In the year 1986 B.I (Before Internet), my family moved countries. Now I wasn’t exactly aware of the all the logistics involved (considering I was only five years old at the time) but it must have taken months, perhaps years to organise. Research, job applications, moving companies, plane tickets, selling houses, buying houses, finding schools, keeping in touch with family and friends. All done without the internet. Just imagine what that would’ve been like for a minute.
The expensive international calls. The paper work. The fax machines. The physical leg work.
Twenty years later, I was the one moving countries. With the Internet at my fingertips, my entire move was co-ordinated in less than two months; I arrived in my new home with a good orientation of the city thanks to Google Maps, knew what my contacts all looked like thanks to Skype, was aware of the local customs, weather, currency exchange rate and even knew my hotel breakfast menu that morning from all the online research I did. Moving countries using the Internet was uncomplicated, easy and efficient.
In contrast, Life B.I was a world of hand-written letters, postcards, film cameras and telephones that didn’t have buttons or hash signs. To use a computer you had to write ‘code’ and the television had funny looking antennas that made you contort your arms above your head in weird positions in order to get a smooth picture. You kept a notebook of everyone’s phone numbers and home addresses and to look for a plumber you would tediously thumb through the thin, transparent papers of the Yellow Pages.
If you wanted to go on holidays you would traipse down to the local travel agent, flick through the brochures and when you booked something you’d get a plastic travel wallet that contained your plane tickets printed on carbon paper. Then when you got back from holidays, you would bring all your negatives to the local chemist and anxiously wait 3 days to see how your photos turned out.
For entertainment as me and my brothers grew up, we biked around the neighbourhood, watched Back to the Future over and over again on video, swung around the Hills-hoist, climbed trees and went swimming at the local pool.
During school, we’d play bullrush, cricket and handball at lunchtime and passed notes during class – the punishment for getting caught was to dust the blackboard dusters or peel gum off the desks at recess. After school, I would get into trouble for using up the phone line for hours on end as I gossiped with my school mates about what happened at the bus stop that afternoon, or making prank calls to boys we liked.
I was about 14 when I got my first portable music player. A Sony walkman. It was royal blue and I loved the fact that it had ‘auto reverse’ and a little screen that told me the radio station I was listening to. It immediately became the centre of my universe. I would spend hours in my bedroom listening to the radio, waiting for my favourite songs to come on and when they did I would quickly press the record button so that I could forever commit them onto celluloid for later listening pleasure on my beloved walkman. 6 months on and I managed to fill an entire shoebox full of illegally recorded music from the Top 30 countdown shows; the cassette tapes housed in plastic covers that were lovingly decorated by me in love hearts and swirls, listing every single song (in order) on the sleeve. I then started making mix tapes for my friends and boys I liked as a way of sharing all our favourite music together.
I discovered the Internet at 15. My dad brought home a computer one day, and we had 3 hours of dial-up internet access a day. That was it. I hogged every single minute of it. I swiftly ascended (or descended?) into geekdom – my homepage was Yahoo (what else was there, really?), I got an email address (my friends had no idea what that was), taught myself how to build a webpage and code in HTML and somehow found myself wasting time talking to strangers on billboards and online chat. I completely and whole-heartedly devoured the internet and all it had to offer me. Less than 5 years later I started my career that is completely reliant on the internet. And here I am today.
For all its tediousness and what now seems like a complicated and time-consuming era, I look back on Life B.I. and get little pangs of nostalgia. No one cared about tweets or status updates. Keeping in touch was done with pen and paper and phones were just phones. And whilst I like to think that I should really give myself a ‘break’ and totally disconnect, even for just a day, I would probably find it hard to do so. Because while Life B.I was sweet and nostalgic, I couldn’t imagine Life W.I. (without internet).