The cultural and social swings of 40 years, viewed through an open window
Last night i was sitting in my living room, staring at the TV. Sometimes picking up my mobile phone to check social media, now and again picking up my tablet to watch youtube. Then it struck me. All this technology, all these screens. They are like windows to another dimension. I started to get quite melancholy as I stared through the window in the palm of my hand, back in time to my youth, back to the 80's as I watched videos of 1981. How things have changed, the view was exactly as I remember it, but the reflection from the screen, well that had changed significantly.
Then, this morning, me and an old friend were discussing my new blog, this blog in fact. I was saying that I wanted it to read like a time travel story, about a geezer who goes back to 1980. He said it sounded interesting but overdone, and the problem that he had with it was the same problem he had with all time travel stories set in the '80s and '90s - he doesn't see that much difference in terms of culture. He said it was why Back to the Future had worked so well, there was this huge gulf between 1955 and 1985, much more so than between 1985 to 2020. He said the 80's were sterile and boring. He said the 80's were nowhere near as radical as the 70's, because the 70s gave us punk rock.
I told him to stop being a twat.
When I said that I felt the differences from the 1980s to the 2020 were huge, he replied that we might have new tech, like mobile phones and computers and the internet, but culturally we're not that different from forty years ago. I can see what he's getting at, but I still think there are huge differences. These are mainly caused by the technology, but I think there are also big cultural shifts in how we view the World - women, gay people, black people. For example, it's hard to imagine me telling my parents I was bisexual or identify as a woman in 1980. It was hard enough telling them I smoked cigarettes, drank Woodpecker and read girlie mags. Good lord no, a different sexuality to their idea of normal, would have completely spannered their heads.
Anyway, to inform this blog, I decided to largely ignore my misguided friend, and I decided to ask my followers on facebook 'what do you think?'. Do you think there has or hasn't been a huge cultural shift from the 1980s? And why? Super detailed and nerdy answers were especially welcome! What I ended up with was a really subjective list. I decided the whole time travel episode was a bit of a none starter, and resorted to a standard blog. However, I had to disseminate the information to make it readable. I had to decide...
What year wins in an epoch shoot out ?
To answer that we start each question with 'what did we do before...'
1. What did we do, before Mobile Phones
Has to be the number 1 change, I mean oh my word.... what DID we do before mobile phones...?
Hello, Rotherham 364662
In 1980, we would talk to mates on a phone attached via a cable to the wall, and if they lived outside your local area, you waited until after 7pm because the call was cheaper. In 1980 you didn't know who was calling until you picked up the phone and said 'Hello, location and your number' - it was an odd custom this, you would think that the caller would know who they called, but no - there were a LOT of missed connections. Whereas now, you can see exactly who is calling, and if they are a nuisance choose to ignore them - back then the only way to block a call from the nuisance, was to leave the receiver off the hook - effectively blocking calls from everybody.
We used to interact with strangers on the street, even with eye contact and a 'how do'. We would actually knock on doors and say hello, we used to chat up birds or blokes in real life and only when you got the courage (usually a couple of weeks for me). Back then, The only guaranteed way of sharing a dick pic or boob shot was to take it with a camera, then have the film developed, and printed at Boots or WHSmith or somewhere. The printer would almost certainly show his mates - you would get the nudge nudge as you went to pick up your photos - the all telling redness of embarrassment as you realised that this spotty oik behind the counter had seen that pic of your girlfriends tits from your holiday in Majorca 😰
In 1980, instant messaging was achieved by using a note passed between 2 people, written in pen and crafted by hand. It took real effort to write a note or a letter - you certainly didn't waste your time with gibberish. I tell my kids now, when they accuse me of being an old fart - "k" is not an acceptable response to a text message, texts are not charged by the letter, so make some effort and actually type me a message I can read and understand.... in English, with punctuation. You know, millenials and younger than that nowadays, they can't even be bothered to ring your door bell - in fact most of the time they dont even come down the drive. Door knocking has been replaced with text messaging - its rude, just rude. I knew all my friends parents, and if i was picking up a girl for a date, it was clearly understood that you met her parents before you went anywhere... it was called having good manners.
