Every so often my children ask, “What was life like in the old days, Dad?” They’re talking about that time in history when I was alive but they did not yet exist. As I am now advanced in years, the early 1990s are usually as far back as I can remember. It was a dark, dark time when we struggled through life without the Internet, iPods and stuffed crust pizza.
Maybe I’m getting nostalgic in my old age but despite the inconvenience of having to walk across the room to answer the phone, I cherish those pre-technological years with an ever-increasing fondness. When I tell my children that, in certain ways, life was better in those days, they stare at me incredulously.
It’s like I’m a pre-Neanderthal and we’re all sitting around the fire on a frosty Metazoic era night and I’m rambling on about how great life was in the dark ages.
“Oh, yes,” I grunt. “I sure do miss those good ol’ days before Gronk discovered fire. Well sure, we were always freezing our asses off, and breaking our incisors on the extra rare mastodon meat, and we couldn’t see a damn thing after sundown . . . but life was so much better back then.”
Poor Dad. When will he get with the program? How could life possibly be better without the Internet?
And so for the 500th time I tell them the Richard Scarry story, and watch them roll their eyes. Indulge me, my children, one more time.
As a child I spent countless hours reading a book entitled Busy, Busy World. Filled with delightful illustrations by Richard Scarry, it contained stories about the experiences of various anthropomorphic animals around the globe. Some time in my teenage years I misplaced or tossed my cherished book. I remembered it again as a young adult, and yearned to find a copy.
In the first years of our marriage my wife and I lived in a small town in western Pennsylvania, where we had fire and electricity but no Internet and bad cable. As avid readers, we enjoyed frequenting independent bookstores in towns large and small, where I spent countless hours searching the shelves for a copy of Busy, Busy World. (For those born after 2000— bookstores were stores where people sold and purchased books.)
Richard Scarry’s masterpiece had become for me a lost memento of my childhood, my own mythic Rosebud. It took several years and visits to dozens of stores before I finally came upon a tattered copy of my cherished book, which, of course, I promptly bought.
Now if I wanted a copy of Busy, Busy World in 2012, I would Google it, point and click, type in a credit card number and wait a few days for the book to be delivered to my door. With little time and effort, I could accomplish a task that two decades ago took me two and a half years and numerous inquiries to finally achieve.
And so my children don’t understand why I miss life in the years before the Internet. I try to explain to them that I miss the adventure of the quest. Poring over the shelves of bookstores, blowing the dust off old books, turning the corner, perusing more shelves, in hopes of finding my elusive treasure. And finally, the thrill I felt when after hours and hours of searching, I found it.
The problem with the Internet is that it makes everything too easy and renders many of my most cherished memories obsolete.
Another example. I love to reminisce about all the nights I used to spend with my college buddies, downing beer and arguing about sports trivia. I’d usually get things started. “Remember 1965? I’m sure Tony Oliva was the American League MVP that year.”
“No, you jackass, it was Zoilo Versalles,” my friend Kip would say.
Brad would chime in, “Yeah, Oliva for sure.”
“You’re all wrong!” Nick would shout. “It had to be Harmon Killebrew.”
We’d all argue our points, rattling on for hours, knowing that the matter would not be resolved because none of us had immediate access to a sports almanac. Before the evening was finished we vowed we’d look up the answer the next day. But a few more beers and by the next morning, we couldn’t remember what we’d been arguing about.
I got together with those same college buddies a few months ago. For old times sake, I tried to start one of our cherished sports trivia arguments. “Hey, didn’t Larry Csonka score 3 touchdowns in Super Bowl 8?”
Kip took the bait, “No, you jackass, that was Super Bowl 9.”
Before I could take a second sip of my beer, Brad and Nick pulled out their Blackberrys. “Super Bowl 8. Two touchdowns for Csonka,” said Brad, quicker on the draw than his counterpart.
End of argument. It didn’t leave much to talk about. We spent the rest of the evening checking out Nick’s latest apps and watching cute kitten videos on YouTube.
Now I’ll admit that if we had the Internet back in college we wouldn’t have wasted all those hours with our silly arguments. Let’s face it—our days on this earth are numbered and every second wasted is time we’ll never get back. If we had the Internet back then we could have resolved our arguments promptly and then used that extra time to do something more fulfilling with our college years– like playing World of Warcraft or surfing the web for porn.
Yes, dear children, that was sarcasm.
Please, don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet almost as much as you do. But sometimes you need to indulge your old man. I’m just asking you not to snicker when I wax nostalgic about life before Facebook and MP4s. Hey kids, stop rolling your eyes.