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20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old

20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old

A 20-something blogger posted an interesting and fun post, “20 Questions I have for people who were in their 20s before cell phones and the internet.” I’m forty, and I got my first email address in college. I could only access it through the computers in one of the two computer labs on campus. My little Apple iie was not equipped for the internet or useful for much at all, actually.

20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old
If you think this is bad, check out the floppy disk. Floppy disks were these — never mind.

In my senior year, I got a PC in my apartment and an AOL account. I got my first cell phone with my first job. And get this: It only made phone calls, but it did have voicemail! (Seriously, we considered that a plus.)

Anyway, I found the questions fun and her commentary entertaining and insightful. I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but here are my answers to her questions.

1. How did you make plans? In person or by phone. Did people get stood up? Not frequently, because you had to plan for contingencies. Yes, we all had that one friend who was constantly late or a no-show, but they didn’t stay a friend — or at least an invited friend — for long.

2. How did you CANCEL plans? See above. Yes, things went wrong, but it was 20 years ago not the dark ages. If you couldn’t cancel before your friend got to said event, you could always call the venue and page her. Unless for some reason the venue was a big field in the middle of nowhere, in which case I’m thinking getting stood up is the least of your worries.

3. How did you know who was calling you before you picked up the phone? Yes, we lived on the edge. Like the pioneers of old who knew not what was over the next hill or from where their next meal would come, we bravely picked up phones without prior knowledge. AND the phone was more often than not tethered to the wall. Sometimes you didn’t want other people in the room to know who you were talking to. We were good at playing it cool.

4. How did you rid of the fear that is calling people? Like jumping off the high dive, it got easier with practice. Personally, I worked at the family business as a teenager. Part of my job was calling businesses (and individuals) who were late on their payments or had sent bad checks. It killed that fear pretty quick. “Pay up, buster! I need some new ripped and faded jeans!” (Everything old is new again.)

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5. How did you find out information about people before you went on dates with them? I didn’t date complete strangers. I dated people in my circle, or at least tangential to my circle, and people talked. Gossip, the original Google.

6. How did you find people to date in the first place??? This baffles me. Do you not interact with people? Class, work, church, coffee shop, the park, the bookstore, etc. Are all 20 somethings really just sitting in solitude surfing the web all day and night? How very sad. Go join something! Also, people were very into setting you up with their friend/brother/cousin/random dude they met on the bus.

7. How did you keep tabs on exes? See the answer to number 5: people talked/gossip. Even if you didn’t want to know, somebody somewhere thought you should. Of course, this happens now, just digitally. No matter what the technology, people are still just people.

8. How did you keep tabs on what your entire graduating class from high school was doing? I kinda wish I’d never opened this particular can of worms. Ignorance is bliss.

9. How did you look for jobs? Back in the day, we had these weird publications that came out daily called, “newspapers.” They had a section of advertisements labeled “Help Wanted.” Sometimes we had to cold-call a business if we wanted a job there. But I got my first real job the old fashioned way: I knew someone who knew of an internship, and I wheedled my way in. That internship got renewed, and then got me a job interview at the organization. Networking is still your best bet.

10. How did your parents get in touch with you when you were out? I think parenting in that day in age was probably one big anxiety attack. But even as a kid, I knew my parents had special abilities to tell what I’d been up to just by looking at me. Also: parents talk, too. The human race is just a bunch of old (and young) gossips.

11. How did your survive waiting for meetings, appointments, trains, or anything without being able to pass time by pretending to look busy on your phone? Well, there were books and magazines and these huge, clunky monstrosities called Walkmans. But sometimes, and I know you won’t believe this, we talked to strangers. Crazy, I know. I can barely believe it, and I lived it.

20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old
We were soooo cool. You wish you were this cool.


12. How did you do ANYTHING at work before email? I know it’s hard to believe, but once upon a time phones were used to transmit voices. We could call someone if we needed something from them, and they would write that down on a piece of paper with a pen. And when all else failed, you could walk down the hall with a pen and notepad and have an impromptu meeting with your co-worker. And you would put copies of documents and memos in your co-workers (physical) mailbox. There was so much paper. And you had to keep everything, so there were rooms and rooms of filing cabinets. To paraphrase Satre, hell is piles and piles of paper.

13. How did you tell co-workers (or someone else you were meeting) that you were going to be late when you were stuck in traffic or stuck on some disabled subway car? I have to wonder how often you’re late that this is a reoccurring question. I’m not trying to judge, but perhaps you need better time management skills. Can I point you toward a Day Planner?

