It’s hard to imagine a world without the convenience of technology and electronics and social media. Granted, the “history of social media” is a relatively short one, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s terribly important…and it’s growing and progressing by leaps and bounds, seemingly every day.
I can personally attest to an existence that was inhabited by Walkmans and boom boxes, and then CD players and VCRs. (Let’s not forget the Betamax!) Reflecting on the history of social media is, for many of us “older” folks,” a veritable walk down memory lane that is littered with a plethora of rudimentary electronics and bulky dinosaurs that were among the first home computers.
My father had one of the first cell phones, because it was the “must-have” item in the ’80s. The phone came in a bag not unlike the one Radar O’Reilly carried in M*A*S*H. I’m not kidding.
Here’s what I recall from my childhood: A house phone was the only means of social media. Period. And, the phone had a cord — hopefully a long, stretchy one so you didn’t have to remain within, say, four feet of the receiver. There was no Call Waiting (or Caller ID, *67, *69, or *Whatever…or any of the features that we take for granted today), so you dealt with busy signals a lot.
If you were lucky enough to use the phone while visiting your grandparents’ (or whoever’s) house, it was a generous gesture — since a call from the city to the suburbs was a toll call then, and you were charged per minute — and you needed the patience of a saint. After all, they likely had a rotary phone (back then you didn’t buy something to replace a perfectly fine item), and if you dialed one wrong number? You had to hang up and start over. Same thing went if you got a busy signal.
(Editor’s note: This era was great for crank calls — or is it prank calls? — because these rudimentary phones had no Caller ID and you couldn’t just punch in *69…so this was a major hobby for most kids. Hey, you work with what you have. This activity should have a spot in the history of social media.)
I vividly recall the excitement when I had my own phone in my room. Woo hoo! It was really cool, too…it was clear so you could see all the inner workings of the phone (like that mattered). I then treated myself to an extra long cord so I could move around the cramped room that I shared with my baby brother who was 10 years younger (bunk beds, folks). Boy, I was living it up!
When I “graduated” from elementary school at 14, I spent my graduation money on a Commodore 64. Yes, I’m serious. Why? Simple. War Games. I wound up doing nothing productive with it (although I suppose it has its place in the history of social media but I’m not sure where), other than typing curse words and then backspacing over them. I tried to see if I could magically play Global Thermonuclear War, but just punching random buttons didn’t quite do the trick. That pretty much put an end to the excitement of the Commodore 64.
When I was 16 (I think), I got a…CD player. In those days it was the size of a DVR or so but it was a big deal, in spite of the fact that all it did was play CDs. Period. A year later, my big Christmas present was a TV. Woot! The Atari system was in my parents’ bedroom since the time we got it (when I was 12), since there were only two TVs in the house. Two. And my parents sure as heck weren’t giving up the living room TV for some nonsense like video games. Video games in the ’80s had no social media networking, but that’s certainly changed.
My early foray into the electronic age (in the 90s, when I was well into my 20s) was marked by networks such as ICQ (I’m really dating myself!), VP (Virtual Places), and AIM, among other networks, which were the popular ways to communicate online. They definitely are a part of the history of social media…albeit a slightly embarrassing one, given how far we’ve come.
My kids won’t remember a world without having social media in it. For them, it started with MySpace (I’ll reserve judgment)…but I recall a time when they would crowd around the computer (imagine a home with only one computer — and a desktop one at that!), browsing people’s profiles and listening to music and chatting with friends. Wow, have things changed, even from that stage of social media. Ah, MySpace…you had a good run. You’ve definitely earned your place in the history of social media
“They” say that Instagram will be the social media platform of 2014. What do you think?