As a Gen-Xer, I feel the need to respond to Devon Razey’s thoughtful, sassy treatise, “5 questions from Millennials to the Olds: How did you even technology?” While I’m not an Old (i.e., I’m not one of the Baby Boomers who actually ruined our economy), I’m firmly stuck between young and old. My generation is basically collateral damage — an afterthought, really — in the struggle between the Boomers and the Millenials. We’re the people binge-watching 70s variety shows and Nirvana videos on YouTube, softly crying to ourselves as the world passes us by. We’re generational flotsam. Ah, but we’ll always have the 90s, when it seemed like the world would finally be ours before the rug was pulled out from underneath us.
Fret not for me and mine, though. We like flying under the radar. It comes naturally to us. But while we absorb the crossfire in the BB-M battle, we actually have some useful info for Devon and her pals. Here are my responses to Devon’s five questions.
1. How did you know the names and artists of songs if you didn’t buy the CD?
Well, there was the waiting (and waiting) (and waiting) for the radio DJ to come on the air to tell you what the heck you’d been listening to. This was annoying enough with commercial radio, but I listened to a lot of college radio back in the 80s and 90s — WPRB, in particular, where I later became a DJ, because brag — and the waiting was the hardest part. College DJs would sometimes go a half-hour or more without saying a damn thing. I was obsessed with indie rock (still am) and I based many of my CD/LP buying decisions on what I heard on that single, lonely, wonderful FM radio station. So I drove around with a notebook in my glove compartment and wrote down the artists and names of songs I liked when they were (finally) announced. I discovered lots of great bands by doing this. I don’t know what I’d have done without that freaking Steno pad.
In a pinch, sometimes I even called the radio station to ask the DJ what was playing. Usually from my home. But sometimes from a filthy, scuzzy pay phone, which I used to touch with my mouth and ears because I DIDN’T KNOW ANY BETTER! This was back before indoor plumbing, of course, so you can understand.
The original Pandora/iTunes/Spotify/whatever was the mixtape, which was considered a very thoughtful gift from a person who truly gave a damn about you. These required quite a bit of care and time, because you couldn’t just drag and drop a bunch of songs into a playlist. You had to manually press record (and stop) on a cassette deck, and then switch your LP/CD/tape to put another song from another album onto your mix. This took hours. For reals. And then the recipient had to hope that the person who put together the mix was diligent in writing the artists and song names on the little card packaging that came with the blank cassette, or else you would have to track that person down and ask what the heck that awesome song was 26 minutes into Side B.
I still have all my mixtapes. They’re very sentimental objects for me, filled with memories of friends and more-than-friends from my youth. Sniff.
2. If you were meeting a friend in a public place, how did you find each other when you got there?
This required a preliminary phone call or telegraph in which the two (or three, or seven, or 14) principals would plot the meeting down to the minutest detail. “I will meet you and Tom at 3:47 underneath the fifth tree from the corner of Parking Lot C. If I do not see you there, Jim will be hiding behind the trash bin at the corner of 11th and Pattison at precisely 4:36. Bring your flare gun just in case.” If someone missed the meetup, they were basically screwed. Your only remaining option: If you had a mutual friend or parents, you could call them and ask if the person you were supposed to meet up with called them. And then that third party would relay messages back and forth. Again, this also involved a FILTHY DISGUSTING PAY PHONE.
3. How did you learn about something you were curious about?
Well, there was the encyclopedia, which was a bunch of volumes of thick, heavy books that would be out of date as soon as you opened them, and were written by white males who would, for example, describe Native Americans as “noble savages.” There was the library, which had even older versions of the encyclopedia and old magazines that were on a special kind of film that you had to put into a ridiculously-difficult-to-use machine to view. There were also teachers and old people, who had varying degrees of wisdom and ignorance that you had to filter all of their “facts” and opinions through.
So basically, you were on your own. You were the truth-seeker, and your tools were extremely limited. Wikipedia, for all its warts, totally rules.
4. How did you all spend your spare time before Netflix?
There was reading, and playing music, and going to the movies or rock shows, and playing sports, and playing primitive video games, and playing board games, and going on long drives on cheap gas, and daydreaming, and pining over people you loved (or thought you loved), and visiting your grandparents, and six or seven TV channels that, if you were lucky, were playing old Bugs Bunny cartoons. You also had the luxury of actually being bored, which in turn often led to great ideas and art. It was pretty cool, actually.
5. How did you handle getting lost on the road?
Well, yes, indeed, we did keep maps and atlases in our cars. I had one that was on the floor of my car for years. For long trips, my dad would go to AAA and get a “TripTik,” which was a spiral-bound bunch of rectangular pages that each contained different portions of a larger map. The AAA agent would actually use a highlighter to show your route. There was also lots of useless information about local attractions and such.
If you didn’t have paper maps, you could pull into a gas station or convenience store and ask the clerk, who shockingly often didn’t know where the heck your destination was. Failing that, you could pull over and ask a random person on the street. Or you could call your destination using a FILTHY PAYPHONE.
So yeah, it was relatively primitive compared to now. But it was still better than living in the 1800s. I wouldn’t have traded my youth for anything.
Now get off my non-existent lawn.