Had lunch with a buddy of mine last week. At least in body, if not in spirit. What I mean is, we ate burgers seated at the same table for 40 minutes. He spent most of that time checking his iPhone, firing off texts, tweets and Facebook comments.
“Been too long, man,” he told me out in the parking lot. “Really good to catch up.”
Uh, sure. I felt as special as any of his 567 Facebook friends, but more so for having witnessed live his “creating social media content” to “connect with his audience.” To think this privilege only cost me 21 bucks, plus tip.
Driving away, I was overcome with a powerful nostalgia for Life Before Digital – before we all began to live out loud, with nothing too secret to share and no moment deemed unworthy of documentation with a selfie or 10. What do I miss?
I miss hanging out. You remember hanging out, right? We used to actually talk to each other, spend time together, plop on the couch and tell stories, or share a cold Budweiser and a half hour’s worth of the week’s events. No one took a call. No one posted “this great #cheeseburger pic” to Instagram. The point of hanging out was to hang out, not to let everyone else not hanging out know, “Hey, look at us, we’re hanging out.”
I miss knowing phone numbers and addresses by heart. Used to be, I had 5,000 numbers in my head, along with a mental map of every side street in Maricopa County. Now? It’s all in my phone. Provided I can find my damn phone.
I miss bookstores. You could spend hours in Borders or an indie shop, flipping the pages on a new hardcover novel, or browsing last week’s Sunday newspapers from cities half the nation distant. Bookstores smelled like books and coffee, and occasionally you caught the eye of an attractive member of the opposite sex and shared a smile. Bookstores are mostly gone now. Because books and newspapers are gone now. Which bums me out because …
I miss paper bag book covers. My mother was a wizard at turning brown paper grocery bags from ShopRite into customized, Scotch-taped protection for every elementary school textbook in my knapsack. Now? Kids have laptops encased in $300 Tumi backpacks. Textbooks are gone. Hell, paper bags have been an endangered species since 2003.
I miss when people believed that it was impolite to discuss politics and religion. No one asked for whom you voted – rude! – any more than they asked your weight or salary. Now? Politics is all anyone talks about, unless they’re talking about how much money they earn, or how they’re trying to lose weight by going Paleo, eating vegan, avoiding gluten or killing it at CrossFit.
I miss waiting to have pictures developed. I miss the trip to the Fotomat hut and the ceremonial tearing open of a cardboard envelope full of prints and negatives. It would be 12, 24, 36 shots, precious images of a sandlot baseball game played with wooden bats and a frayed hardball, or that summer afternoon your family shared Happy Meals in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline.
We used to really see each other then, in a crystal-clear focus that felt slower and yet more real. Days and nights were the same length as today, but they meant more, though they contained less – fewer posts, fewer images, fewer boasts. Not email. Real mail, actual letters. We had fewer “shares” then, yet so much more sharing.
Those days would’ve made a great Facebook post. Thank God that wasn’t an option.
– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.