Did you have a penpal when you were a kid? I did, her name was Christina, and she lived in California, which I thought was OH SO COOL. I ended up having her as a penpal because her best friend had put her address in the back of one of those “Teen Beat” magazines, and had gotten so many letters that she split the hundreds of envelopes between a group of her best friends. Turned out lucky for all, no one can keep up with hundreds of penpals in 5th grade, and Christina and I wrote back and forth for a least a couple + years.
I’ve always been a fan of letters. Before the time of email (and I lived and existed for years without it, even after it was invented), snail mail was often a primary form of correspondence for me. There was even a time period where I didn’t have a phone, and the only way to get up with me was literally a letter, or sticking a note in my front door. Somehow or another, shit got done, people met up places, and plans were made.
Can you even imagine planning a cross country trip totally on nothing but snail mail, hand written directions, and a paper map? Imagine doing all of that with no cell phone? I did it, Freshman year of college. It wasn’t a thing, hardly anyone had a cell phone, and your regular phone charged long distance (ack!). People simply made plans months and weeks in advance, and then actually did them. When you said you were “leaving on May 20th”, and the trip was 25 hours long, ending in a pay phone on the edge of town, then you damn sure better have done just that, or be prepared to hang out somewhere for a while.
Remember when directions to a rave were “then drive until you’re like ‘where the fuck are we?’ When you see all of the cars, you’re there”. I found parties on literally a road name and almost less than that. How we did it? We just did. There was no other choice. This was how things were done.
I probably wouldn’t do it now. Shit, I freak out when my GPS takes me that wonky way back from Topsail Island in a way that wouldn’t have phased me 25 years ago. If I felt like I was out in the boonies, I would have simply pulled over, pulled out my map, and figured that shit out, but when was the last time you saw a paper map? It’s been a minute.
Whenever I find myself in a situation where technology has failed me, I try to take a moment not to panic, and remember that I was a driving, working, functioning human back before any of this stuff existed. I try to ground myself in that. I used to read a newspaper daily. I drove around with no computer generated map. I left notes for people at their houses, and people left notes for me. I wrote letters to my friends when I had no phone or computer (much less internet), and somehow, I still went to some college during that time, I still worked, and I still lived, day to day.
I almost feel sorry for people who didn’t have that experience. Not in a mean way, in a resiliency way. For example, I had no pockets yesterday, and took my dog on a long walk around the neighborhood. I felt very on edge by not having my phone. “What if something bad happens?” I had to keep telling myself that I once, over 20 years ago, had a dog, and no phone at all EVEN in my house, and I used to walk him around our neighborhood daily. What do people who have never had that life experience console themselves with? What happens when they get lost and their phone has died? What do they use to calm their nerves and help themselves think? I’m sure they don’t say “Well, what would I have done in 1997?” Hell, many weren’t even alive then. It’s my grounding place. I just switch gears and pretend that I’m 16-22 years old again, and put myself in that technology time period problem solving space.
I’ve been thinking about this because we’ve been watching “The Loop”, and it’s a mix between the “Twilight Zone”, and “Stranger Things”. It’s set in what is obviously the 80’s, as far as daily technology is concerned (most problems that occur would have been instantly solved by a smart phone), but in other ways, for example, there are robots just wandering around the woods. There are hover craft tractors that the farmers use. It’s an AMAZING show, and I highly recommend it for a binge watch, but it is as if in an alternate reality, some technology advanced further than other forms as we know it today. We damn sure don’t have robots wandering around the woods autonomously, or hovercraft tractors, but we have tiny hand computers. These folks have landlines, record players, and cassette tapes, but can alter the time/space continuum.
Science Fiction writers never truly predicted the internet or social media as we know it today. They also overestimated the desire to have a giant, live-streaming wall-sized video “phone” (we all know that no one wants to take all of their calls that way). They seemed to think that we would want robots that mimicked the look of humans, when we’ve found that it’s actually the opposite- humans are pretty uncomfortable with robots that look “human” and prefer that they either be “cute” or look basically functional (think about the roomba, I like to think that someone 50 years ago would have envisioned it more as a little person with a little vacuum cleaner, or more like Rosie from the Jetsons). What people predicted, the online world has far exceeded. I will go out on a limb and say this; if you ever get the chance to talk landline to landline again, do it, it is the clearest, most amazing sound that you will experience- we really took it for granted. The sound on our cellphones has not nearly the clarity of that old technology, you can literally hear someone swallow between sentences on that thing.
These past few months, I’ve been in love with cards and letters. I send them out periodically. It’s awesome to receive a piece of paper mail that isn’t junk or a bill. If you would like to be in my actual paper address book, written in actual pen, maybe even in *shock* cursive, pm me your address. I’ve got all the time in the world right now, and my cute stationary, cards and sticker collection is truly to die for. I’ve been collecting it since 3rd grade, and the vintage cuteness is obscene. In the past couple of years, all it’s been used for is writing to friends in jail (yeah, I said that), but I can’t put stickers on any of that stuff (against the rules). Send me a PM, and let me shower you in sticker magic. You guys might be all going out and seeing each other after the “city reopens”, but I’m not. I’m staying my happy ass right here unless I need something (they don’t deliver chicken feed, gotta go to Agri-supply). I will happily keep the post office in business and buy cute stamps.