What We Did Before Computers, Part 1

Writing a letter

We Boomers have proven to one of the most adaptive of generations, haven’t we? For instance, my eldest brother, who can remember baking powder submarines and Howdy Doody, just succeeded in installing Ubuntu on two different laptop computers. And he’s not NEARLY as geeky as I am. Even though the Linux users among us are still in the minority, most Baby Boomers have a personal computer in the house that they use for everything from writing letters to running businesses.

So it makes you wonder, what the heck did we do before we became enslaved to the smart boxes that now live in our homes?

Well, we used to write letters. On paper. Or maybe we didn’t.

My eldest brother left home when I was five years old. His career as an air force pilot, later as a FedEx flyer, put him all over the world. I may have written three letters to him in my entire life. Yet, we email daily, sometimes several times a day.

I’m not sure why emailing is so stinking much easier than writing a letter. But it’s not unusual for me, between my job and being home, to write 20 or 30 emails a day. I guess it’s because a letter requires lots of commitment. First, you have to find paper, an envelope, and a stamp. Then, you have to FILL UP that piece of paper. Imagine sending someone a letter that simply said “ROTFLMAO!!!!!” Nope, a letter is definitely a more scholarly project.

World Book encyclopedias

Another thing we parents and grandparents would be doing if we didn’t have computers would be buying sets of encyclopedias. I have to do lots of research for many of my columns, and Wikipedia is my favorite source of information. But when we were younger, research involved learning how to use the library’s Dewey Decimal System. Or it involved our parents’ shelling out of hundreds of dollars for the latest Encyclopedia Britannica.

And of course, the information would quickly begin to show its age as governmental regimes toppled, natural disasters occurred, and records were broken.

And I’m reasonably sure about one factoid: I’ll bet you don’t watch as much television as you did when you were younger.

When I was 25 years old, I bought my first VCR. WGN was showing Hill Street Blues every night at 10:30, and I would record them all and watch them in a Saturday marathon. EVERY WEEKEND. Where did I find the time?

Today, in the world of DVR’s, television is much more easily recorded than ever. But I don’t watch as much as I did then. Instead, I spend lots of time staring at my computer monitor.

Now, to be honest, I’m not usually playing. I manage a handful of websites, provide editorial content for a few more, and generally stay busy working. But many more of you use the computer for entertainment, whether surfing the net or playing games. And the television isn’t being watched as much by the average Boomer, seeing how that PC needs attention.

Tomorrow, more on what we did before computers.

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