In 1980, you went to bed setting an alarm on a mechanical clock next to the bed. Then in the morning, your alarm went off once in a loud, fire bell kind of manner - if you didn't wake up, you were late. Tough shit, no second chances. I can only imagine the amount of jobs not done, if alarm clocks had to be used now. Then there is the news - this was on the TV 3 times a day, if you missed it you bought a newspaper the next day. Oh, and if you wanted to know what the weather was doing you looked out of the window - mind blowing. If you had a problem with your phone, you could call 100 and 'the operator' would answer - instantly. If you needed a phone number, you looked in a directory - these things were so fat, that they had strongman competitions to rip them in half... and they were free, to every single home in the UK, along with an equally fat book called yellow pages, which housed all business numbers. Of course, if you couldn't find your directory, because it was propping up a wobbly table, you could call 101 (later 192) and a directory enquiries operator would answer, instantly. I think the real beauty though was, if for some reason all your clocks stopped working you could call the 'speaking clock' on 808, and a lovely person would tell you the actual accurate time.
Yes, everything was possible, in fact the only benefit of a mobile phone is being in touch 24/7... which is actually a pain in the arse a lot of the time.
1980 (1) vs 2020 (nil)
2. What did we do, before Spotify ?
Once upon a time, in a land that some of us are so lucky to remember, people had to leave the house to buy music. We would count down the days until a new album dropped, and sometimes, we would even line up outside of the record store to make sure we could get our hands on a copy -- because, believe it or not, there was a time when albums actually sold out. I remember clearly the day 'Hatful of Hollow' was released. Gatefold sleeve and bearing a sticker telling you to not "pay more than £3.99 for this long player". Oh yes, I had the new Smiths album - I was cool as fuck...
So absolutely, yes - I'm speaking of the era when music wasn't a downloadable, streaming product. It was a real tangible product. The sleeve of a vinyl album was like owning a piece of art, the sleeve notes, which if you were lucky contained the words to every song. The experience was just - well it was an experience, not just a functionality with an endgame.
And it really wasn't that long ago, either. I remember the days before CDs became a commodity, before I even started buying my own cassettes, when the walls of my childhood bedroom were lined with shelves just crammed with vinyl records. Having an older brother and sister ensured that my musical education was varied and eclectic - hence my digital collection now ranges from David Soul to the Sex Pistols, with a bit of Andreas Botchelli thrown in for good measure. Back in 1980 though, the real way to find out about new popular music was through Top of the Pops on a Thursday night, or through the discerning music press.... Smash Hits, Melody Maker or NME depending how mature you were.
Does anybody else remember having to beg their parents to drive them to a record store to buy a new album of single? Does everybody else remember their first Album or single - not the first one you owned, because that would always be something somebody else thinks you should enjoy. No I am talking about the first one that you paid for with your own cash. My first album purchase was Musical Youth and my first single was Bow Wow Wow... and although I now realise how awful they are, nostalgia dictates that they will never leave me. The experience of going to "The Sound of Music" in Rotherham town centre armed with my £4.99, was my rite of passage in to a lifelong adoration of music.
I couldn't dream of a day back in 1981, when, to get the latest music or even learn about new artists, I wouldn't have to go out or even turn on the TV. The thought that that information would be presented on a computer was literally alien... yet in 2020, that is the ease of a subscription based service, and that is Spotify - that changed UK music owning, and the charts forever.
Lets be honest though, the experience of Spotify is frankly cack 💩 when compared to the experience of owning and playing a vinyl record.
1980 (2) vs 2020 (nil)
3. What did we do, before Google ?
Well, let me tell you this was interesting. Our knowledge base was held outside the house. So to reference the answer to a question took a bit of effort. It took getting out of bed, and usually walking or catching a bus... We went to a place called the “library.”
The library was a large building full of “books” - some old some new. In case you don't know, books are made of paper, and contain printed words and graphs - just like web pages, but they don't move around - unless you move them. They can only be controlled physically by a human being, and need treating carefully.
