When mo­bile meant how far a coiled cord stretched

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UP FRONT -

YES­TER­DAY my eight-year-old daugh­ter asked me when she could get a mo­bile phone. I told her when she started high school. When she com­plained, I re­minded her that I was 25 when I got my first mo­bile phone. “Why so old?” she asked me. “Be­cause that’s when mo­biles be­came avail­able,” I told her. “We didn’t have mo­biles when I was grow­ing up”. “Gee, Mum,” she said. “You must be re­ally old.” Then she looked con­cerned. “How did you ar­range play dates with­out send­ing text mes­sages?” she asked. Sigh. It’s hard to de­scribe the tech-free world we grew up in to the dig­i­tal na­tives of to­day.

It’s got me think­ing about what it was like in the 1970s, and ‘80s when there was no in­ter­net, no mo­bile phones, and no Google.

Back then, cof­fee was in­stant, ra­dio JJJ was just JJ, and 19C bus tick­ets had cute say­ings on the back of them.

Pop stars kept their clothes on, all you wanted for Christ­mas was a Com­modore 64, and mak­ing a cas­sette mix­tape for some­one meant you roolly, roolly loved them.

The big­gest is­sues of to­day hadn’t been thought of yet – like cli­mate change, asy­lum seek­ers and how to get kids off Minecraft. And we didn’t have play dates, we just played. When I was grow­ing up, most houses had only one phone that was at­tached to the wall in the liv­ing room or kitchen.

Moth­ers would lis­ten in on con­ver­sa­tions, of­ten of­fer­ing un­wanted ro­man­tic ad­vice.

A friend, Nat, re­mem­bers her sib­lings lis­ten­ing in on all of her phone calls with boys. They’d play theme mu­sic in the back­ground ac­cord­ing to how things were go­ing: “An­other one bites the dust” or “I love you to death”.

In the liv­ing room there was one TV, and that one TV usu­ally only had four chan­nels: 2, 7, 9, 10. This meant we were forced to watch what was on – whether it was Play School, Cop Shop or the Pot Black Snooker Fi­nals. It’s a con­cept that’s to­tally for­eign to kids to­day used to TV on de­mand and 24-hour car­toons.

As I ex­plained to my daugh­ter, with­out phones we used to have to ar­range meet­ings much more care­fully be­cause we couldn’t con­tact people once we had left home. If some­one was run­ning late, it was tough luck.

These days, ev­ery meet­ing seems to need a min­i­mum of two phone calls, four text mes­sages and a Face­book sta­tus up­date. And half the time we still can’t get it to­gether, send­ing texts like: “Gonna b late. Soz”

And we’re now very con­cerned about people tex­ting or talk­ing while they’re driv­ing, but back then, we drove around with one eye on the Fullers or Gre­gory’s street di­rec­tory open on our laps.

Look­ing back, this seems way more dan­ger­ous, par­tic­u­larly when we had to make the leap from map 21 to map 27b while driv­ing at night around Devil’s El­bow.

With­out mo­biles, we used pay phones to con­tact our par­ents and friends, and used to find in­ven­tive ways to get out of pay­ing 20c for the call. We’d let it ring twice and then hang up to let our mums know when to pick us up from the bus stop.

With­out Minecraft, Wii, Xboxes and ca­ble TV, we read more books.

These days, kids of­ten only read books when there’s a movie tie-in to make it cool enough to bother turn­ing pages rather than swip­ing a screen.

We got bored. We got sun­burnt. We made up silly games with our sib­lings to pass the time, like hav­ing com­pe­ti­tions over who could eat a packet of chips the slow­est. We took pho­tos with cam­eras rather than iPhones. I know this seems ridicu­lous to kids like my five-year-old son – who can take 250 pho­tos of his knees in five sec­onds – but back then we had to stop when we ran out of film.

And there was no screen on the back show­ing you how the pic­ture looked. You had to hope for the best and wait to have them de­vel­oped. Such de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion is un­known to kids to­day.

Back then, our fa­thers and moth­ers were our Google search en­gines, our lo­cal li­braries were our in­ter­net, and ra­dio sta­tions were our iTunes.

And the kids we roamed the streets with were bet­ter com­pany than any mo­bile phone. Blog with Susie at Susieo­brien.com.au or fol­low her on Twit­ter @susieob

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