Before the Internet – The New Yorker

Before the Internet, you would just sit in an armchair with a book open on your lap, staring into space or staring at a decorative broom on the wall—kind of shifting back and forth between those two modes of being.

Before the Internet, you might take it upon yourself to do a drawing. You’d quietly start sketching something in a notebook, not sure what it was, but you’d let inspiration guide you and then—woop!—turns out you’d drawn a squiggly alligator with a cockeyed approach.

Before the Internet, you’d have yawning summer afternoons when you’d flop down on one couch, then flop down on another, then decide to craft a fake F.B.I. card. You’d get some paper from your dad’s office, copy the F.B.I. logo and your signature, laminate it with Scotch tape, put it in your wallet, take it out of your wallet, look at it, then put it back in your wallet with a secretive smile.

It was a heady time!

You’d be in some kind of arts center, wearing roomy overalls, looking at a tray of precious gems, and you’d say, “That’s cat’s-eye,” and your friend would say, “Nope. That’s opal.” And you’d say, “That’s definitely cat’s-eye.” And there would be no way to look it up, no way to prove who was right, except if someone had a little booklet. “Anyone got a little booklet?” you’d ask, looking around. “Is there a booklet on this shit?”

Then you’d walk outside and squint at the sky, just you in your body, not tethered to any network, adrift by yourself in a world of strangers in the sunlight.

Before the Internet, you could move to a new state and no one at school would know anything about you. You’d have no online history. You could be anyone. You would lean against the lockers with a faraway expression on your face and let people assume whatever they wanted. Like that you were a girly girl but could also be a tomboy. Or that back in your home town you’d been friends with a bunch of crows. And everyone assumed that if they saw a crow it probably knew you, because you had some kind of understanding with crows owing to undefined telepathic abilities that made you look troubled now and then but also really important.

And if anyone wanted to track down an old friend of yours and write her an actual letter to find out if any of this was true, well, best of luck to them.

Before the Internet, you could laze around on a park bench in Chicago reading some Dean Koontz, and that would be a legit thing to do and no one would ever know you had done it unless you told them.

Before the Internet, if you were in need of some facts you might actually decide to consult an old person, like the one living in your finished basement. But then you’d find yourself watching “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” which you agreed to do because the old person asked in such a fragile way that you couldn’t say no.

About ten minutes in, you’d say you needed some water, then wander up to the kitchen, where you’d get caught up staring at a refrigerator magnet. Then, for no reason, you’d do a little dance. You’d wonder if you should expand that dance right then and there. “Maybe I’ll direct music videos,” you’d say to yourself. But you’d have no way to follow up or to look it up; you’d just be standing in the deafening quiet of your kitchen at midday, alone with your thoughts.

“Should I test out these pens on this turquoise pad?” you’d ask yourself, staring at some pens by the phone.

Instead, you’d take a sip of your drink and say, “Aah,” like a person in a commercial. Then you’d go do that in front of a mirror, to see how it looked. Because that’s what it was like before the Internet. You made your own fun. ♦

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