The thing is, that it is pretty difficult to create these “books” so most of what you read in them could be trusted. They wouldn't sell if the information contained within was not trustworthy, and so as this was the only source of factual information - they tended to be valuable commodities. You also had to read about a lot of stuff you didn't necessarily care about to find what you needed, so you sometimes learned more than you wanted. That was rough by any measure. So what this meant back in 1980 was, that reasoned debate tended to happen with educated people. Finding facts was not a 20 second exercise like today, it took real effort. 'Expertise' came from years of due diligence.
Unfortunately in 2020, everybody thinks they are an expert. Google has created an illusion of truth, a forum for anybody to find what they think is the 'truth'. A conduit whereby the most half-witted of half-wits can find an answer that will 'prove' the most educated a liar. How many times have I sat in a conversation with somebody, and half way through they pick up their mobile phone to fact check me using Google... Top Tip boys and Girls, its rude, Google is not the all seeing truth and if you carry behaving like that - firstly you will end up turning yourself into a know it all without any factual substance, and secondly you will end up with a punch in the face.
Social media is full of these people - trolls disputing the facts they don't like to hear, with partial truths and argumentative dialogue - I blame the rise of the Socialist left under the Corbyn led Labour party, and Momentum. I think encouraging mass protest, and filling heads full of political propaganda that has absolutely no intellectual fibre, is a really bad idea. All that falls out of this argument, trouble and bad feeling.
So back to the point about life before Google - also, at these libraries I talked about there were other classmates (and as a fella, particularly there were lots of girls) who were sometimes researching the same stuff. Occasionally you had to share limited resources. That could lead to working together and even collaboration after library hours, if you weren't careful.
We also had encyclopedias, which were like someone printed the internet and put it together in a load of those “books” things I mentioned earlier. Of course, encyclopedias had rather limited information and reading 50 books for a 3 page paper was overly time intensive (did I mention the girls and collaboration?) We often filled our reports with opinions and critical examination instead of blindly rephrased quotes and lengthy reference sections. I will say this though, as someone who went to University in the halcyon days of the library, and also fathered kids who study today - research was harder back then. Then, we also didn't have a paper due every week. I think we may not have learned as much, but we learned it better or deeper, if you know what I mean.
In summary though, I will say this. Other than the whole meeting girls thing, the library experience is pretty tedious. I would much rather have been playing more rugby and taking the girl to the pub. I bet nothing beats being able to sit down at your desk with a bowl of Cornflakes, two hours before your paper is due, and have every reference material on Earth available to you - as long as you know which reference to believe on Google... because rest assured that boring loon that lectures you will know.
1980 (2) vs 2020 (1)
4. What did we do, before gaming consoles and electronic home entertainment ?
I am going to start this one, with a look back to the late 70's - when we got out more. Life was about living. We would go out, meet real friends with really bones and blood and arms and legs. We would converse in person and see facial expression, we would play sports that made you tired not just make you thumbs ache, we would enjoy real company, and hear real laughter on the streets, we would stay out until the street lights came on, only coming back in to the shout of your Mother's voice for dinner or tea, we would never ignore our parents for the sake of a screen, and if we did, we knew what the consequences would be. We had busy lives, making toys out of nothing, swapping football stickers (2 players for a shiny badge) and using jumpers for goalposts. My friends were contacted by a knock on the door, and that question to the person who answered "is Martin coming out?" I contacted them in the same way. Summer seemed to last forever, and we were encouraged to enjoy the outdoors while ever the sun shone, we were told "go out and get some fresh air", and if we ever said that we had nothing to do but sit in front of a screen, we were told in no uncertain terms that "only boring people get bored".
But come 1980, we did see the advent of home entertainment systems. Don't get me wrong, we would still enjoy our time indoors when it was raining, usually with a comic - we would get the Beano, Dandy, Topper, or Wizzer n Chips from the newsagent on a Saturday morning once pocket money was paid. As time went by, this could have been Roy of the Rovers, but there was always a comic available to read. However this year was the dawn of the Atari.