20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old

14. How did you sign up for classes at the gym? What’s this gym you speak of?

15. How did you know where you were or where you were going ever? Maps are magical, and, frankly, the advent of GPS has stolen that magic from our lives. (Also, you could stop and ask a local for directions, but the directions would always be wrong. It made life interesting!)

20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old
Isn’t this so much better than Google maps?


16. What did you have to do if you broke down on the side of the road? I worked in DC and lived in Northern Virginia, and every time I had a problem with my car, people stopped to help me. Yes, even in heartless DC. People are kinder and more quick to help than we think.

17. How did you always have change on you to use these pay phones? Yep. Planning for a night out included making sure you had emergency cash and change for the phone. That’s a habit that has served me well throughout life.

18. How did you research anything for school? Did you have to go through the Encyclopedia? Let me introduce you to my little friend, the card catalog. You could look up books by title, author, or subject. For periodicals (that’s a magazine or newspaper), you’d use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Copies were 10 cents each and had to be done by hand, so you’d better be danged sure you needed those 50 pages before you committed. Holy cow. How did we survive?

20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old


19. How did you find out about the weather? Oh my gosh. Let me tell you. We had to either watch the news people or listen to the radio blather on and on and on about all sorts of irritating and useless crap and THEN wait for the commercial for the two-minute weather segment. And God forbid you miss it because you’d have to wait another half hour. Seriously, it was awful. There was, of course, the option of going outside and checking for ourselves, but that’s just crazy talk.

20. How did you stay in touch with friends? Your friends were, by necessity, those people you interacted with daily: your classmates, co-workers, or people at church or in the same clubs and activities. You talked when you saw each other, but you had to call and talk with your good friends. It was time-consuming, so it was a smaller pool but deeper, I think.

Those are my answers. It really drives home the trade-offs new technologies bring, neither all bad nor all good. I wonder what 20 somethings will be asking Samantha in 20 years. How would you answer these questions? Who had it better, 20 somethings now or 20 somethings 20+ years ago?

7 responses to “20 Answers from a 40-Year-Old”

  1. Dana Avatar

    OK, so I got my first gps for Christmas. She’s kinda cool. Except there are things she doesn’t know. Like where my house is. I live in the middle of some greenish no man’s land and she eventually gives up telling me to go back to the neighbor’s horse pasture where she thinks I live.

    Also, there’s a spot in Omaha where she swears I magically leave the road and end up on the roof of this skyscraper and then leap two streets ahead of myself.

    She’s almost as much fun as asking the locals for directions who talk about turning at landmarks that no longer exist anywhere but their memories and refer to the property as belonging to people long since dead. And if you are in a public place, this always leads to a spirited discussion of who lived where when and just what year it was that the grain elevator you’re supposed to turn at burned down.

    1. April Avatar

      I get a kick out of frustrating my GPS. And we’ve installed a voice called “Dr. Nightmare” who’s always encouraging us to pick up hitchhikers and referencing the noises coming from the trunk.

      One of the many joys of small towns are the stories that go with everything.

  2. Cindy Watson Avatar
    Cindy Watson

    Love the comment about GPS. Mine has similar eccentrics. All my kids had to learn how to read a map. I know the older three can, not sure about the youngest.
    That being said, dating…there is something different now, whether people aren’t willing to set you up or what, no clue. But I go to church, involved in theatre and work and yup..nada. I am thinking of joining an on-line dating service. It is just very different now.

    1. April Avatar

      Isn’t that weird? More connected, yet less involved in each other’s lives. Years ago, I read a book about Abigail Adams and her sisters. It talked about how the local “news network” kept Abigail Jr. from an imprudent marriage in Boston, but when they moved to England, they didn’t have the same connections. Abigail Jr. ended up marrying a loser who abandoned the family. (Or died of alcoholism? I can’t remember.) Of course, those “news networks” aren’t always perfect and can tend toward ungodly Gossip more than wise advice. But still, I think Aunt Susie saying “That boy is bad news, I know his history” is more helpful than a Google search.

      1. Cindy Watson Avatar
        Cindy Watson

        I need an Aunt Susie!!

  3. […] Relevant to my recent post on life pre-internet. […]

  4. […] 2013, I have posted something on my blog every day.  From lengthy rants, to regular features, to weirdness, to place fillers, I’ve followed Jerry Seinfeld’s advice on writing: Don’t break […]

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