You just finished a big job interview. They said they'd call you by the end of the day to let you know if you got the position. You get back home to find someone in your house engaged in a two-hour phone conversation about who they think can end Bill Goldberg's winning streak in the WCW. And suddenly, your immediate career depends upon the speed at which that debate can be resolved. So you have to ask them to "hang up."
"I'll call you back in a few. Yeah, my son's being a pussy."
Everyone knows that means "get off the phone, asshole," but do you know why that seemingly unrelated phrase is used? The base for the phone used to be mounted to a wall. When you were finished talking, you hung the receiver on a hook attached to that base, and the call ended. You literally hung up the phone. Now, you just push a button or close it.
In the future, you'll unplug the guitar cord from the back of your head.
It was only about 20 years ago that those landlines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich kids had and superdorks took second jobs for, so most computers connected to the Net using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.
If you were waiting on an important call, you didn't even consider getting on the Internet, because the caller would be met with a busy signal every time he tried to get through. Even when you weren't waiting on one at all, it never failed that one of your jackoff friends timed his calls exactly when you were trying to spend some free time dicking around on the Net. Every time he dialed your number, you'd get booted offline, and the two hours you just spent downloading a 30-second video clip would have to be started over from scratch.
No, we still didn't pay for porn, even back then.
Now, the biggest thing you have to plan around is battery life, because your mom is now having a two-hour conversation about the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak and just sucked all the juice out of the phone. There's nothing quite like hearing that warning beep in mid-conversation, having to quickly explain that your phone is about to die, and then waiting for it to charge back up for the next hour before you can finish telling your friend exactly what kind of a bitch your mom is.
On the other side of that coin, using the phrase "my phone is about to die" as one of the greatest excuses for ending an unwanted conversation ... well, that's about to die, too. In 2009, scientists invented a battery that could be recharged in 10 seconds, giving you material for your own article in just a couple of years.
You'll have to come up with a new excuse for ignoring your family, though.
As hard as it probably is for my kids to get what a pain in the ass the phone used to be, it's probably even harder for them to grasp ...
I remember when my best friend moved away for college, we would plan out our phone calls a week in advance because long-distance fees were charged by the minute -- and those fuckers racked up fast. There were no all-encompassing plans or flat fees at the time.
Mostly, we sat alone in the quiet and prayed for a day when the Internet would rescue us from the madness. And also bring us streaming HD porn.
Of course, there was always snail mail. Back then, it was just called "mail" ... the term "snail mail" only came about after email was invented. And believe it or not, mail used to be a primary form of communication. That's why the icon associated with your email is a little envelope. It represents the letters we used to send to each other when calling was too expensive.
They were delivered by the Pony Express, if memory serves.
But imagine your instant messenger working the same way as snail mail. Every time you said something to one of your friends, you'd be charged a quarter, and your friend wouldn't be allowed to read what you sent him until next Friday. It's hard to keep a friendship going through that.
For those reasons, having a pen pal was a big deal when I was a kid. It was the only realistic way we could meet and regularly talk to someone from another country. It was mind-boggling, knowing that you were actually talking to someone who lived on the other side of the planet. But if I were to walk up to someone right now and tell them, excitedly, that today I talked to someone from Australia, they'd look at me like I was shit-sculpting crazy.
Australia, Japan. Same thing.
Hell, the vast majority of my friends now are not from the United States. But if I couldn't talk to them instantly and free, that number would be reduced by 100 percent because foreign people are cheap, horrible monstrosities.
They had to be. Otherwise, they couldn't afford to go to college, where people were regularly ...
Today, pretty much every single person I know can build a computer from scratch. What used to be considered the work of "computer geniuses" is now as common as changing your own oil or making your own porno. But not too long ago, people would spend several years and many thousands of dollars getting college degrees in a skill that has become so common that kids learn it right alongside their multiplication tables.
Of course, these classes still exist. It's just that now, instead of being specialized intro courses meant for future programmers and software engineers, they're required for pretty much any degree in anything whatsoever. My fourth-grade son has taken two computer intro classes -- the exact classes offered to me when I was in college 15 years ago.
If you're going to beat Koreans in StarCraft, you have to start training early.
Want to get a book published? There used to be -- and still are for the time being -- tons of classes in college that teach the proper routes to publication, from getting an agent to shopping your manuscripts. People spent years learning the exact format that wouldn't get their novels thrown in the trash, unread. That is, until my kids' generation came along and showed us that we could easily do this ourselves without having to deal with pesky little annoyances like editors and publishers.
Spell-check is all the criticism you need.
So I guess what I'm saying here is basically, congratulations. The world used to be a much more annoying and ridiculous place. The next time you use a word, phrase or image that my world gave birth to, all I'm asking is that you take a moment to realize how hard your old man had it. Oh, and that you not complain when I ask you to show me some cheats to help me get away from that Korean kid who keeps killing me in StarCraft.
And be sure to get our book, because we're sure paperbacks will become fossils soon enough.
For more from John, check out 5 Ways Video Games Are About to Get Way More F#@kable and 12 Things You'll Wish You'd Never Seen Under a Microscope.