Why it sucked to be a teenager before the Internet

Why it sucked to be a teenager before the Internet


I graduated from St. Agnes High School in May 1993, three months before I had my first e-mail address (xjay@acs.bu.edu). Being a teenager can certainly suck despite the Internet—in fact, for many teenagers, the Internet probably makes adolescence suck even worse—but I feel pretty confident in saying that my adolescence would have been a lot better if it had involved smartphones. Let me just walk you through an Internet-less day in my life, circa age 16.

I wake up and…check Twitter? Nope. Nothing to check. The only new information available to me without leaving my bed is what DJs on the radio feel like telling the Twin Cities metro area. I can’t even tell what the weather is, since high school starts at an unholy hour and it’s still dark out. So instead of getting some juicy gossip about my friends, I hear what funny things the mother of KDWB’s Lee Valsvik did last night. Then it’s time to get up and put on those gray Farrah uniform slacks. (Shudder.)

Then, while I eat breakfast, I…catch up on my favorite blogs? Nope. There’s just the St. Paul Pioneer Press, IRL. Jim Walsh writes about music, Chris Hewitt writes about movies. They’re good writers—but they’d damn well better be, because I can’t bookmark anyone else.

Off to the bus stop. While I wait, I…answer e-mails? Nope. I stand there and wait, and then when the bus comes, I sit and ride it. If I’m lucky, my friend Rose is on the bus. If not, I’ve got my paperback sci-fi novel or my battery-sucking Emerson cassette player.

Then I’m in class, and the teacher is saying something ridiculous. (Actual quote from the priest who taught our family life course: “When you’re considering who you might like to marry, think of practical considerations. Boys, consider whether she can cook and clean. Girls, consider whether he can support you financially and fix things around the house.”) Can I secretly tweet about it to several hundred amused hipsters? Nope. I can secretly try to find one adequately skeptical person with whom I can make eye contact and then roll my eyes at.

Between classes, the school bully—who, since my school is so small, is able to give me a lot of personal attention and custom bullying service—pushes my books out of my hands and slams my head against the wall. “You afraid of being late for class, Gabler? Huh? Are you? Why do you carry all those books around? Huh?” In 2k11 I could start a hashtag like #bulliesrhetoricalquestions or make a Tumblr for GIFs of the bully’s regularly-exposed buttcrack, but in 1k91 people expect me to punch the bully IRL instead of snarkily mock him online, and hand-to-hand combat is, to say the least, not an arena in which I excel.

School’s out! What are people doing tonight? Well, they’d better tell me or I’d better know who to ask, because I can’t find out from Facebook or Twitter. Probably I go to golf practice, where I play nine holes with that kid who wears purple jeans and listens to Christian rap on a portable CD player he wears on a lanyard around his neck. Maybe in this particular situation it’s for the better that there’s no Internet around, since I would be sorely tempted to tweet things that might fall under the definition of “cyberbullying,” thus undercutting my martyrlike moral superiority to the IRL bully.

After golf practice, it’s back home to do homework, then off to the library for the tedious task of finding actual books to answer the questions that I could have answered in 30 seconds with Google. While I work, there’s no TweetDeck to keep me amused, so maybe I take a break to play Tetris on my black-and-white Game Boy.

Time to be thinking about hitting the sack. Quick Facebook chat before bed? Nope. If I want to chat with my friend, I have to walk down to my dad’s study and call my friend on the phone—except I can’t, because now it’s 11 PM and the phone would ring at my friend’s house and his mom would answer and yell at me for for calling so late and waking her up and anyway my dad would ask me who I was calling and why and what did they have to say and anyway even if I did get my friend on the phone, I could only talk with one friend at a time and what fun is that?

Take it from me: it sucked to be a teenager before the Internet.

Jay Gabler

  • omg this is so much good.

  • charity

    is that a bow tie? wow. that’s impressive. sincerely.

    but try as i might, i cannot buy into your argument. and really, i’d like to agree with you. i didn’t touch a mouse until the fall of 1995, my freshman year at the U of M. my quote was “this is stupid and hard. i’m never touching a mouse again”. since then, i’ve improved, and my s.o. NEVER lets me forget that initial reaction to the internet (which he shouldn’t, because it is hilarious).

    but i do wonder how much time you spend around teenagers. they really struggle to balance technology with their minds. and i do, too. you write of so many moments that could be used for thought and, hell, just noticing the world around you (bus stop, bus ride, breakfast, getting up in the morning).

    wait, i just re-read the title. no internet made the teen-age years suck for you. never mind. i wasn’t paying enough attention because i was also thinking about my next tweet.

  • The brain needs pause to process info. At least for most of us. All those moments you describe as boring were actually a cheap sort of meditation. It is no wonder ADD and other psychological disorders are skyrocketing among teenagers these days.

    Technology giveth and it taketh.

    •  A cheap sort of meditation is, indeed, exactly what it felt like.

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  • I admit, I would go into some sort of shock if my gadgets were taken away, but we weren’t lacking in the 90s, were we? It wasn’t that bad, was it? I try to tell myself that kids could do with some of that vanilla lifestyle, that lack of instant communication. I don’t know if I believe it, though.

    • Jay Gabler

      Yep, it sucked. Today’s kids are lucky.

  • Steve

    One glaring omission: porn! Every male teenager before the internet must have found porn in the woods, or had a copy of a magazine passed around between friends. Teenagers today just need to fire up YouPorn and yank their plank.

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  • RCC

    Funny, I was teenager in the 1980’s, high school class of 1990 and my teen years weren’t boring at all. Today’s kids aren’t like lucky, they’re robots.