The Atari Pong video game console was the No. 1 selling item for Christmas in 1976. I mean in hindsight this thing was total dogshit. 2 white lines ping a full stop across another central white line - vaguely imitating the actions of a tennis game. Then in 1978... along came the Atari 2600. Between 1977 and 1990 this became the longest supported gaming console in history. Bringing games like Defender, Space Invaders, Pac Man and Missile Command from arcades into your living room. Many hours would be spent during the rainy seasons, trying to beat high scores - and keeping a log of them in a book. This was indeed the start of the video console revolution.
Then in 1981, came the ZX81. A 'Home Computer' from Sinclair, our first foray into the coding World, and yet the ZX81's sole capability was to write a sentence of your choosing repeatedly down your screen. The ZX81 was arguably the first mass-market home computer to be available from high street retailers (such as WH Smith). At £49.95 when it was launched it was no cheap thing either, so many a teenage boy would ensure a trip home from school took in a diversion to a local WHSmith store in order to hammer the membrane keyboard with the lines:
10 PRINT "I LIKE BIG TITS" 20 GOTO 10
Sir Clive was being kept busy counting the cheques and postal orders that were pouring into his mail order department. Meanwhile, the industry he’d had a hand in creating was moving fast, very fast, and competitors were queuing up for a piece of the pie. As if to prove that this market was open for business, Acorn beat Sinclair to a lucrative BBC contract that would ultimately see Acorn computers installed in classrooms up and down the country - the BBC Basic computer. It was time for Sir Clive to dig in and fight his corner. Hence the historical ZX Spectrum - Manic Miner, Chucky Egg and Donkey Kong... this was truly the advent of the home gaming boom.
And so over the next 40 years through technological advancement and development of more and more complex games console systems, and the introduction of online gaming - we are now at the point of the eighth generation - Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Pro consoles, and PC Gaming has become the staple diet of geeks up and down the country. However, with these advances has come a very grim, but stark cultural decline. An ongoing failure of ability to hold a conversation outside of online arena. A whole generation of people, who believe that a social life can be carried out online. People they have never met, are as treated better than the people that are really there taking part in their lives. It's pathetic. A damning indictment of technological advances - and I am sure this was never the intention of our gaming forefathers.
So all in all, although the year 2020 sees so much more opportunity in the home entertainment sector than ever before, it is without doubt the 80's that should take the moral victory, for allowing a fine blend (like a great Whiskey) between home entertainment and entertaining at home...
1980 (2.5) vs 2020 (1.5)
As a matter of interest - did you know that Sonic the Hedgehog is inside all of us?:
A gene and protein that separates your right brain from the left, and determines you have two eyes is called sonic hedgehog. The gene’s symbol is SHH. The name wasn’t inspired directly by the game, but a comic-book series. A British post-doc named Robert Riddle drew inspiration from a Sonic comic his 6-year-old daughter was reading. The gene appropriately has a spikey appearance. Who knew.
5. What did we do, before Netflix and Chill ?
In this day and age we have virtually everything at our finger tips. Waiting for that important email? Just check your phone. Can’t figure out what song is playing right now? Just ask Siri. Can’t sit and wait for that next episode? Just use Netflix on your phone, computer, tablet, or TV. Our millennial generation are obsessed with having things at instant speed, they are accused of being entitled and narcissistic, self interested, unfocused and lazy – but entitled is the big one. So, often these amenities are taken for granted.
Lets take a step back now. I’m sure many of you can recall a time before smart phones, apple watches, tablets, and the like, and while it may be hard to imagine today, we did have a time before the dawn of Netflix. A time of 3 TV channels, TV Strikes, the national anthem when TV shut off at 11pm, the test card up to 8am and the only program available on a Sunday up until the church service was the Open University... dull as fuck and no mistaking.
Technology has come a long way in regards to entertainment. With streaming and on-demand technology, we can binge-watch show after show whenever and wherever we want. But before we had things like Netflix, we had things like Blockbuster and before Blockbuster we had things like the VCR tape. These came in 2 formats, VHS which was over-whelmingly the most popular and Betamax, which although technically superior, was marketed so badly that it quickly became not worth talking about.
