Seeing a movie once, and only once, forever
Before the mass adoption of video home systems (VHS) in the early 1980s, the only place you’d see a movie was in the theatre, and the only time you’d see it was at the time of its release. Sure, you could go back to the theatre during the two weeks it was playing, and see it again and again. If the movie was unusually popular, it might be held over for as long as a month. Eventually the screening would end, and the movie would disappear into a black hole with no plan or expectation of a re-release. There was no option of renting or streaming. And since sequels (and prequels) have become commonplace only in the last couple of decades, chances are there would be no revisiting of the story, ever. You’d move on to the next movie, and your recollections would be the only thing you’d have.
Sitting in front of the TV for hours on end
Sure, you’ve wasted countless hours on the Internet. That’s not the same however as the universal family convention, from the 1950s onward, of gathering for eight hours a night around a television. And here’s why. Up until about twenty years ago, everybody (and I mean everyone) watched the same thing at the same time. The next day, at school or the office, people would talk about it. Popular TV shows provided a common language, a tribal identity, a set of allusions and touchstones and shared experiences. There were three major television networks. You got maybe a half dozen channels. So it was possible to be on top of everything that was going on at any given time in the popular culture.
Before smart phones and GPS, getting lost was taken for granted. It was a part of the process. You’d pull over and ask someone for directions. Maybe you had one of those fold-up maps they sell in the gas stations, or maybe you wrote some crappy directions on a scrap of paper. It wouldn’t matter: you would get lost. If there was no one on the street, you’d find a pay phone. Eventually, after making every possible wrong turn, you’d find your destination. But since your world was filled with unknown and unmapped places, every journey into a new neighbourhood was like going into the woods.
Running out of cash
No, I’m not talking about being broke. We’ve all experienced that. I’m talking about the world before ATMs and debit and credit cards. It worked like this. On Friday you’d go to the bank teller and withdraw the cash you needed to get you through the weekend. Without cash, you’d be unable to do anything, so having enough of it until the banks opened again on Monday was critical. In a pinch, the local grocer would probably give you store credit. Otherwise, you’d be screwed.
Knowing nothing about people outside your circle of friends
Before Google and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, it was impossible to find out things about people you didn’t know. Sure, you could ask a friend if she knows so-and-so. But unless you lived in a small town, where everyone knew everyone else, you wouldn’t get far with this method. And that raises another amazing issue. Before social media, the only people you’d come into contact with would be in your immediate area. Everyone else would be a total stranger. Just like the world before GPS was full of urban jungles, the world before social media was filled with human wilderness.
You email, and you SMS like crazy. No one in history has texted like you Millennials. But the thought of writing correspondence on paper and putting it into a stamped envelope, which you then have to post, is weird. You don’t write letters, you message. It hasn’t been days or weeks since the last missive: it’s been a minute, and you’re wondering why your friend still hasn’t responded.
Getting your news from a news place
You don’t read newspapers. You don’t watch “the news.” You keep up-to-date by reading the feeds of friends and by watching satirical videos on Comedy Central. You have no connection to out-dated ideas like journalism and “respectable news outlets.” News isn’t even a thing.
Rarity, obscurity, uniqueness
You can get anything from anywhere. Go online and you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. FedEx will have it on your doorstep the next day. Stuff from the other side of the planet is as accessible to you as the corner store. There’s no point in hauling that “one-of-a-kind” hand-made Eritrean sculpture back to your New York flat. Someone is selling them on Etsy. There are probably four just like it in your neighbourhood Ten Thousand Villages.
Getting your entertainment on a schedule
It’s hard to believe, but people used to arrange their lives around what time their favourite programs were on. Someone else decided what you were going to watch, and at what time you were going to watch it. Your job was to be there when things happened, and to passively take it in. Content was something over which you had no control. So there was a sense of urgency. Entertainment was an event. If you weren’t there when the program aired, there was no making up for it later. Miss out on the thing everyone would be talking about for years to come, and you’d forever be an outcast.
Waiting for photos
It’s crazy that a picture on your phone can be hacked and stolen by a stranger from across the world. Crazy, but also true. Millennials don’t think about privacy: for them, there’s no such thing. There’s also no such thing as snapping a photo, taking it to the developer, and waiting three days to see how it turned out. Few things have changed like the humble photo.
Having your mind blown by crappy special effects
Millennials have never had their minds blown by the crappy third-rate special effects of movies from the 1920s to the advent of digital technology. We’ve gotten so good at CGI that we’re blasé. We expect things to get faster and slicker and more sophisticated. It’s not that big a deal when a breakthrough comes along, because breakthrough has become the job description. Show a Millennial a 20-D printer that can make a functioning human liver out of silicone pellets, and they’ll say “That’s awesome”— which is what they say about a new craft beer or the latest Drake song.
Cheap concert tickets
What does blow the minds of Millennials is when you tell them that you saw the Rolling Stones in the 1970s for five dollars. Now a ticket to a concert will cost you three figures. Even a bar show can cost $60 or more. On the other hand, Millennials can have all of their music for free, if they choose. They’ve never stood in line to buy an LP on its release date. Two months before a record is even officially out, you can download a pirated copy. The irony is that these insane concert prices were introduced by the same bands—like the Rolling Stones—who made a fortune from vinyl.
And not only is vinyl still with us, it’s one thing that Millennials can, and do, enjoy with the old-timers.
Follow @waynekspear on Twitter and check out my latest book.