20 years ago today…

I know its my age – the looming horror of forty which is only just over the horizon – that is making me think back over my life. Maybe I have just got to the age where you can’t help but think that you have had your halcyon days. The music, the films, the TV were all better then. (I don’t really believe that, by the way, there is still excellent music, films and TV. My tolerance for the rubbish has just got lower.)

20 years ago, I was in my second year at university, in a student house with five other people. The house was damp. We were burgled and the landlord genuinely suggested that we spent a night without a door rather than have and come and fix the one that the burglars broke in their haste to get our stuff. My library books got so damp that I had to pay for some of them as they were unusable.

None of us had a car. Or a computer. In my third year, I eventually purchased a word processor. It was huge and useless. Like a really slow electric typewriter. It felt like the height of modernity. The university wasn’t much better. They had BBC computers where you had to manually add the formatting. It really did seem like it would never catch on. Compared to my current electronic dependency (it does genuinely seem as if there is always some piece of equipment charging), it seemed like a more innocent time.

I never imagined my mobile phone would become such an integral part of my life. As ever, I was probably one of the last people to get one and then one of the last to get a smart phone. It is just so very tempting. To phone. To upload a photo. To be in constant touch if you so desire. No one ever needs to worry. There is no need to lose touch. Communication is so easy. Easier equals better, right? That seems to be where the march of progress is taking us.

Could communication be diluted by the ease with which you can do it now? No one ever thinks that just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. 20 years ago, if I wanted to phone home, for example, I had to go across the road to the phone box (as we decided this was better than fighting over the phone bill) and hope that the person on the other end would agree to reverse the charges. This would usually end with someone – one of my housemates usually – banging on the door so they could use the phone. I’m not saying this was fun – and in the North West rain, it almost certainly wasn’t – but you did have to make it count. You didn’t feel compelled to inform people that you’ve just eaten a ham sandwich. Or that you were bored. (If you’re posting that you’re bored on Facebook, you need to seriously think about what you are doing with your life.) When did it become obligatory for people to communicate about every aspect of their lives? 

I seem to be suffering from the opposite problem at the moment. I can’t seem to find worthy detail to post. I’ve got Facebook block. Nothing seems important enough. I can’t help sitting in front of my screen and think who cares. Don’t get me wrong, I like Facebook. It is useful for keeping in touch with people who live a long way away and who I definitely feel closer to than I would have done but for the most part it just seems like the root of all inanity.

It surprises me, this nostalgia. I always thought that I was quite cynical. It turns out I am a romantic at heart. Who’d have thought it? Perhaps communication, like knowledge, should be hard won. It should have meaning and it should be thoughtful. Perhaps I should update my status to ‘my longing for the past is only matched by my happiness that I no longer live there.’ I don’t miss standing in a cold phone box but I do promise to think before I post.

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