The oldest trick in the book for getting to watch your favorite movies and shows on your own terms (other than actually going out and buying the movie) was using the Video Cassette Recorder, aka the VCR. With VCR tapes you could record your favorite movies as they aired on live television. VCR rental businesses started popping up all over the place, the industry
boomed in the 80's. Just like you would borrow a book from the library, you would borrow a film from your local video library. I remember clearly a 13 year old me visiting ours on Wellgate in Rotherham. Standing sheepishly waiting for the shop to clear before approaching the counter with 'King Frat' 'Porkys' or 'Lemon Popsicle' - all X rated films, so a bit old for me.
Yet, I would stand there smoking a regal king size, in my suit jacket with the sleeves rolled up, looking like a cut price child version of Don Johnson, waiting, because I didn't want the embarrassment of being told 'no' in front of anybody else. I never did get turned down by the way, and that piece of historical evidence stands underneath a car park now.
Up until the early 2000s Blockbuster dominated the industry as one the biggest video-rental stores in the world. By the end of their days, You were able to walk into the store, browse the selections, and rent virtually any movie or game you could think of. Sounds like a dream, right? The only downside however, was that more often than not you got slammed with a late fee for not returning the rental after a short period of time.
In the interim, I remember briefly flirting with Love Film, a home delivery rental service for DVD, Netflix also entered this market, before moving in to home streaming with their subscription based service. Time moved really very fast from VHS through DVD and out the other side - my introduction to Netflix came in 2012, and a binge watch of Breaking Bad from the comfort of my bed... blinding.
All in all, I bloody love Netflix. Both my kids love Netflix, My Parents love Netflix, My other half love's Netflix, her son loves Netflix... Because Netflix has huge cultural and social gains as well - a guaranteed way of getting a conversation with my children, above all other communication devices, is to change the Netflix password and wait a nano second for the text "Hey Dad, have you changed the Netflix password xxx"
1980 (2.5) vs 2020 (2.5)
6. What did we do, before Satellite Navigation ?
Few things define a driver’s age as much as Sat Nav – could you find your way without one or are you old enough to be able to use a map or road atlas?
It may seem incredible to people who’ve only been driving since the turn of the millennium, but some of us with longer memories can recall the days when the only guidance came from using a map or something like an AA Road Atlas. And if you didn’t have a map handy, there was always the last resort of stopping to ask and hoping the natives were friendly and wouldn’t send you in the opposite direction. Take this example - it's 1993, and a buddy of mine and myself took a trip to North Wales to see his family. Picture the scene on the way there, we got lost somewhere over a mountain top near Ffestiniogg. I stopped to ask a fella walking his dog directions - pulled up along side and politely asked him "Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Ffestiniogg town centre please?"... he blanked me and carried on walking...
Hei chi cunt anghwrtais, pa ffordd yw canol tref Ffestiniogg?
Now my buddy was a feisty fucker, and saw himself as a bit of a cool player - he carried a card with 'Casual Hero' as his job title for a start. Anyway, Stuart got out of the car and shouted after the fella something like this "Hei chi cunt anghwrtais, pa ffordd yw canol tref Ffestiniogg?" - within 30 seconds we were on our way with directions. You see, I didn't understand that the Welsh didn't like the English, but Stuart was Welsh you see. As we drove off, I waved and said thank you, Stuart gave him the fist shake, the one that means "wanker" in any language. I asked Stuart what he had said... He told me he had just said "Hey you rude cunt, which way is Ffestiniogg town centre?"...
I began driving in 1986 so learnt the skills of map-reading and developed an instinctive sense of direction and in some ways I still prefer it. If you knew where the sun was you and relied on that mnemonic Naughty Elephants Squirt Water (North, East, South, West), one had a pretty good idea if you were driving in the right direction, so long as you knew where the destination was in relation to your starting point. Years spent driving up and down the country, has taught me the benefits of maintaining a sense of direction. My other half tells people now, that she cannot believe how many places I know... its because when you do 90000 miles in one year, you kind of get to know your way to a lot of places.
