The Land Before FaceTime

One of the many pleasures of being an American is looking back on your forefathers and laughing about all the weird shit they did. I don’t know if Americans in the early days of the Republic reflected on colonial times and had a good chuckle, but if I were to make an educated guess, I would say that both giant Pilgrim shoe buckles and the Salem Witch Trials consistently provided a source of entertainment for years to come. We know that Pilgrim style would live on through hundreds of years to give us some Marc Jacobs fuckery, and of course the Salem Witch Trials—or SWT’s as the kids call them—eventually gave us The Crucible, that gut-busting work of slapstick comedy with a feel good ending that leaves you ready to seize the day and totes relate to the occult.

In more recent history, '90s nostalgia has been coursing through the veins of whomever has their finger on the pulse for some time, maybe nowhere more clearly than in the world of fashion. You’ve got the Opening Ceremony reissue of DKNY pieces released almost 20 years after Biggie first laced NY hoes in 'em, Hedi Slimane’s one man grunge revivalist plan and we’ve been knee deep in snapbacks for awhile.

By nature, this reminiscence is just about aesthetics, though. Because to really appreciate a true '90s revival beyond ripped jeans and plaid shirts, you would need to understand life without a lot of the things we take for granted today. And after speaking to a colleague who was roughly the age of many Four Pins readers during the '90s, I’ve concluded that life without cell phones and the Internet was fucking crazy.

I don’t know about you, but literally the last place I want to be on a weekend night is at a bar by myself. Not because I don’t like drinking alone—I’m doing that right now, heyyyo—but because I have a crippling fear of looking like some sort of social misfit. Except that before you could text your friends to perfectly time your arrival somewhere, you kind of just had to be, like, alone.

As my colleague noted, you called landlines and left messages to make plans. When is the last time you even listened to a voicemail? I’ve had a voicemail unopened on my phone from my doctor since before Cinco de Mayo because he just emailed me after he called to tell me I don’t need to get an STD test or a tetanus shot after a bum on the 4 train sneezed on me. This is what normal people do! So, assuming you eventually made phone contact with your friends and these dueling messages were received, then what?

My coworker continued, “Before going out, you'd make a plan ("Meet me at the bar at midnight"), then you'd spend some time pregaming." Ok, so getting drunk before going out to get drunk has at least survived the generational shift. “No messaging back and forth about where you are, how slow your cab is going, your bullshit play by play and your ETA or how the door sitch is looking. Just get up and go. Get in. Party.”

Surely there must have been plenty of incidents in which this didn’t work out and friends didn’t show for some reason, right? Leaving you stranded alone at a bar with no way to reach them?

“Sure. One involves being alone at a club for two long hours drinking White Russians. I thought, mistakenly, that the milk would counter my not eating all day. Wrong. What happened next was a hazy, sort of my-body-as-pinball in the bumpers/hands of approximately four to six members of the Wu-Tang Clan. But anyway, sometimes you'd miss a date or be late and end up on some other interesting path, chatting with the bouncers or bartenders or some rando who was also waiting patiently for the rest of their party to arrive. Without the phone as a crutch you had to, you know, talk to people. Or at least look around and take in your environs.”

Chilling stuff. But I would like to hear more about Wu-Tang pinball off the record.

And what about dating? Imagine having to talk on the phone instead of having the luxury of spending 20 minutes composing the perfect text?

“Dating at its worst involved sitting by the phone. You've heard about it in song. Dating at its best meant that you could make plans and hook up somewhere and just sort of wait breathlessly while people watching or smoking a cig. No reading Yelp reviews or scrolling through Instagram feeds or Facebook stalking.”

BUT I NEED TO READ YELP REVIEWS AND SCROLL THROUGH INSTAGRAM, especially when I’m waiting for something. Or when I’m at work.

“In the pre-email days, you wouldn't believe the snail’s pace at which anything happened at work, at any level in the executive chain. Three memos a day and maybe one response back the next day. Must have been fucking nice. Now, I check emails in my sleep.”

That actually does sound nice.

“Being free from the handheld crutch, in retrospect, meant going through life a little unmoored. It feels kind of dangerous looking back—like a baby in the front seat of a car or something. What if there was an emergency?! Didn't we feel so alone?! Well, we all just went along.

This was a bit later, but I missed 9/11 because I was hungover and sleeping—it was Fashion Week. But my sister was awake and she came to rouse me after the second plane hit the towers and I got up to sit bleary eyed in front of the TV for the next two days. I'm kind of glad there wasn't any social media at the time; it would have been too much. I went down to Union Square a day after, just to commune with my fellow New Yorkers because I had been uptown and so far from the WTC. It was such an intense mood of massive sorrow with this heaving, unspoken sense of unity and hope. I don't think it could have been captured on Twitter in quite the same way.”

I don’t know if anything is captured on Twitter in quite the same way, except maybe your latest thoughts about Bieber.

I asked my colleague if she’d give up the technological advances of the past 13 years for a little bit of that authentic 90’s lifestyle.

“There was a freedom about it that I miss. Like, dude, I'm not home. Leave a message and I'll call you back. Or not. Now, there's no hiding. You know everyone is checking their shit every three to ten minutes. What a bore. And a chore.”

And I guess if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed since the '90s, it’s that everybody hates doing chores. Even a Salem Witch would agree on that one…and then be hanged.

Steve Dool is a writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.

  • DWEEB

    great piece! and i do miss the freedom. now if you don’t respond to a call you get a text, if you don’t respond to the text you may get FB or twitter stalked…funny how things seemed to progress so quickly and naturally, i’m sure most people never stop to think about how things were just 5-10 years ago…if they’re old enough haha

  • athan

    tl;dr