Remembering a time without the internet - Stand up to be counted if you lived the life.

“A day without internet, a reminder of times past.”

8 mins read

H ave you any clue what if felt like being the last generation to remember a time when there was absolutely no internet. I bet thinking about those times now would appear almost inconceivable. 

Please allow me give you a sneak peak. How do you get on when you carry your smart phone about without data to access the internet? You are probably better off with a toy than carrying that plastic piece of junk. Just think about it.

Without the internet right now you will feel so disconnected from everyone. You probably won’t even be reading this piece without internet. The internet service providers would fleece consumers off every kobo just to provide access to the internet freeway because of this.

You can’t view the facebook feeds, no status update, no instagram videos, no twitter not to mention whatsapp for basic chats and all the other social media apps.

Can you imagine going through life without the internet? Without a smartphone? How then did those ’80s and ’90s folks manage?

How would any one live, let alone study when there was no internet to research important subjects and topics? No Google Scholar, no Wikipedia, no emails? Goodness me!

How did lovers meet up in the evenings by the way? Just asking.

How did people really do things? Life must have been so damn difficult. 

Luckily, I’m old enough to remember the simpler life quite well. I had the rare privilege of being in my late teens when I opened my first email address. Months after creating a password (which was basically my birth date) and an email address that was so difficult to pronounce because it was alphanumeric, I could only check my inbox with the guidance of an attendant at the cyber cafe. And this was not because one couldn’t use the mouse.They just won’t even allow you so much access to the computer.

For a picture perfect impression of the cyber cafe decades ago; imagine a huge monitor sitting squarely on a desk with some metal contraption built around it to prevent theft with an accompanying keyboard (basically same as today except that its in cream color) typically attached to the table and immovable.

Don’t be fooled: technology may have made doing things simpler, but it hasn’t simplified our lives. No, now we work longer and harder because we can. We sleep less because we go to bed with our laptops and tablets and smartphones. Back in those days, we went to bed with a book, paper that needed a light to read. 

I recollect the travails as a young lover in the university when there was no smartphone.I would have to wait around the porter’s lodge at the entrance to the female hostel after 10pm (visitors were not allowed into the female hostel after 10pm) pacing and waiting for any lady to walk by and then accost her pleading that she should pass on a message (an encrypted message) to my girlfriend. 

Well of course, many of the ladies walking towards the hostel at that time of the night would shun my overtures and ignore my passionate pleas or catcalls. But that would not deter me. I would press on until someone would agree and offer to pass on the message. 

Sometimes this could easily take 30mins or perhaps even longer. That was how much effort it took to get your girlfriend to come spend the night at your place!

Now, these days, one text message and pronto she is right at your doorstep. This has replaced the love notes where we would scribble our best handwritings and profess love in the most poetic and romantic way. Letters and post offices were a pea in a pod. 

Our weekly itinerary would include a visit to the post office. Our parents had post office boxes with unique numbers where bank statement and shares certificates were often delivered.

I recollect vividly after church service every Sunday, armed with the key to our post office box, I would race expectantly to the post office just so I can pick up a mail. The same mail that would be waiting and prompting you on your smart phones these days.

We had telephones in those years, by the way. They were basically desktop phones. Rotary dial phones in huge boxes sitting pretty as part of the house furniture. These phones were later replaced with push button phones that looked even more stylish. The ring tones of these phones can be heard a mile out. We even had a hack for dialing out even when the rotary phones were locked with small padlocks to prevent us running up telephone bills.

Those days when the internet was non-existent, we had to be very disciplined. When you agreed to meet with someone someplace at a certain time, it was important that you arrived just in time. And even if you didn’t, the other person would have very little choices. Either he waits it out or simply move on to other businesses. 

If that was right now, the other person’s phone would be buzzing till the batteries go off.

Communication was basically via letters and post notes with picturesque views of world cities and monuments from developed countries. Letters often carried the perfume and charming handwriting of the sender. It was important to have a smooth and pretty writing style. Signatures were therefore quite creative and stylish.


How about learning?

Even a 12 year old doing a school project today has more access to some of human knowledge at their fingertips than a university professor did in 1990. 

I am more than convinced that those of us who remember life without the internet are perhaps some of the most privileged human beings in history to have lived through such a transformative era of human development. 

We had to use the library, it was our only gateway to the information highway. We read books like our lives depended on it. All sorts of books. From magazine, romantic Mills & Boons to James Hadley Chase, to the Pacesetters book series and all sort of science fiction books and for those particularly intrigued by the findings on space exploration like me, I was a regular at the library.

Reading books was a culture ingrained in every person learning those years. We saved books, signed on the front pages, had them wrapped up in disused calendars or new papers so they could last forever. We had loads of boxes for storing items dear to us. Books, gifts, love notes and even poems.

Newspapers were our surest source of news. They were delivered oven fresh in the mornings and our daily routine included waiting at the newspaper stand to read the headlines. We read news stories that were a whole day old. Stale news stories was fresh news!

In the years when we didn’t have smartphones to keep us busy, we had to wait till 4pm for the television stations in Nigeria to start broadcasting. We would have to wait till 4pm while watching helplessly the pre-transmission color codes until it switched to a noisy rendition of the national anthem. Anybody with me on this?

And we literally knew the program schedule for each day of the week. We knew the cartoons and TV afternoon lessons came up first. The moment the early evening news starts at 7pm, it was time to get off the TV. 3hours of screen ogling only!

We listened a lot to radio stations to bridge the idle times. That generation did quite a lot of listening!

Diverse and strong opinions were often passed across from the radio programs. We all listened to the same sort of songs. When you had a chance to chat up a friend, there was a big chance that you both listened to the same song on the same radio station at the exact same time. So folks from those times practically dance to similar beats.

Announcement of a military coup d’etat can first be confirmed only on radio. News of any kind starts off from the radio.

How did we manage? That is one question I keep asking myself, especially because I can not imagine life without the internet right now. It feels as though I had to live through the cave times. 

One thing stands out clearly those times, we interacted a lot as social beings. It was an important part of our lifestyle. We enjoyed the company of others. Going for parties was basically to meet new people. We liked people genuinely for the content of their personality. 

Nostalgia! That is what this piece elicits. Please forgive my impudence.

For one moment, I couldn’t help but wonder how we survived without the internet. 

But now I know that we were more of a social being, spending quality time with ourselves. That same time now well and truly replaced with the smartphone!

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