Barely 10 years ago, you could still rent movies. What other rituals and activities have disappeared because of technology? How has it changed things?
If I ever have children, or nieces and nephews, I’ll be able to recall the days when phones were attached to walls, when we couldn’t access the sum total of human knowledge anytime, anywhere, when “texting” meant passing notes between desks and risking being caught.
I was thinking recently of all the things we used to do before the internet, before ubiquitous home computers, before smartphones. Here are some of the rituals and activities that come to mind. Do you remember any of them?
1. Checking the answering machine
Open the door. Take off your shoes. Walk in your living room. Oh! There’s a blinking light on the answering machine. Someone left a message! Who is it? Your mom, or that guy you gave your number to at the bar last week?
Is is a sweet note or an ordinary message? The excitement of rewinding the tape and playing the message has been killed by the instantaneity of the voicemail. I remember the click-click of the machine finding the right spot in the tape. No such click-click in my voicemail anymore…
2. Cutting coupons
Every Saturday morning we would receive the “Oeil Régional”, the local newspaper, in a bag filled with flyers from groceries, pharmacies and department stores. My mother would parse the flyers and cut coupons from a lot of them, making sure she was getting the best deal on whatever we needed that week. I would sometimes sit with her and a pair of scissors, and she’d tell me which ones to cut. It was a special time.
Even though printed flyers still exist, most people do their couponing online and transfer them to their phones. No paper, no mess, just a few barcodes to scan. I can check the week’s flyer on my computer or tablet anytime of the week. No need to wait for the newspaper. Although I’m glad it saves quite a few trees, it still makes me nostalgic of the time spent sitting with my mom and talking about menu planning.
3. Renting movies
My best friend used to work at the movie rental place. Sometimes I would drive there, sit with her all evening until the end of her shift at midnight, and we’d watch movies on the store’s screens and chat away and have fun being smart, beautiful 18-year-olds.
Renting movies was a beautiful ritual, something for Fridays and Saturdays when your mom or your date would say “let’s rent a movie!” and you’d head out and argue about what you wanted to watch. A comedy or an action film? Something old or something new? And sometimes there would be no copies left of the latest release, and you’d have to settle for something else.
There are no more movie rental places. It’s a dead business, thanks to Netflix and streaming technology. But it’s a ritual that I will always cherish, because it was one of my favourite things to do. Renting a movie–something our children will never know.
4. Watching the weather network
First, who has cable anymore? But more to the point, unless you were watching a morning show or the evening news and waiting for the weather forecast, you would usually watch The Weather Network to know what you would have to wear that day or the day after.
Nowadays, you can just head to their website or use an app to instantly know what temperature and weather it is outside, exactly where you are (not just the biggest city nearby). The times of waiting a few minutes to hear the local forecast are gone.
5. Writing letters
People who write letters are now considered a bit weird, some kind of luddites who are attached to times that are way, way past. And yet, I remember the pen pal program at my local school, where we would be matched with someone in Europe or South America learning French, and we would exchange letters and get to know each other, slowly, month by month.
I remember hearing of lifelong friendships that begun that way, of trips across strange lands accompanied by your loyal pen pal. It never happened to me, but the magic of letter writing is still something that I think of longingly, the way a person’s handwriting would tell you more about their state of mind than the words on the page.
These are some of the rituals and things that we used to do that have now more or less disappeared, thanks to technology. Are these things you’re nostalgic for, or glad that you don’t have to do it anymore? What other rituals in your life have changed or disappeared because of the internet and smartphones? Let me know in the comments!