Life before I-Phones: Growing up amongst Real Books and Rats Tails

I’m a classic X-Genner, an eighties child, a technology immigrant.

Whatever you want to call me, I come from a generation who DID NOT grow up with a phone an I-gadget or even (and I understand this takes a moment to process) the internet.

Did we grow up cloistered around open fires clothed in bear-fur gnawing at chicken bones? No. But we didn’t have smart-phones and that makes us  the cave-man equivalent.

Was life growing up in the eighties a barren Max-Max scene of cultural desolation or was it something altogether more joyful, uninhibited and free?

I took some time to think about ‘Life before my I-Phone’ and came up with 5 ways my life was different.

1. I listened to birds in the morning

Before I had an I-phone I woke up, chatted to my sisters and listened to the birds. As a ‘tween’ in the eighties I lived in a wing of our family home with my two sisters. We would wake up in our little ‘apartment’, coordinate our outfits for the school day and have a little chat. All of this would be softly accompanied by a wild-bird soundtrack.

I remember feeling as though I was present in that space. It was just about toast, about my sisters, about the birds.


Now I have an I-phone. So before my right leg has found the carpet I have turned off my I-tunes synced alarm, checked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, my Blog stats, Hotmail and the News.

It is not gentle bird-call that wakes me but the phosphorescent glow of my devices, one after the other in a cacophony of Electronic twitter.

2. I used to read maps

Before I had an I-phone I used maps. Big ones. Ones that folded out onto the table with weather-worn lines of crinkly ancient knowledge. They smelt good. They smelt like time. They smelt like spilt coffee and long car trips and libraries.


Now I get to choose the accent that will deliver me, in conversational tones, to my destination. I may glance at the digital version of aforementioned map to determine where the satellite registered petrol station or speed camera is but my job is done as soon as I turn little Tom-Tom on.

I imagine, in the not too distant future that if I took my hands off the wheel the car may even do it for me.

3. I used to use the Lonely Planet

There used to be a time in the travelling world when every hostel, beach chair and train seat held a human with a Lonely Planet. You all ended up at the same cheap bar and ate tapas at the same Spanish restaurant. It was a badge of honour. It weighed a ton.

Sometimes, if you were travelling for a REALLY long time and you knew your luggage had to drop a kilo you would leave your shoes rather than abandon your Lonely Planet.

Every time you crested a new town in whatever form of public transport you’d chosen, you read the small blurb that introduced said town in a mock little ‘documentarian’ accent. It was fun. It was universal.


Now there’s an app for that.

4. I used to pass notes

If you wished to communicate with someone back in the day, and ‘back in the day’ I was a teenager, it was one of two ways.

That is all. Two.

Phone call or letter.

Or, if you were in class you would pass notes (letter’s little sister). Yes take a moment to swallow and absorb. Not. Even. Email.

My friends and I would write long elaborate letters to each other. We wrote letters to relatives, to pen pals (yes pen pals) and to movie star fan clubs. And when we weren’t writing letters, we were writing notes in class.

It was a shame-inducing moment when the teacher confiscated said note and read out your pathetic little request to ‘go-with’ another equally shamed member of your Earth Science class to the assembled crowd of gum chewing and excessively hair sprayed teens.

Then when you got home from a long day idolising your Drama teacher and ‘scabbing’ enough change for a Chico roll, you called your friends. On the family phone. These calls were only as private as the cord was long. For me they were ‘living room’ conversations. Whole family. Living room. Phone call. The day we got a cordless was a BIG DEAL.


Now I text, Face Time, or, when I am particularly dedicated to being ‘Auntie of the Year’, I download software that locks into my facial features and converts them to a dinosaur or whatever other nebulous hero my nephews idolise at the time and Skype them in character, always realising two minutes in, that as a dinosaur, I don’t have much to say.

Now I take phone calls anywhere and everywhere. I remember hiking with my best friend through the highlands of Scotland seemingly in complete isolation, when the shrill of my phone cut through the still mountain air. I almost peed myself.

Now there simply isn’t a moment of the day or night when my best friend, the one I used to have those long living room chats with, couldn’t track me down in my car, while running, in the bath, overseas or at work from her new location in the Arctic Circle (she married a moose hunter) and chat about whatever is most pressing.

5. I used to keep thoughts in my head

I believe it was called daydreaming.

It was a time when one stared out through rain-soaked windows and dreamt of witty retorts that you’d wished you’d had the speed and cleverness to have actually used when needed. When you dreamt of long romantic sequences with whoever was your ‘dreamboat’ crush at the time. When your brain was flooded with clever internal dialogue; a commentary of life. And other than the safe confines of your pad-locked diary or a particularly intense ‘let’s all reveal how we FEEL’ sleepover, they stayed inside your head.


Well now they don’t. Now they’re in this blog and on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. And they are all deftly dispatched with frequency and speed on my little phone. Ahh my phone.

Now I ‘edit’ my thoughts. I still daydream that’s true, but I find myself determining if they are Facebook worthy, or a possible gem that I could turn into a post on this here blog. Thoughts are no longer in my head. Thoughts are OUT THERE. And people can comment on my thoughts. Not just the couple of people in my immediate vicinity but people in faraway snowy and dusty places. Places where they speak funny and wear double denim.

Rats tails were in fashion in the eighties.

Really. A shaved head and a long little ratty tangle of hair spurting from the napes of young boys heads. So was it a better time? Was it?

I would definitely agree that I need to de-clutter my electronic life. My day would be considerably more Zen if I were less ‘on’ to the outside world and more available to the people in my immediate circle. I also think that I need more ‘bed and a book’ days and less days when I check Facebook as often as my heart beats.

But would I rather live in the eighties again? No. I love having a nice lady tell me how to get my little I-tunes synced car to a party. As a writer it’s incredible to have a global platform for the thoughts in my head and knowing that I can call my best friend while she’s skidooing through the snow to her cabin in the Canadian wilderness is a rather delightful thought.

Yes the eighties were fun and free and full of hairspray. But just like rats tails… some things belong in the past.

One Comment on “Life before I-Phones: Growing up amongst Real Books and Rats Tails

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