Map reading though, is a true skill. An even bigger skill is reading the map whilst somebody else drives and then giving directions. I never ask anybody to do this for me really - I never really trusted anybody but myself - probably after spending time in the car watching from the back seat as Mum directed Dad... Phrases like "Oooo you should have turned left there" turned my father a gentle shade of purple. I remember as clear as if it was yesterday, Mum directing Dad, and saying just turn left here, and we should be there... my Dad turning left into an industrial estate outside Paris and coining the response "Champs Elysee my fucking arse"... followed by "right then Pat, you tell me - do you want me to go left, right or up in the fucking air ?"... he had a way with words my Dad.
Today though, all you need do is type in a postcode for the destination and an electronic woman’s voice – why are they always women? – will tell you `in one mile turn left’ or some such instruction. I call my 'voice' Shirley, and 9 times out of 10 Shirley will get us to our destination safe and unscathed. Do you not feel though, that looking at a road atlas and turning the pages as you covered the miles always seemed much more informative, engaging and adventurous than Sat Nav, and lent itself to a sense of travelling and adventure rather than just the functionality of going from A to B. It was fun to get lost sometimes.
That said, you can’t stop progress and Sat Nav is definitely a much better and more versatile way of navigating and driving. In a busy urban area, at night or in poor visibility it is much easier to have guidance to help you focus on the road. This is especially so for a younger or less experienced driver as they have one less thing to think about if they have, what is effectively an electronic map reader, in the car. Of course, the DVLA see Sat Nav as critical equipment now, and following Sat Nav instructions is now part of the driving test.
So, on balance, I have to say, just for the lack of stressful moments, Sat Nav is better.
1980 (2.5) vs 2020 (3.5)
7. What did we do, before shopping on a Sunday ?
Twenty-Six years ago, Sunday trading laws were introduced that led to a national love affair with shopping. The "day of rest" was never going to be the same again. Before this, Sunday was special. Church worship, Sunday papers, comics, no rush-hour... some things just told you it's Sunday. The biggest transformation has been since the 1994, when Sunday was still a day that commonly began with church worship, followed by roast lunch with the family and time at home together. For many people today, that is still the norm, but a piece of legislation that is now 26 years old has made Sundays generally more active and varied. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, is yet to be definitely determined by some.
The trading act was passed despite stiff resistance from trade unions, religious groups and even some large stores such as Marks and Spencer and Waitrose. Sunday was a very symbolic day. It was a religious day and even for those people who are not religious it was a family day, a home day. So the idea of going out to the shops on this home day was genuinely shocking to people. You were supposed to spend the time at home, however boring it was. It was considered to be good for you. You were showing loyalty to the family.
The Sunday trading Act helped to develop a new shopping culture and a new leisure pursuit, but in my opinion, at a significant cost. Going to the shops became an event, even if you didn't buy anything, because you'd go and you'd walk around and have coffee. The shopping centre as a new city centre was very much accelerated by the law.
Shopping centres are as busy as any other day. More than half the population regularly goes shopping on a Sunday, which means that hundreds of thousands of people have to work.
Where retail led, pubs followed. A year after the trading act, pubs were allowed to open all day on a Sunday. Previously they had to close between 3pm and 7pm. The proliferation of televised football on Sundays - there are sometimes more top-level matches on a Sunday than a Saturday - this provides pubs with an added attraction. Horse racing, cricket and rugby have followed its example.
All this though.... All this, means that Sundays are losing their intended meaning. In 1980 I would be having a family day in 2020, I am watching football in the pub. We've lost family life and one of the reasons we've lost it is that we have lost the principle that Sunday was for the family. There's a moral, social and economic element to this. I love sport but I reject the need for sport on a Sunday, because the people need a break. There are six other days to watch sport and shop. I firmly believe that one of the weaknesses of society is that people (families) are not meeting together and eating together. If Mum is working and Dad is down the pub and the other members of the family somewhere else entertaining online 'friends', then family life is sliced through. And the country will never ever get back to stability until it gets back to valuing the family. Families will never achieve stability if they don't value each other.
