‘Oh I don’t know how people managed without the internet!’ Here is what this actually means

Seeing pre-internet days with rose-coloured glasses is untruthful and unhelpful. I suspect it means something completely different.

It actually means: I don’t know how people spent so much time making up their own fun.

In some cases – chiefly with work, super-long-distance-communication, and access to information – the internet has been an absolutely brilliant invention. But that’s often not what people refer to when they wonder what people did without the internet.

If you are my age, you may struggle recall what filled your days pre-internet.

I remember

  • lying on my bed and being completely, raptly absorbed in music
  • reading books for hours – inside, outside, while eating, while everyone else watched TV, even while working (yep, smartphone style)
  • spending loads of time outside: Walking, riding, watching the clouds, doing things around the house
  • cooking
  • drawing
  • writing
  • thinking.

And while I was only a young’un and in my first jobs, I still remember the world of work without the internet.

Remember any of these? :

  • applying for jobs by post?
  • applying for jobs in person, or by phone?
  • using a cash register?
  • using a stock ledger and a cash register?
  • dealing with other people in your business by phone (instead of email)?
  • getting cash in an envelope for your pay?

There sure are some things that are easier, particularly in terms of sharing information (emails, shared platforms, shared files, etc). But many people who gasp about not going how people functioned pre-internet are actually imagining a world without computers.

It’s not the same thing.

Not having a smartphone wasn’t a big deal. We still had phones. We just happened to be more organised. We were where we said we’d be, when we said we would – because we couldn’t get out of things at the last second. We had to be better at Life, actually: Know how much money you had, pre-arrange things, do things ahead of time.

The things I love about the internet are really around the information side of things. Who doesn’t love being able to read blogs? Access news sites across the world? Search for literally anything and find the information?

Like, wow. My mind is still blown, on a daily basis, by what I can learn if I wanted to. There is nothing that isn’t online, somewhere.

I suspect that the rose-coloured glasses aren’t about the time pre-internet, but instead the time pre-social-media. It’s a time of not feeling this intense pressure to be doing something… even if you don’t know what that thing is.

Being largely absent from social media has recalled to me what it’s like to have time to dream, and think, and write, and study, and focus. This is chiefly the reason why my blogs – all of them – have exploded with content in the past month.

Instead of consuming content, I am creating it.

Instead of being a passive walker-in-the-world, I’m re-engaging with it.

And it manifests in the tiniest ways. Instead of scrolling through a feed while waiting for something to cool, I’ll do the dishes or read a book. Or, gasp, have a conversation.

That’s how I got to thinking about how we spent our time when we weren’t connected all the time. Or when we only had 20 minutes to use the internet a day, because it was way too expensive otherwise, and tied up the phone.

The most exciting thing for me of late is that I’ve begun reigniting the ability to store little things for my writing practise: Noticing sounds, colours, actions, behaviours of animals, people and objects. You can’t create powerful works about the world unless you know how it works; and you can’t know how it works unless you’re in it, 100%.

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