How did people waste their time in the pre-Internet era?

April 9, 2015
Juxhina Malaj

I was born in the early 90s, the period of time when the internet was starting to gain popularity. But I don’t remember having internet access until I was in High School, which was after 2005. It may sound ridiculous to most people, but internet was not popular in a lot of countries until 2002 when internet use grew rapidly worldwide. For a long time I have been envious of people who did have internet access during the late 90s, but when I think about it now, I am glad internet was not part of my daily life, because otherwise my childhood would have been a whole lot different, and not in a good way in my opinion.


I recall spending most of my free time reading books, in the pre-Internet era. During the summer vacations I used to read a book per day. Yeah. I used to stay up all night reading a book because I just couldn’t wait to finish it. If the book was too thick it would usually take me at most 2-3 days to finish.  Since I wasn’t allowed to take more than one book from the local library, I had to go there almost every day.  I still remember the librarian’s surprised look every time I went there the next day to return the book and get another one.  I can never replace that awesome feeling of going to the local library or the bookstore looking for new books to read, and often finding some hidden gems I wouldn’t find otherwise.

Now, I usually read 2-3 books per month. Sometimes it even takes me months to finish one book. It is ridiculous! What is even more ridiculous is how most people today have replaced reading with other alternatives, like watching movie adaptations of books to “save time”. It wasn’t long ago when my brother asked me why I was reading a book when I could just find the audio version of the book and listen to it instead. If you are reading this and you are my brother, or think the same way, well let me tell you that that suggestion is just insane and I won’t even spend my time explaining why. People who love reading books know why. Those who don’t love reading books won’t even listen to an explanation.

Writing also took a lot of time in the pre-internet era. Do you remember when we had to write letters … by hand? It took a lot of time finding the right way to express ourselves. What if we didn’t like a sentence? Well. We threw the paper away and started from the beginning. Writing a letter to someone took a lot of thinking and patience as well. Can you imagine writing a letter to someone now? And writing it over and over again until you are satisfied with it? Where the hell did we find the patience to write it and then wait for them to send you their letter back? But anyways, as ridiculous and tiresome as it sounds, the whole process of writing a letter, and trying to think about what to say and how to say it, was in fact quite enjoyable. At least to me. Oh, and let’s not forget the joy and excitement when we received letters and how impatient we were to open and read them all. The whole experience was much fuller – because it was both physical and emotional.


Now the Internet has changed all that.

Now everything is different. You want to write to someone? You send them a text message, or an e-mail or write to them on Facebook. If you are an old soul and like to write letters instead, I am pretty sure you get laughed at a lot. Unless, the ones you write to are old souls just like you and appreciate handwritten letters. But it is hard finding the old souls nowadays and that is just sad.


So, how did we waste our time back then?

Socializing was popular back then, too. When we went out for lunch with a group of people, we used to talk to each other, face to face. Yeah, I know. It’s crazy! We gossiped a lot more, and laughed and enjoyed our meals instead of taking pictures of every single plate and checking our phones all the time.

Audio tapes

We also wasted time making mix tapes and recording our favorite songs from the radio. Believe me, to record your favorite songs from the radio required a lot of patience. Radio was totally different years ago. It wasn’t like today when you hear the same song on every station over and over again until you get sick of it. Back then, if you wanted to record your favorite song from the beginning, you had to have ninja skills. I am serious! You didn’t know when it was going to play so you had to listen to the radio very very carefully and put your fingers on the cassette ‘record’ and ‘play’ buttons every time a new song began and prepare to record it if it was the one you were waiting for. If you missed it, you would have to wait for at least 2-3 hours until it played again.

If you wanted the lyrics of your favorite song, the only way to get them was to listen to the song and write down the lyrics yourself. Yes, that is right – you had to sit by the radio transmitter and listen and write the lyrics down, word by word!  It was a nightmare, but boy it was a way to learn the lyrics from the very first time! I used to play my favorite song from the cassette recorder and pause after every line in order to write down the lyrics. The problem was that most of my favorite songs were in English and I didn’t know English at all back then. Not even a word. So I just wrote down in Albanian whatever I could hear, without even knowing what I was writing. Later, though, this came in handy.

Random show ups!

We also used to randomly show up at our friends’ houses to play with them for hours until our parents came looking for us. I really wish kids these days spent more time playing outside and expanding their fantasies creating new games and challenges. Kids these days seem to have been born with a smartphone attached to their hands and all they do is play games on their phones or computers. It is true that even the pre-internet generation played a lot of video games. I played a lot of video games with my brother for example. But it wasn’t the same. Our free time was combined with plenty of other activities besides playing video games. We somehow knew that being outside playing is the most fun. We were brought up that way and we loved it. Nowadays video games and online games are the main activity for children and teenagers, if not, the only activity for most kids.

Watching TV was also a big part of our lives, along with listening to the radio, reading newspapers, solving crosswords, playing chess or backgammon, and talking on the phone for hours with the same people we spent every day with, and whom we were going to meet again the next morning.

Moreover, we practiced our hobbies a lot more compared to now I think. I love painting and I remember I would always find time to paint, even when I had exams and was busy. But now, even when I have some free time, and think to spent it painting, I just look at the canvas, start preparing the oil colors and then change my mind and do something else instead – like browse the Internet.

It is hard to recall most of the things we used to do before the Internet took over our lives, but to be fair, sometimes the way we waste our time nowadays isn’t that different compared to the pre-Internet era. It is just that before the Internet it usually took us more time to do some of the same things we do now. And yet, things were different.

Google Maps

Like if you wanted to explore a new city for example, you would use paper maps and spend time analyzing the map, finding the names of different streets, etc. Now you just need Google maps or a GPS. If you wanted to know how far a place was from another, the only way to find out was to go from point A to point B yourself, and keep track of the time it took you to arrive there.


The same with shopping. If you wanted to buy some clothes, as weird as it sounds, you had to get up from your couch and visit different stores, try on clothes and then decide which ones to buy. I couldn’t even imagine online shopping back then, but that is how most of us shop nowadays.


Furthermore, if you had a paper to write and you needed to do a lot of research, you would go to the library, look for all the books related to your topic, and start taking notes – meaning spending hours in the library. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time to find the right quotes and information. But at least back then we weren’t as much distracted by Facebook, Instagram and all kinds of websites and blogs you end up reading while trying to finish your paper.

So, I guess some things were better in the pre-Internet era, some things are better now. I hope this article made you feel a bit nostalgic about the good old times when we seemed to have a lot more time to waste and fool around. How did you waste your time in the pre-Internet era? Let us know in the comments.



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