Olds go nostalgic for the good old days of tech

You may like this then:


My fave: “Video games only worked on Channel 3”


I’ll play:

  • Phones were tethered to the wall, either had buttons or (gasp!) dials, and were only capable of making phone calls. Only one number per house, and only one person could use the phone at a time. There was no call-waiting. There were also so few area codes that some states only had one area code, and long-distance charges (which I’d also have to explain) applied within the same area code.
  • We listened to music on vinyl, or on cassettes. There were no CDs yet, and filesharing and digital media wasn’t even a pipe dream yet. Mixtapes were a thing.
  • Practically nobody had home computers. Some of the rich kids had word processors, and when they brought in something that was printed up on a crappy dot-matrix printer, we’d stare at it in awe.
  • There were all sorts of strange office smells that we no longer have, like mimeograph paper. My school had a laminator and something or another for making overhead projections. These also smelled funny. Even the copier smelled funny.
  • Porn was not nearly as readily available. You had to know a guy who knows a guy, or cadge some from your dad’s stash. Y’know, like we do for drugs today.
  • We were super paranoid about drugs. We literally believed that tobacco would instantly turn unsuspecting “good kids” into junkies, and smoking pot makes people go berserk. That opening scene from the first episode of Freaks And Geeks was pretty standard schoolyard chatter at the time. We had hilariously contrived anti-drug propaganda in schools, such as DARE, and Go Ask Alice, allegedly the diary of a teenage drug addict but actually written by a far-right Mormon therapist with dodgy academic credentials.
  • We were also paranoid about sex. We had no sex ed to speak of, and believed that AIDS (which was a new phenomenon and called Gay Related Immune Deficiency, or GRID) was transmitted through the air like the common cold.
  • There was this equally bizarre phenomenon called the Satanic Panic. People were scared of Dungeons & Dragons, and heavy metal music (not even death metal, but the mainstream stuff), and there was no black clothing to speak of. If you wanted black clothing, you had to dye it yourself, and if you wore it to school, the teachers would ask you in an oh-so-concerned tone about drugs, suicide, Satan, etc.

My favorite college prank (that I was actually involved with) was back when the only computers were mainframes in government and university basements, and a friend figured out how to program “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” in Gothic font sideways on that 15"-wide continuous-feed alternating light/dark green lined paper with holes on the ends for the printer sprockets, which we then had to attach to a stronger backing (that paper was so thin!) and string up on the main entrance gate to the campus the night before classes started.

Pascal, if anyone is wondering what programming language was used.


Electronics used to have a state of half-working.


And sometimes, banging on the side really would fix something!


That takes me back. I remember making little springy things out of the hole ends* once we tore them off of the sheets of paper. It was like the bubble wrap of its time, and now there isn’t even proper bubble wrap!

*called schnipsal, because Germans have a word for everything.

Also, some computer-related things:

was an example of a programming language people actually used, as were COBOL and BASIC. Not QBASIC, or QuickBasic, or Visual Basic, or VB.NET, but BASIC. Python wasn’t around then, Java and all its bastard scripting languages were not invented yet, and C++ wasn’t invented yet either. C was around, but nobody used it because BASIC was supposed to be so much better. C# was invented after I had graduated from college. Thank God I wasn’t a comp sci major, or I would have been obsolete by now!

Also, computers weren’t anything you could pack up in your briefcase and take with you to work. They had to be transported on heavy carts, and then set up professionally by the IT people.

Floppy disks 1) existed, 2) were five and a quarter inches across, and 3) it was a big new thing that they could hold a megabyte of information. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s the equivalent of a 1 megapixel grayscale image. My cellphone could take (and store!) a better picture in the early 2000s.

Computers didn’t have mouses, unless you wanted to get fancy. And even then, they were different than they were today. When I was in college, this joke was spread across the wonderful new invention called the Internet:


Interesting – I wrote a poem about this very subject a couple months ago.

Ode To The Outmoded

Still watching shows in black and white?
What could be worse? What could be duller?
We’ve upped our standards, so up yours
Our program’s now in living color.

But wait first please. We need an ad
For cloth coats fine, with flap unfurled
We do more here at Burlington
Much more than any in the world.

Back to our program once again
The monologue! – but not just yet.
The problems you experience
Do not originate in your set.

The first act’s done. On with the show!
Our star will dance, with great occasion!
Let’s all applause! But first we need
Our station’s identification.

A singing group will now take stage
Do listen please, with great absorption!
Pity we have no subtitles
For we’ve lost the audio portion.

Our final act was wonderful
It’s sad indeed that you just missed 'em.
Instead, a test, 'twas just a test: the
Emergency broadcasting system.

So join us next week for another;
Much more fun than Mickey Mouse!
Note this program’s been brought to you
By our friends at Westinghouse.


