“Houston, we have a problem.”
My daughter shot me a dirty look before going back to her staring contest with the hourglass icon on her phone. She’d been staring at it unblinkingly for the last forty-five minutes, as if she could will the stupid phone to connect with the internet. But that wasn’t going to happen. The news said that the system would be down for several more hours. Every service provider was affected: Bell, Verizon, T Mobile… Apparently, the entire city of Philadelphia was down. People were ‘working on it’ furiously, but not fast enough for my little girl.
“Maybe if you did something else for a while, little one. What if we went to the pool or the library? Maybe they would have the problem fixed by the time we finished.” I was playing to her ego, of course. Swimming and reading were two of the thirteen-year-old’s favorite pastimes right now.
"Mom, what was life like before the Internet?" she asked quietly. I stared at her, speechless for a moment. How in the world did she expect me to answer such a big question? Technology had infiltrated every aspect of our lives since I was a kid. And I was old enough to remember the transition. Maybe that's why I wasn't in a panic like my child. I was old enough to remember a world where the world wide web didn't control every aspect of our lives.
"That's… That's kind of a big question, honey. Wouldn't you rather-"
"I asked because I want to know," she interrupted me. "It's not like we don't have time right now. Come on, Mom. Don't you want to talk about the good old days?" She smirked at me, the light of challenge in her eyes. The little hellion knew how much I worked not to compare the present to the past.
While I was trying to decide what to tell her, my daughter got comfortable on the couch. Fine. What could it hurt to dive back into yesteryear for a little while? It would distract the girl for a little while and give her something to think on that didn't involve this latest technological breakdown. "Well, for one thing, we didn't have little pocket-sized computers in our pockets. If we wanted information, we had to go to the library to get it. We hung out with our friends in the street instead of in cafes or internet lounges-"
"What's an internet lounge?" The girl asked curiously. Feeling old, I tried to think of something to distract her from my flub.
"We didn't take selfies very often. It was a special occasion when we broke out the cameras. Heck, sometimes we went months between pictures. Developing film cost money and took time."
"Developing film? What's that got to do with selfies?" I smirked, knowing that she was still trying to grasp this world I was painting for her through the eyes of the 'real world' that she lived in. Time to burst that bubble.
"Honey, if you wanted to take a picture back in the day, you had to go and grab a camera, load it with real film, snap the picture, use up the roll, send the film off to be developed, and wait for it to come back. There was no instant gratification, no pressing a button and immediately seeing results. Back then we had patience, because nothing happened right away. We weren't allowed to sit in front of the computer or TV all day. We had to go outside and experience the real world for a few hours a day. If I wanted to hang out with my friends, I went to their house and asked, or called them on the phone on the wall or in the living room. It was the house phone and it didn't leave the house at all. It dialed numbers and that was it; there were no such thing as apps back then. Nobody demanded reviews and there were no 'likes' back then. If you didn't like the restaurant you were eating at, you asked to speak to the manager and told them face to face; none of this one-star nonsense behind their back."
My daughter's eyes were the size of saucers as I warmed to my subject. "If you wanted to read a book, you went to the library or the bookstore - there was no digital database to rely on. Imagine sitting in the library for hours, photocopying articles for a research project that you had to read through just to make sure that they were on topic. The same went for books and journals. You earned your marks back then. You also had real homework that you had to do every day to earn that grade. You dragged your books home and back to school daily, usually on the bus."
The girl giggled as she digested all of this. "What if you broke up with the boy in the pictures or stopped being friends with the girls in them?"
"Then you had bittersweet memories of those people. Life didn't come fast back then. I'm not saying that we didn't sometimes change friends like changing socks, but… It was harder to do back in the day. You treasured your friends. If they were important to you enough to take pictures of, you sure as heck didn't let them go lightly. Things weren't that convenient when I was growing up. Things took time and that time meant something, you understand?"
"Yeah, Mom. I think I do." The girl nodded gravely as she thought about what I'd said. "I think I'd like to go swimming now. Maybe Sandra will be there and we can talk."
"That sounds like a plan, sweetie," I said neutrally, mindful of her growing independence. The two had a terrible fight two weeks ago. I wasn't privy to all the details of course, but from what I heard, the two had a lot to apologize for.
"You should get your swimsuit too, Mom. You don't work today." I blinked in surprise. Usually she relegated me to the pick up/drop off position, lest I embarrass her. I went and gathered my stuff for the pool, meeting her at the front door so she could hopefully get to her friend.
The pool was heated and crowded. We were one of the last two to get in. I felt a stab of sympathy for the cashier when he cast a longing look at his non-functional terminal.
"Wendy!" a familiar voice called for my daughter. The girls hugged as if they hadn’t been around each other for a year, talking a mile a minute about this unbelievable turn of events. I made my way to the hot tub with a smile on my face, convinced that the two would be thick as thieves again in short order. Reminded me of me and my best friend Heather. Good to know that some things never change.