Staying Connected Before the Digital Age


1980s Epson HX 20 Advert

With instant messaging, mobile phones, and an endless array of instantly accessible social media, it’s easy to forget that not-so-long-ago, interpersonal communication was a wholly different ballgame.  The very nature and manner of how humans interact with each other has completely changed – not in a lifetime, but in the blink of an eye.

I think it’s worth a look back in the rearview mirror, back into the 1980s and earlier, and remind ourselves how communication took place in those paleozoic pre-digital days…

“I Like You. Do You Like Me? Check Yes or No”

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With IM, is it even a thing anymore to pass notes in the classroom?  I suppose somewhere, in some school, a student has actually composed a handwritten note in the past year or so – although this can’t be confirmed.

Alas, the “I like you, do you like me?” notes from a girl across the room, with hearts to dot the “i’s” may be a thing of the past.

Sometimes Not Available (The Horror!)

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As you can guess from the high price of this “phone butler”, a voice messaging system was not a reality back then.  If you needed to reach someone and they were not near a phone – guess what?  You didn’t get a hold of them.  No emails, no voice mail, no text, no nothing – you simply couldn’t leave them a message.  And yet the world still turned.

“Do you copy?”


The desire to expand our communication boundaries seems to be a primal need: from the telegraph to the Pony Express, to smoke signals – we inherently try to avoid the hindrance of long-distance.  In the 1970s, the CB radio became a cultural phenomenon (check out our official guide to CB Slang here) and  the number of Ham radio operators had grown to significant numbers.

Blind Communication


Well before Star Trek, we envisioned a time where we could communicate across great distance and be able to actually see each other.  With Skype, Instagram, video conferencing, and a million other means, we take this once futuristic concept for granted.

Letter Writing – Yes, It Really Existed

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Yes, I know. Letter writing hasn’t gone completely extinct, but it has become a cliché to mourn its absence.  Handwriting letters used to be as common as breathing – just something that humans did for hundreds of years.  One need only watch the first season of Downton Abbey to see how big of a part letter writing played in day to day living.  Now, it has become almost a novelty.

When I’ve actually sat down to write a letter, the pains and cramps that I feel in my hands are an instant reminder that I am way out of the habit of extensive writing by hand.

Speaking With One Another – Not An Urban Legend

people waiting

Look at these people waiting their turn…. not one of them has a mobile phone to look down at.  At some point the inevitable is going to happen – someone is going to start a conversation.

I don’t mean to make it sound as if everyone in the 1970s were holding hands and frantically getting to know one another.  But we’ve all seen the striking images of today featuring crowds all looking down at their glowing devices,  completely unaware that they are among other human beings.

Communication Sometimes Meant Getting OUTSIDE

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In a world with no social networks, if you wanted to exercise your social side, you actually had to go beyond your four walls to the Great Outdoors.  It didn’t mean you had to congregate among the trees and fresh air – it could just mean a bar or local hamburger joint.  Whatever the case, unless you wanted to spend an evening tethered to a phone cord in your kitchen or bedroom, you actually had to physically get mobile and go out into the wide world.

The Digital Escape Route for the Socially Impaired


Let’s face it – the Digital Age has given the socially awkward a means of communication that avoids actual human contact.  This might be a good thing; having a means to communicate that isn’t so horrifically painful has its benefit.  However, it can be a deep well that is all-too-easy to fall into; where once social anxiety might be overcome by necessity, now it can be fostered into a genuine disorder. In a world where actual physical contact can be avoided almost completely, it’s either a nerd’s paradise or long-term downfall.

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