“What was life like before the internet?” or “How did you survive without the internet?” No doubt you may have had this discussion with a grandchild or some random Generation X know-it-all.
So seeing as we are getting close to the 30th anniversary of the start of widespread use of the internet in Australia, I thought I’d put down some of the key talking points to help you guide their illumination.
Let’s cast our memories back to the before time.
Updating your computer’s operating system now requires a simple click to agree to the upgrade when you are notified, or you can set your computer to automatically update.
Back then, updates were sent by mail, and you had to painstakingly insert up to thirty floppy disks one by one, hoping that you were focused enough to put them in the right order.
Later on, we moved to the sophistication of CD-ROMs which proved a little friendlier to the overburdened postman.
Paying bills such as power and phone bills back then was a good form of exercise, as you jogged to the post office or bank to stand in a queue with your bill in hand. Some bills, like council rates, were only payable at particular offices, so you were able to increase your daily exercise steps even more.
How you paid bills was usually a choice between cash or a cheque. Cheques were essentially a paper IOU agreement between you and your bank. You would write an amount on the cheque and use it to pay your bill. This was based on the assumption that you had enough money in your bank to cover that amount.
Unless you were really chummy with your bank, they got quite cranky with you if you didn’t have enough money and would ‘bounce’ the check and send it back to the person or company you gave it to. Then it was their turn to get cranky with you.
There was no internet-powered EFTPOS console to beep at you as you swiped your card. You would hand over a piece of plastic to the shop assistant, who’d place it carefully in a device that looked like a K-tel veggie slicer before adding a carbon copy Bankcard slip, and then using all their strength, they would drag the slider from one side to the other.
They then phoned a special number for credit card approval while you waited uncomfortably, hoping your card wouldn’t be declined. While this was happening, a growing queue of disgruntled cash-paying customers built up behind you.
Back then, buying your first car involved scouring the Saturday paper motoring section for something you could afford, followed by the tyre-kicking exercise of traipsing around car dealers looking for your dream car.
Dealers would write their best quote on a card, and off you’d go again to the next car yard while trying to keep all the car specs and features in your head so you could do some kind of comparison. Soon you realised that the dream car was a little beyond your bank balance, and a meeting with the bank manager the following week was going to be a necessity.
If you were lucky, your bank manager was the non-scary type who didn’t make you feel like the favour of offering you a loan was akin to them giving you a kidney.
With the internet, it’s now possible to research your car, purchase it, and organise the finance and delivery of your new car without leaving your keyboard.
In the before time there were two ways to order take-away and really only one way to get it. The most straightforward way to order it was to just turn up at your fish and chip shop, order your food, and then wait for it to be cooked.
The second, less common way was to phone them up to order and then drive to the shop to pick up your order. Home deliveries of any kind of takeaway were quite rare, with pizza deliveries being one of the first in the late 70s.
For pre-internet clothes shopping, a trip to the shops was essential. Husbands got to stand around racks of dresses and unmentionables outside the waiting room while their spouse tried on half the shop stock.
However, today’s online clothing buying frenzy has come at the practical cost of not actually being able to try on real clothes via the Internet. It might look good on a screen, but the reality of our wanted or unwanted body curves and bumps doesn’t always match the digital display.
Ironically, some online clothing retailers are setting up physical booths at some locations so you can go into the store to try on your internet-selected clothes prior to purchasing them.
Today, thanks to real estate apps, online maps, and even online council planning details, we can click and swipe our way to find all manner of information about a potential real estate purchase. House hunting in the before time was a challenge.
The real estate section in the Saturday newspaper or the weekly real estate magazine were good starting points, followed up with stalking the displayed photos and descriptions in the local real estate window.
The other option was to drive around your chosen suburb, looking for houses that had a dozen or so for sale signs planted on the front lawn.
Open houses were rarer then, so you usually ended up doing a magical mystery tour with an agent as they drove you around to see any listing they had that suited your needs and, of course, your budget.
Beyond finding your dream home, you were inevitably faced with another visit to the bank manager to arrange a loan you could pay off for the next twenty-five years. Once again dressed up to the nines with a list of your meagre assets as newlyweds, you’d front the financial grilling.
Luckily, you had that earlier personal loan experience for your first car to get you psyched up for the meeting. Now with the internet, the whole process, including the scary bank manager meeting, can be conducted from your couch in your undies if that’s your thing.
Lately, I’ve been using an internet app to find the cheapest petrol. It tells me exactly where the best price is and whether it’s trending up or down.
In pre-internet days, you relied on those big price signs outside the petrol station to guide you. As your petrol gauge started dipping towards empty, you would scan the price signs of the numerous stations you passed, hoping that the next one would be cheaper. There were two possibilities here.
Either you gave up the search and accepted the next offer you saw, in which case after you’d filled your tank and continued your journey, you’d find that the next petrol station you came to inevitably had cheaper petrol, or you made a brave mental note of prices on the way with the intention of filling up on your return trip only to find that in the intervening time, the price had gone up.
There was also the possibility of being stranded on the side of the road with an empty tank.
Thanks to internet access, we are saturated with instant news and weather updates. In the before time how and what we knew about the news was scheduled by the morning newspaper, radio bulletins, and the 6:00 TV news. If you missed any of these time slots, you had to rely on your neighbour or coworker to catch you up.
The morning paper was a bit hit-and-miss as far as being up-to-date, as it was printed many hours before you got hold of it. The papers used to have a ‘Stop Press’ section on the front or back page where a brief summary of a late-breaking story could be added at the last minute of printing, but these disappeared about 30 years ago.
There was a recorded dial-up phone service, but this was restricted to a brief headline summary and depended on how long you could hang around the phone booth waiting for Fred to finish his call to his Aunt Flossie.
Our mail has become email. Paper mail involved writing or typing your news, finding an envelope and stamp, and trotting off to the post box before the mail pickup. If it was local, you might get a reply within a week.
Overseas mail usually meant a trip to the post office to get extra stamps and one of those ‘Par Avon’ airmail stickers. The turnaround on this mail could be weeks or months, depending on the destination.
Of course, you could resort to an international phone call (ISD) to get your overseas relatives up to speed on your family news, but this was expensive and usually only reserved for Christmas, deaths, births, and weddings. Email travels near the speed of light, which is convenient.
However, unlike paper letters that you can mull over indefinitely before you send them; instantaneous emails may contain impulsive thoughts that you may later regret.
Personally, I’m pretty okay that I’m not still living in the pre-internet time. Is there any part of the before time you miss?