to find stuff now!

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An old library card catalog

3. PAPER MAPS

Today nearly everyone has access to Google Maps or Mapquest, or some such app. At one time, you had to search for your destination with a foldable paper map, or in some cases, you had a map book, such as the Thomas Guide maps. You had an index of where places were, and you’d go to a certain grid to find it. Hopefully, your map wasn’t too old, or something may have changed since it was printed. And then there was re-folding the maps😵. Oh, god, that was a struggle! You almost had to have an engineering degree to fold them back neatly! Most of the time they ended up a wadded-up mess.

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1976 Thomas Guide map book

4. AOL & DIAL-UP INTERNET

In the Internet’s infancy, there were no smartphones, no WiFi, no always-connected internet computers and devices. Your computer had a modem. Attached to the modem was a phone cord. Sometimes hooked up to the same jack as your home phone (you know, the old landlines). Unless you were fortunate enough for your parents to have a second phone line dedicated to the internet, you would have to hang up to use the internet, or disconnect to make a phone call. Doing both simultaneously was impossible.

America Online (AOL—they still exist‽) would always send CDs in the mail to get people to sign up with their service. If you did go with them, you’d always have this bloody graphic on screen showing connection progress. Then there was the lovely sound when dialing and connecting. Listen to an example of it here.

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AOL Dial-Up Startup Screen, along with that god-awful noise

Current cellular and WiFi internet speeds are measured in megabits per second, like 60 or 100 Mbps. Those fancy dial-up modems went anywhere from 14.4 to 56 kbps. Translation: dial-up transferred 14,400 to 56,000 bits per second. Mobile internet can reach 100 million bits per second. No comparison! In fact, you couldn’t even use YouTube on a dial-up connection. In fact, downloading a webpage over dial-up felt like this:

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It felt like an eternity to download the smallest of files back in the day

5. VHS TAPES

Before Netflix, there were actual buildings you went to in order to rent movies on VHS tape (and even Betamax before that). You’d see a sticker on the tape that basically said be kind, please rewind, to remind you to rewind the tape so that the next person could watch from the beginning. And you couldn’t skip past a stupid scene with one little click. At least you could fast-forward past the stupid FBI warning, unlike on DVDs today, where the “next” button is disabled in order to show that absurd FBI warning against piracy (which no one pays attention to anyway).

If you wanted to see a show later, you had to set up your VCR to record your show. If you weren’t home, you prayed it was set right and that it actually started on time. You also hoped and prayed that you didn’t accidentally record over your dad’s precious home movies (and I you did, you wished you were dead). Further, there was always the danger of the tape getting caught in the machine, then the VCR spits the tape out, leaving a huge mess of exposed tape, which probably got mangled and ruined when it got eaten by the VCR.

6. WATCHING TV

If you were fortunate enough to be home for your favorite show, you couldn’t skip past commercials. You also had to time things right so that you could get a snack or use the bathroom during the commercial break. Few things were more panic-inducing than hearing “IT’S ON!” while you’re finishing in the bathroom or kitchen, then running back, hurdling the couch to continue the show without missing anything. The worst, though, was when your show was coming on the season finale. For some reason, you missed that episode. Now, you had to wait months to be able to see it and catch up on what you missed.

Not sure what was on TV? You went to the TV Guide channel (there was no guide button that you could control). You’d have to sit there, watching the channels scroll up the screen, one by one, ever so slowly. If you got distracted, though, and missed the channel you wanted, you had to wait, bored to tears, until that channel came back around. It was sheer torture! (want to know how bad it was? Check this out).

7. MUSIC

Not so much songs and artists, but musical media. If you wanted a song without buying the CD or cassette, you had to have a tape ready to record it off the radio, hoping you were listening when it happened to play. More often than not, though, the DJ would talk over the entire instrumental intro. Once in a blue moon, the entire song would play uninterrupted. When portable CD players came out, they were great, that you didn’t have cassette players eat the tape and ruin them. Well, great until the CD got scratched up for any number of reasons, rendering it unplayable. Or, equally as frustrating, you’re out for a jog, listening to your Discman. While running, the CD you’re listening to cuts in and out, skipping constantly😑.

Sometimes, usually on CDs, the cover book would contain the song lyrics (tapes not so much). Occasionally, though, you’d get a CD, wanting to follow along with the song, but there were no lyrics printed. You were stuck singing incorrectly🤬!

8. PICTURES, VIDEO GAMES & COMPUTER STORAGE

I’m kinda bundling these together for brevity. You had a camera to take pictures. Not your phone, a separate contraption for taking pictures. There was no preview. You didn’t know how shitty your pictures came out until you went to Walmart or Fotomat (a little kiosk in mall parking lots) where you dropped film off to get developed, which you picked up an hour to a few days later. And, if there were any incriminating pictures, you had to destroy them and the negative, not just press delete.

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Fotomat kiosk, circa 1980s

When playing on the Nintendo, sometimes the game cartridges got dusty. To resolve the problem, many times, you would take the cartridge and blow on the exposed circuit board to clean them off. Sounds weird today, doesn’t it?

And, when doing a project on the computer, in order to take it with you, youhad to save it on one of those wonderful floppy disks (you know, the save icon looks like one). And they had so much storage! Whereas most computers today have 1-2 terabytes of storage, those 3½” floppy disks could hold a whopping 1.44 MB. Imagine, just under a megabyte and a half; most computers have 500,000 to a million times that capacity now. Hell, just my phone’s memory card holds 200 GB (roughly 200,000 floppies).

9. MAIL

It used to be exciting for a little kid to walk to the mailbox and get the mail that was delivered. And, people actually used to take pen and paper and write a letter, address the envelope, stick a stamp on it (remember the awful taste of the stamp glue?) and place it in the mailbox. And remember the pain when you needed to mail a bill payment (oh, god, paying with a check), but ran out of stamps? By the way, how much is a stamp now? I haven’t actually bought a stamp or mailed anything in quite some time. By the way, stamps are 55¢ now.

10. THE PHONE

There was a time when phones weren’t mobile, or even cordless. You were stuck to your phone by a coily cord. And when it rang, it was like playing Russian roulette. You had no idea who was calling (a nightmare for me—I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize). Equally frightening was planning something with someone. If you decided to back out, and they’d already left the house, you were fucked. You had no way to contact them (I guess that was a good thing at the same time, in that people couldn’t get in touch with you 24/7 at anyplace). If you needed a phone number, you either had to go searching in the phone book—that book of white and yellow pages to find a business or person’s phone number (and you hoped they weren’t unlisted), or you had to call information, later called directory assistance. You know, 411, or [area code] 555-1212. Those wanting to buy plane tickets actually had to find a phone number and talk to someone. Thank heaven today we have online reservations!


My goodness, that was long! My posts average about 1000-1200 words; this one will end up at close to 1900. I guess I get long-winded sometimes!

That wraps up another week. Be thankful for the conveniences of technology we have today, and that some things from the “good old days” we forever banished to the past. In some ways, the good old days weren’t so good! Until next week here in cyberspace, be safe and be well.

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