The ups and downs of life before the internet

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  • Oh how things have changed over the last decade, thanks to the internet!

    Everything we need (and a lot of things we probably don’t) is now right at our fingertips, 24 hours a day – but for those of us old enough to remember, it was a very different story not so long ago.

    Here are 11 things we remember from the dark days before the beginning of life online…

    Yellow Pages and phone books

    There were no mobile phones to keep our contact lists ever updated, so a forage through the trusty Yellow Pages was a regular necessity – for everything from ordering takeaways to the occasional prank-call to teachers (naughty children, us?) However, one thing you didn’t need to rifle for was friend’s numbers – there were fallings-out over the numbers you may or may not have memorised, as this was a clear signifier of the value placed on a friendship!

    Encyclopedias and dictionaries

    Without the Internet, confirming that something you had written was a) correctly spelt and b) actually true was not an easy process. For the spelling, you would have to flick (more like wade) through endless dictionaries, and for the fact-finding, you’d use an encyclopedia the size of a small country (or, if you were part of a more modern family, an Encarta CD). These behemoth books were basically wannabe-Googles in paper form – other uses included door-stopping and cracking walnuts…


    The excited buzz of browsing the Amazon or ASOS website could be found in the pre-Internet days in the form of that laminated book of dreams, the Argos catalogue. These glossy wonders had a surprisingly extensive selection of everything from children’s toys to chainsaws. The lack of customer reviews and use of only marketing-chosen pictures almost invariably meant that you would end up slightly disappointed with your purchase, but the thrill of using the catalogue to select it was more than enough to make the overall experience a positive one!

    Finding your way around

    Without the likes of Google maps and CityMapper, getting anywhere unfamiliar was a total impossibility for anyone without a commando-style sense of direction. On foot, you would be forced to ask complete strangers for directions on a regular basis, which was embarrassing enough, but it was even worst in the car. We have fond memories of watching one family member wrestle with an unwieldy, A1-size map, whilst the other drove hopelessly in circles and prayed for the nightmare to end.


    Image: imgkid

    In these dark times, there was no iTunes, and music had to be bought in physical form, often as a *shudder* cassette or, for the more technologically advanced amongst us, a CD – to be played on devices that refused to fit in even the largest of pockets. Anyone growing up pre-download will also remember trying desperately to hide the ‘parental advisory: explicit lyrics’ sticker on the latest chart-topping CD so that your meddling parent wouldn’t refuse to buy it for you (we never got away with it though…)


    Before Netflix, there was Blockbuster. This actual physical shop allowed you to peruse all of the latest titles, and be disappointed when the cashier informed you with a yawn that the every video in the selection you’d just spent an hour carefully picking out was already rented out, including all 25 copies of the latest new release. Then, once you made it home with your uninspired 11th choice, you’d more often than not put the VHS tape in, only to find to your dismay that the last person had not rewound. Getting a DVD player marginally improved the experience, but then there were the scratches…

    Playing with other humans

    Yes that’s right – playing games with other human beings would have to be done with them in the same actual, physical space as you, not through a games console! This was fun, required use of the imagination and probably helped in developing as a functioning member of society in some way, but was also fraught with annoying problems. For example, when you had had enough, you might be forced to keep playing, rather than just switching off! You could get some virtual games, but…

    The original flash-style games

    Image: The Student Room

    … they were actually found offline, in the form of the classics on the Sky boxes of olde. Anyone of a certain age will remember firing flowers and bombs as part of the almighty ‘Beehive Bedlam’, as well as other, less memorable titles. These were actually a lot of fun until Sky discovered paywalls, way ahead of their time – then it was back to the Gameboy Classic.

    Booking holidays

    Image: Wikipedia

    If you’re not old enough to remember the good old days of Teletext holidays, you’re both blessed and cursed simultaneously! Yes, booking online is faster, easier, more convienient and offers far more options, but there was a certain charm to the excitement of browsing those black and white Courier print pages. Right?

    And even when the internet DID arrive…

    Sub-par searches

    Just as we were getting to grips with the net, there was that weird period where the search engines battled it out for relevance, and none of them totally got it right. Regardless of whether you chose AskJeeves or Yahoo, you always had that horrible creeping feeling that they might be letting all of the best results fall through the cracks, rather than actually helping you – not like good old Google nowadays!

    Dial-up connections and retro websitesImage: The Raffon

    If you could get the rest of the family off the phone long enough to actually get online, you’d eventually reach a sort of half-baked beta-version of the sites we have today. The pinging connection, the wait for it to load, and the dodgy pop-up appearance – we miss loads of pre-internet stuff, but we can’t say we’re nostalgic for the sites of yore!

    What do you miss most about pre-internet life? Leave us a comment and let us know!