Before the Internet

I was born in 1978 and I’m a member of the last generation to know what the world was like before the Internet. If you’re older than me, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re younger than me, you’ve probably already stopped paying attention.

One of my favorite words is retronym.

A retronym is a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish it from the meaning that has emerged through progress or technological development

For example, “acoustic guitar” — a guitar was just a guitar until the electric guitar came along. Some other examples include: a cloth diaper, an analogue clock, a manual transmission, a hardcover book, and, of course, offline.

Before we had online, everything was offline, or rather, it was all just life.

Life, it seems to me, used to be more of a straight line and the points you passed lived only in your memory. Over the years, many inventions and technological advances allowed us to capture these moments — from cave painting to the written word to the printing presses to cameras and film.

There was a steady flow of progress, but it seems that over the last 50 years, the rate of capture has accelerated to an unbelievable degree.

I remember the day we got a VCR and rented our first movie, Tootsie, staring the incomparable Dustin Hoffman. I remember when we got an answering machine. I remember recording songs off the radio onto a cassette tape.

Beyond our journals and our family photos, these were some of the first times we could capture something, own it, and replay it at will. Our lives continued to be straight lines, but we now had the ability to backtrack. This put less strain on our memories — they were no longer the sole holders of our past.

With Internet sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook, we begin to see this happening at much more global and interconnected level. There is little we need to retain as a record survives. We can look up things we don’t know, things we don’t remember, and things that have just happened with a speed and efficiency the world has never known.

I remember when all we knew of world’s past existed only in encyclopedias and history books. Literature and art were our greatest clues to cultures past. And our lives — the things we’d seen and heard, the thoughts we’d had, and our conversations — these things lived in our memories and it seemed at the time, that that was enough.


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