When mobile meant how far a coiled cord stretched
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