Thursday, February 3, 2011

Remember Life Before The Internet?

Fifty years ago, when I was born, there were no mandatory car seats to take me home from the hospital. We didn't even have seat belts - my Mom simply held me in her arms.

There were no computers, no email or Facebook to tell all our friends and relatives (and people we didn't even know) the good news.

We had a Brownie box camera so it was impossible to post photos of me when I was just minutes old.

The cell phone was merely a dream (Maxwell Smart was ahead of his time with the shoe phone in 1965). Since the hospital only had a pay phone and we were poor, my parents waited until I came home to call people up. As for the relatives that lived a long distance away, my Mom mailed them a note. Yes snail mail!

I grew up with a rotary-dail phone and a party line. I would spend hours listening in to conversations other people had in our neighbourhood, until my Mom caught me in the act.

We had a whole whack of 8-tracks and I would become totally frustrated when they cut out in the middle of a song, with a big click, to switch to another track before the music continued. There simply had to be better technology than this.

When me and my 12-year-old best friend both got transistor radios for Christmas, we would tune them in to the same station and set them up at opposite ends of the room, cranking up the volume - ahhhh, stereo...

Vinyl was all the rage and I had my share of 45s and 78s, some of which are worth a lot of coin in today's market. 

Different artists used "backmasking" to put messages on their albums that could be heard only when played backwards.

This became a marketing tool used most notably by The Beatles on their White Album, where the phrase "turn me on, dead man," fueled rumors that Paul McCartney was dead. Other artists like Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa also used backmasking to sell millions of records.

Our world seems like the Dinosaur Age compared to the children today, growing up with lap-tops, iPhones and digital cameras.

Yet this is not unlike the stories my grandparents and even my parents told me when I was young.
  • My grandparents and my father were persecuted for their faith in Russia. I heard tales of forged passports, gunshots in the night, brothers and sisters forceably separated, having to leave the country with the clothes on their back, long train rides and then ten days at sea before reaching Canada.
  • My Dad told me what it was like to feel hunger, every day. He and his brothers would shoot deer, rabbits, gophers, anything – just to try to feed a family of 12.
  • My Mom talked about rising at 4 am to milk the cows. One of her younger brothers would always follow her, squeezing one of the cow’s teats to send a jet of warm milk on his oatmeal.

  • During the Depression, my grandfather was one of the first people to drive a "Bennett Buggy." Unable to afford gasoline, he took out the engine of his Model T and hooked the emasculated vehicle to their two horses driving it proudly into downtown Winnepeg. My Mom and the rest of the family were ecstatic when they found out the Winnipeg Free Press published a photo of him and his horse-drawn carriage on the front page. 

  • My Mom yearned to read, write and draw but only got through Grade 6 before she was “needed” at home. I tried to imagine how she must have felt when her whole family gathered around the radio after WWII to listen with horror and disbelief to the atrocities that killed millions of Jews. My grandfather proclaimed Hitler as the anti-Christ and Armageddon near.

Both my parents encouraged my brother and I to go as far as we could with our education. They wanted us to live out the dreams they had to forgo.
My parents sacrificed so much so that we could have all the things they did not.

I feel a debt of gratitude I can never repay, except with a life well-lived. It was what they wanted most.

I now have all the photos from my grandparents and parents, some of them dating back to the late 1800′s, when photography was just beginning.

It is a treasure to have this family history and look back on the time before the computer and Internet; a time of countless family gatherings, fruit-filled perisky and other Mennonite foods cooked by my aunts, simple games we would make up on the spot and stories told over and over again.

What are some of your memories before the computer age?

Check out Lisa's inspiring blog on the same topic but from a different point of view.


  1. Well, what I remember in life before the internet, back when I was a young'n... we walked uphill to school both ways, you know. In blizzards, too. And it was a one-room school house. Sometimes I had the duty of lighting up the coal stove before class started. And some of the boys were mean, and they tied the outhouse doors shut when we went to the bathroom at recess time.

  2. Those mean boys must have kept you tied up in the outhouse quite a bit - cause you're a little stinker!

  3. Ok... you two are hilarious... all we need now is to get Jill to join the fray and it'd be perfect... (Jill?? You out there somewhere?)
    I remember not only before internet... but before COMPUTERS!! (Aghh!! I'm ANCIENT!!) When computers first started coming out everyone was saying that computers were going to steal all the jobs, put lots of people out of work and take over the world... in-other-words, they were just plain EVIL!! And I diligently HATED them with all the passion I could muster!!!
    But before that... I remember when I started working (at 16... so many years ago) and I did the books for an oil and gas company by hand... writing each item in the ‘balance book’ and then balancing the totals manually with a big bulky calculator. (Yes, calculators did exist back then, Heidi ... but they were dinosaurs compared to the ones around now.)
    And even further back... I remember playing hide and seek in the streets until after dark... as well as coloring doodle art pictures… playing with inert dolls …slinkys on staircases…and speaking of LP’s I think we may still have a set of LP’s somewhere of the communications recorded by NASA the first time they sent people into space. My dad and brother were fascinated - initially, at least!!
    But for all my wonderful OLD memories, I think technology is wonderful!! And the internet is the best thing since sliced bread!! And cell phones... ohh... mobility and flexibility at it’s best!!! And… Ahhhhhhh!!!! Help!! ... …evil…computer…isss…takinggggg…overrrrrrrrrrrrrr….. musttttt…nooot…givvvee….innnnn (silence… then evil laugh…)

  4. Love your sense of humor, Joy. I played with slinky's on the stairs too. And I agree, technology is wonderful! I love the many ways we can connect with people and wouldn't want to go back to life without email.

  5. I'm not THAT old...ahem...but we had a party line rotary dial phone at home for YEARS. I don't think my parents were able to get a push button phone and their own line until I was already gone to college in the late 90s. In my teen years my parents were constantly telling me to get off the phone because someone else might need the line. And if I didn't, our neighbour would bang up and down. Ah, good times, good times.

    I worked at a general store in a museum/heritage village for a summer during that time and it too had a rotary tourist couple came in and commented on the antique...the same phone we were still using at home!

    Oh yes, I also remember getting the coveted Apple 2E computers at school! Complete with floppy disks. :) I actually took a class before heading off to J-School on how to use the Internet, which was just taking off. I remember using hotmail for the first time...what a rush. :)