Cameras. They needed film, which you had to pay for, and then pay again to have it developed, and pay more if you wanted a photo enlarged. And the film would go bad. And you didn’t really know what your photo was going to look like just because you lined it up with the optical viewfinder. Nobody took selfies or photos of their lunch.

Search engines. There was a dictionary, an encylcopedia that was woefully out of date, the library (which could only be searched by general subject by flipping through a card catalog), and the Yellow Pages.

When I went to college in 1990-1991 to learn programming, I was required to learn:
C (not C++, object-oriented programming was too new)

edit: I forgot FORTRAN. Which is funny because my company actually still uses FORTRAN code from the 80s in its engineering library.


Don’t forget the 8" variety!


If you wanted pictures instantly, you had to get a Polaroid camera, which was crazy expensive and had crazy expensive film to go with it.

If you had film that you needed developed, you took it to the pharmacy, where they mainly sold medication, or the photo hut, where they mainly sold drugs :wink:

Drive-up booths where money and little canisters changed hands. Even if there is somehow no drug dealing going on, it still looks a little seedy.

This was my entertainment.

We also had this thing called an almanac, which a book of facts focusing mainly on the year it came out, although they’d also list all the World Series and Super Bowl champs, all the various Oscar winners, famous people’s birthdates and real names, etc. Far more entertaining than the dictionary.

We didn’t have one, but our library did. It was still woefully out of date.

Yep, and the books on any subject might be kind of hit or miss, especially for those of us living in rural areas.

Plus, you can’t grep dead trees, so if you were writing a report on something, you would have to actually do a historical study and read all the different sources, as opposed to Ctrl+F and cut-and-paste.

The lit reviews I did in grad school were done in an actual library :scream_cat:


We had my mom’s Funk & Wagnall’s (what a fun name) from 1966. The main things I remember are a photo of Queen Elizabeth II on a horse when she was younger and kinda hot, an article on Rhodesia, and that one of the volumes started with “PUNIC.”

The county library was better, with encyclopedias that were only about 10 years out of date.


My first computer:

edited because this guy has his running:


My first: Basic Programming for the Atari 2600

128 bytes of RAM. Not megabytes, not kilobytes, but bytes. Programs could be 9 lines long. The “graphics” consisted of two movable squares, but collision detection between them was unreliable anyway.


I know this is mostly my fault, but we seem vastly off topic at this point… perhaps split the thread and the talk of early tech into its own thread?


i have a TI-99 in my basement right now. no idea if it works, though, but i just like knowing it’s there. i also have an Apple ][, which is what i played Wolfenstein on, too. : )

  • If I wanted to get on the Internet as a kid, I’d have to go on my desktop computer and have it make a bunch of funny sounds, and no one could call me while I was using the Internet, because it would tie up the phone line.
  • There was e-mail, and you could check it, but only when you were on your computer, and only when the computer was connected to the Internet (see above).
  • In order to play computer games, you had to install them from the command prompt. Windows existed, but anything really good couldn’t be launched from within it. You could play network games, but you’d usually dial your friend’s computer directly: you wouldn’t play over the Internet.
  • Word processors existed, but they didn’t support mice, so you’d have to locate the offending word by using the arrow keys on your keyboard, and delete or overwrite it.
  • Printing at home? Sure: you’d just need to get a dot-matrix printer, which was incredibly loud. No colour printing.
  • You could look up what books were at the library, but you’d have to dial the library’s phone number, and use Telnet (another text interface) to navigate the catalogue.
  • Cell phones used to be about the size of a bottle of pop, and twice as heavy. The battery wouldn’t last very long, so, if you wanted to use it in the car, you’d have to slide the battery off the back and hook in another piece (making it even larger) that would plug into the cigarette lighter.
  • Speaking of: the “accessory ports” in cars used to be cigarette lighters. Sure, you could plug other things into it, but every car came with a cigarette lighter (and ashtray) by default.

That’s all I got for now.


There was no online shopping. No Amazon, and generally no fast shipping from catalog orders.
Just finding the catalog in the first place was a matter of luck generally.

Finding obscure or specialist items was much harder than it is now. When I wanted to make a DIY reset button for my Commodore 64, as seen in a computer magazine, I needed a “25 pin card edge connector.” Local electronics stores had no frigging clue what that was or where to get one. Months later, my dad happened to find a place in a city three hours’ drive away (which he had to go to on business every once in a while) that had them.


One of my first computers had a 5MB hard drive. And it was awesome, because I could put one whole game or application on it and not have to swap out floppy disks constantly.

It could handle EGA graphics, so 16 colors at a time… but they were only shades of green.


We… still have an Encyclopedia Britannica with supplementary volumes covering the World War and the aftermath. I think mom got it, already heavily used, at a tag sale. I can now get a lot of the articles on Wikisource or the Internet Archive.