Not everybody agrees with me though, my acquaintance Kathy Lette, author of a whole host of novels says, "Sundays are much more fun now than in 1988", when she moved to England from Australia. "Let me tell you" she says "Sundays back then were about as interesting as watching Albanian daytime television - as riveting as watching hair recede. Sundays broke my only commandment - thou shalt not bore." I suppose, that the shopping laws have definitely made life easier for working families, because trying to fit in the food shop after work or on a busy Saturday is an right pain in the goolies. Working people need options - and Sunday shopping has for some, been a life saver.
Over all though. For me, life was so much better when we had a day, when nothing happened - we had no option but to stop and relax. Mondays were better for it, the weekend was truly relaxing. For me are Sunday's better now, or better in 1980 ?
1980 (3.5) vs 2020 (3.5)
8. What did we do, before online dating ?
When I speak with younger people about dating before the internet, they seem to think it was a series of chance encounters — kind of like what you see in classic romantic comedies. A woman searches for a book in a library. A stack over her head loosens and falls. A man swoops in and blocks the falling books from hitting her. She’s grateful. He asks her out, and love takes its course.... boom!
Firstly lets deal with this taboo, not often talked about, and something I never took part in. It gave rise to phrases like GSOH. I am talking of course about the personal ads in the newspaper. For those who have never seen a personal ad, they were like your Tinder bio. You said a few words about yourself and let the world know you were looking for whatever you were looking for. A language existed for personal ads. SWM for Single White Male, GBF for Gay Black Female. C stood for couple, T for transgender. J could stand for Jewish or Japanese and probably caused many people confusion. There were abbreviations for what you were looking for as well. LTR meant long-term relationship, MBA for mutual business arrangement, and WE for well endowed. Also, PnP for party and play, meaning you wanted to mix drugs and sex. Before personal ads became more direct, people had to use code words such as “French” meaning oral sex or “Greek” for anal. Hell, I sound like I know what I am talking about, but it's only because I did my research....
"WE SWM looking for SWF for LTR love French"
Like many things, the internet did away with the personals section in the paper. Tinder, match.com, Badoo, e-harmony and other dating sites saw to that.
When Match.com launched in the late 90s, it changed the dating dynamic, but there was a stigma to it in the early days. I joined the nascent community of digital romantics sometime after 2015 and struck lucky with the first date I went on... not bad when the initial message from my other half was "Eggs, that's a funny name"... my incorrigible charm and GSOH obviously did the trick. I am now well and truly off the market, and really, truly happy to be so.
But I still have fond memories of old-school dating.
Random chance played a role in 80s and 90s dating, but it was a small one, and you could not rely on it. We had to go out and meet people or depend on others to set us up on blind dates. This was quite difficult for awkward souls like me. I didn't have a lot of confidence in my own ability, and I ended up missing out on some significant chances because of it. My procrastination and inability to speak with pretty girls cost me dear at school - 3 weeks was my question popping average, by which point they had got bored of flirting, and fucked off to the next boy along. Certainly up until I was 16 this was the case. At 16 I left school, gained a ton of confidence and went with the philosophy of, if you ask out ten, then one is bound to say yes. So for me, it was either all or nothing you see. I am all in or not in at all.
I’m proud to say I met many a woman without any internet help. There was a process to go through, and it took real effort - it took overcoming any social awkwardness, and it took the development of the ability to stand outside your own body a lot of the time... behaving in a way you had only ever seen in Hollywood films. It all started with a night out. Now our social group had 4 'Out Out' nights a week - Thursday through to Sunday. How the actual fuck I held down a retail job is beyond me. In all my time I have only been late for work once - I got to bed at 4.30am in Rotherham, intending to just have half an hours kip before getting up to do the newspapers at WHSmith on Fargate, in Sheffield at 6am... as if.
Regardless though, we had our nights out set, and on each night we were all in to 'get the digits'
It was the most underrated form of social currency for a hetero man. If you left a pub, club or party with a woman’s phone number, you earned the right to claim a social victory. Get digits, was a phrase of encouragement we’d say to each other. For some folks, the mere act of getting a woman’s phone number was a more significant victory than going on a date that resulted from it. Men did most of the asking back then, but women did do their share too. I remember being at a party one night in a pub, I was 17 and had chosen to drive that night. A girl approached me, I offered her a lift home blah di blah.... she was very impressed that I had a car with a soft top and spot lights. I'm not sure if she was expecting a Capri Ghia or what, but...
