Celebrity Gossip: Before the World Wide Web — which turned 30 this week — we wasted (and enjoyed) time in so many other ways

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Celebrity Gossip: Before the World Wide Web — which turned 30 this week — we wasted (and enjoyed) time in so many other ways

Celebrity Gossip:

Have a seat, little children, and let me tell you about a time long ago when life was very strange and hard but also oddly beautiful.

I’m talking about 1989.

No, that’s not when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

It was in that distant time, 30 years ago this week, kids, that a man invented the World Wide Web and changed, well, everything.

Imagine. No Google, no Facebook, no Amazon. No email, no tweeting, no streaming. No Skyping, no Snapchat, no Airbnb. No online trolls.

Imagine a world in which it was possible to travel and know little about what was going on back home. In which it was possible to go many hours without hearing directly from the president. In which you didn’t feel pressure to broadcast your life to the world if only because you had no way to do it.

Such was life before the World Wide Web.

How did we communicate back then? How did we fill our time? Sometimes it’s hard to remember.

We stayed in touch through letters. We wrote them by hand or typed them on typewriters. We put the letters in the mailbox and we waited — days or weeks or months — for a reply.

In the world before the web, we spent a lot of time waiting.

In that slow pre-web world, phones were made for talking and we talked on the phone for hours. We bought long phone cords so we could move around with the part of the phone called a receiver.

We read books, meaning something with paper pages that was obtained at a bookstore or the library.

We ordered nothing online because there was no online. Almost nothing was delivered to our doors, except the phone book and the printed newspaper.

In the evenings in that web-free age, we relied on network TV news shows to learn, in brief, what had happened in the world that day. Then we watched whatever show the networks decided we’d watch, at precisely the time they decided we’d watch it.

Would we have watched that much “Falcon Crest” if there had been a Netflix? Such are the existential questions we ponder, children, when we think of life before the web.

We made reservations for hotels and flights over the phone.

We kept appointments on paper calendars.

We took our photos to a shop to be developed. As I said, we spent a lot of time waiting.

And maps. We learned how to read them, how to fold them. We kept them in the car. We set off on trips knowing we might get lost.

We kept track of people in our address books. We lost track of many. Letters came back marked “No longer at this address.” Distant relations, high school boyfriends, co-workers faded into memory, to be resurrected only decades later by Facebook.

Without Pandora and Spotify and iTunes we listened to music on the radio or the stereo.

In 1989, if we wanted to watch a movie at home, we could — but only if we went to one of those new places called Blockbuster, rented one of those VHS tapes and brought it home to play in the VCR.

We got our celebrity gossip the old-fashioned way, from magazines at the grocery store checkout.

And when we had a weird rash or an ache that wouldn’t quit? We fretted about it, guessed about it, consulted a friend who knew next to nothing. There was no Dr. Google to help us self-diagnose.

I could go on, children, but the web has shortened our attention spans. So let me conclude with this:

We use our time differently than we did 30 years ago. The web has saved us time and sucked it from us.

We spend less time now booking a flight and balancing our checking accounts. We spend far more posting on Facebook, answering emails and arguing on comment boards. We are more engaged with the world and more overwhelmed by it.

Were we less anxious before the web arrived to connect us to everyone and everything all the time? Maybe. Or maybe just differently anxious.

The truth is, we’re still trying to figure out how these 30 years have shaped and reshaped us.

But this much is for sure: Thirty years from now, you’ll think back on this era and try to explain to a new crop of kids that even though 2019 seems primitive to them, it wasn’t so bad.

mschmich@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MarySchmich

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