I'm going to put up this link before I even link to Pearls Before Swine, just to forestall the "Yes, it did!" crowd who will insist on ignoring the common understanding of "the Internet" in favor of its most technical definition. Yes, there was something up there when Pastis was in college, but please.
I am enough older than he is that, when we were asked for dorm preferences in our acceptance packets, I was tipped off to pick one of the two that had phones in the room, a great improvement over shared pay phones as seen in the college-based films of the era, as when Ben begged his landlord for a dime so he could call Elaine.
And the phone was in use even if he'd had one, so he had to race to her dorm in person.
Having a phone in your room was an advantage, by the way, significantly offset by the fact that none of the dorms at the girls' college had individual phones. Even if Ben had had a dime and the phone had been free, there's a good chance he wouldn't have gotten through anyway.
That could take 45 minutes of dial-hang-up-dial-hang-up. There were girls in town, however, who had discovered that, when you were getting a busy signal, you could also hear other people also getting a busy signal, and so would shout their phone numbers one digit at a time between the beeps.
So that was our Internet and Match.com all in one, and no, I never did.
But looking through that above-linked history, I was actually surprised at how young even ARPANET is, because I remember a friend who fetched a long computer printout from the computer lab and excitedly explained that there was a network of computers that allowed people to play chess long-distance. (Jack's capacity for coming up with exciting, amazing shit did not stop there, though it did stop way too soon.)
Anyway, no, we didn't Skype or email or any of that, nor did Pastis's generation until they were well out of the nest. I've had conversations with my teenaged grandkids about those days, and specifically about the phone bills when their father was in the Navy.
They were cool with the idea of corded phones, but astonished by the idea of being charged by a combination of distance, time of day and length of call. As, looking back, am I.
Such amazing tales are what grandparents are for, and part of parenting is raising curious kids who like museums and the stories their grandparents tell.
My own grandfather once remarked that he felt his life had encompassed a pretty interesting span of time, considering that he could remember when he saw his first motor car, and had also gotten to see the moon landing. That is, indeed, damn hard to match.
But I have a kind of incremental feeling about life before hyperconnectivity: As with horseless carriages and flying machines, there was a start, but then things became evolutionary.
My grandfather's father and a couple of uncles had come over from Denmark and worked around the country logging, mining and whatever else for a few years to earn money to go home and buy farmland, but, he told me, by the time his dad sailed back into Copenhagen, he realized it was only for a last visit and that his future was here.
He surely never heard his parents' voices again: Trans-Atlantic phone service didn't begin until 1927 and, while he lived another 14 years, his parents likely did not.
Meanwhile, on the other side of my family tree, the Irish had a type of party called an "American Wake" for emigrating family members, because, they, too, would be gone forever.
My experience hardly matches that: My freshman year, I even came home halfway across the country just for Thanksgiving.
Still, day-to-day, I was pretty much on my own. I had the luxury of being able to phone my parents if I had a crisis, something my great-grandfather would have had to work through on his own: Given the speed of international mail in the 19th century, the best you could do would be to report on it. You certainly couldn't wait around for advice.
I'm not a grumpy geezer insisting that kids need to be cut off and learn to survive on their own, dagnabbit. And I'm aware that there is precisely that sort of rift among Old School Peace Corps people, who disappeared into a black hole during their service, and the new breed, who cheerfully Skype and email from the backcorners of the Third World.
I like being connected. I like knowing what my other grandkids -- the ones 1,500 miles away, not the gang in the next town over -- are up to, and I'm delighted that my mother is in such contact with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
And for that matter, I make my living thanks to connectivity. Nobody would have hired an editor on the other end of the country back in them thar days, and I've worked on projects with an artist literally on the other side of the planet.
But here's what I'm thinking: The most important gift parents can give their children is roots and wings, and, if you have to choose only one, you should definitely make it wings. There have always been too many people so deeply rooted that they cannot spread their wings and go when that is what they really need to do.
Those saving, soaring wings, however, have always been metaphorical. The difference today is that geography is no longer an issue.
And, whether you say it across the kitchen table, or by letter, or by phone or on Skype, you still have a choice between "What should I do?" and "Here's my plan."
Here's to the days when the choice was binary: Stay or Go