Anyway, on a normal night out, The real drama started after we went home. 3am watching 'The Hitman and Her', the truly diabolical TV show on ITV, myself, Stephen, Mark and Lee - the four amigos - would sit with our Ellies takeaway and discuss the successes or failures of the night... actually, Stephen and Lee were rarely there, because the women they met were less choosy about holding out for a phone call, if you know what I mean.
Now, I don’t know what happened behind closed doors of female conversations. But here’s what happened in the male world. Men debated how long to wait before we called and asked for a date. Three days was the general rule back then, but there were exceptions. Entire theories and formulas propagated throughout the male world about how long we should wait before calling. The criteria however, were somewhat dubious. They were based on: the level of interest the woman exhibited (the higher the interest, the longer you wait); the likelihood of someone else calling her before you; and perhaps the stupidest tie-breaker - if it was Thursday or Friday, then definitely call the next day. Just in case she happened to meet someone that weekend. Fuck sake, we were in a bad place. It was not uncommon for guys to waste several days over-analysing this absurd notion only to conclude too much time had passed, and never make the call anyway.
I never succumbed to such fuck-wittery. I always called the next day, not fearful the woman might forget me - but I was never in the game of more than 1 at a time, it was too confusing - my commitment was made to the phone call, and so the phone call I made - win or lose - all in or all out, as I said earlier. Texting wasn’t a thing back then. A phone call was the only option, which kind of irritated if you were a bit shy, like me. Rejection hurts a lot by phone. Back then, before the call, we rehearsed what, when and how - which sounds barking mad. But when opportunities are one off, you take great care to make the most of each one. When you have invested the best part of an evening - well at least a drunken hour in the Adam and Eve Nightclub anyway, into 'getting the digits' - you did not waste them.
If you’re a Generation Xer or older, you’ll find these things kind of nostalgic. If you came of age during the internet dating era, you might find them a bit quaint - but If you are a teenager in 2020, you will more than likely find them fucking unbelievable...
But they are true. Sorry my little prince / princess, but this is how your parents used to behave.
1980 (4.5) vs 2020 (3.5)
It's close, but as I could probably have told you 26 minutes ago, before you started reading, the 1980's prove that they last the test of time, they prove that they can stand against any other decade as a time of cultural change, social development and excitement. It was the decade of big hair, big phones, pastel suits, Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s cubes, Yuppies, shoulder pads and Pac Man. The Eighties see the collapse of traditional communism and the ending of the Cold War, Microsoft, IBM, Intel and Apple begin to have an impact on all our lives as small Computers becomes cheaper and more wide spread including home and Business, Famine in Ethiopia causes major music stars to band together to raise money and awareness, and the early beginnings of mobile phones as technology gets cheaper and smaller.
Most importantly it was an era of iconic moments that changed the world:
1980: John Lennon is shot and dies; The popular video arcade game "Pac-Man" is released.
1981: Lady Diana Spencer and Charles the Prince of Wales are married; The AIDS virus is identified in the United States by scientists.
1982: "The Computer" is named Time Magazine's Man of the Year; Japan begins selling the first CD players.
1983: Motorola introduces the first mobile phones to the United States in 1983; Microsoft releases "Word" their word processing program.
1984: Band Aid records "Do They Know It's Christmas?" a charity single to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
1985: The first version of Microsoft Windows is released.
1986: The Chernobyl nuclear reactor explodes in the USSR.
1987: Disposable contact lenses are first sold; Construction begins on the Channel Tunnel.
1988: The Soviet Union withdraws their troops from Afghanistan; The Iran-Iraq war ends.
1989: The Berlin Wall is torn down at the end of the Cold War; The Nintendo Game Boy portable video game system is released.
Then let's compare and contrast the year 2020...
2020: COVID19 Everybody stayed at home, ate cheese and watched Netflix
Fucking hell - find me a Delorean, and lets go. Ace.