How reassuring it was to know that however dreadful you were in the school play or however extravagantly you flubbed a presentation at work, you would never need to know how truly bad it was. After all, you would never see it yourself, and most people wouldn’t tell you the truth, even if you tried to coax it out of them. The stakes were lower before everything was a performance and all performances were uploaded to be shared and dissected for posterity.
No matter how brief or unfortunate a relationship, you couldn’t help but wonder — months and years later — whatever happened to your ex-boyfriend. If you ever found out anything about his future endeavors, it was usually via a wedding announcement. Most of the time, that was for the best; you and he were over, and even if you were sulky or angry when it ended, it was best not to dwell. There’s no forgetting those exes anymore. Whether you still pine for them or couldn’t care less, you can’t put them out of your mind because they remain your friends on Facebook, or your friend of friends.
5. Record albums
There was a whole delicious process to appreciating a brand-new record album, whether you got it at Tower Records or Merle’s Record Rack or HMV. It was almost an act of religious devotion, from the admiration of the cover art to the slicing of the plastic wrap with a fingernail to the placement of the needle on the precise edge of its vinyl rim. You listened continuously all the way through before flipping to the B side. Yet imagine finding the time today to listen to 12 to 14 tracks straight through, in the order in which they were intended to be heard — it would take nothing short of an extraordinary feat of discipline.
6. Missing out
Instead of overhearing in the school hallway Monday morning about a beach bonfire last Friday night, kids today know all about it while it’s raging, seeing it pass them by in boisterous but fleeting snaps from the dejected vantage point of the living room sofa.
Mention “script,” the shorthand for cursive, to a sixth grader today, and he’ll assume you mean a computer script, which generates web pages, or maybe the script for a TV series. At the Library of Congress, where volunteers are recruited to input old documents into the permanent digitized record, younger staff members have to be paired with those from older generations because they can no longer read cursive at all.