It is undeniable that we have come a long way with modern technology, which has, in many ways, made life easier. At the same time, it feels like we are moving at lightning speed and everything is fleeting.

Looking at the past and comparing it with the present can sometimes really put things into perspective. Do you still remember what it was like before you could look up the answer to any imaginable question on Google? When you had to go to a travel agent and look at actual brochures and catalogues to plan your next vacation instead of simply opening TripAdvisor on your iPhone? 

Spoiler alert: this article is written by someone who grew up in the 1980s and 90s and therefore, might be slightly nostalgic about those long-gone days. Only slightly, of course.

Snail Mail vs. Email

When I was 13, I moved with my family from Germany to Japan. The only way to keep in touch with my friends was by sending them letters because long-distance phone calls were too expensive. Therefore, I spent many hours writing letters before walking down to the post office to mail them. It took between three to five days for a letter from Japan to Germany, and two to three weeks to Indonesia. In return, I always came home after school with a thrill of anticipation: sometimes, I’d receive up to six or seven letters a day. 

Emails are much more convenient: you quickly type your message, click on the “send” button, and almost instantly, it is delivered to the recipient. It’s a fast way to communicate and it’s also environmentally-friendly. I couldn’t live without emails, especially not at work.

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But sometimes, I still resort to paper and pen to send letters and postcards to my friends, my parents, my sister: a handwritten note shows them that I care. To this day, I have a large collection of stationery at home, from unique letter sets and coloured pens to a stack of birthday and Christmas cards. I may not use them as often as before, but I find it strangely comforting to have them in my drawer.

Book vs. E-reader

As long as I can remember, I have always loved to read. Without the possibility to immerse myself in books, my life would lack a lot of colour. Ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas, and I will always say “new books” (in addition to “my own pony or horse”, but my parents never yielded to my desperate pleas). 

An e-book reader is practical, for sure. Gone are the days when we had to carry around heavy books, or face the agony of choosing just one or two novels to bring on our vacation. I gave into temptation and bought one a while ago, but I should have known better. It’s now sitting on one of my shelves, gathering dust, while I still buy physical books to add to my ever-growing collection. There is simply something magical about leafing through the pages, to actually feel the paper between my fingers and to carefully place a bookmark on the page before taking a break. 

Public phones vs. Smartphones

At the age of 13, I had a crush on this boy. He was one year older than me and had once asked me for a slow dance. My friends persuaded me to call him and ask him to go to the movies, so I took up all my courage, used the public phone next to the post office, looked for his number in the phone directory and dialled. He politely declined – and that was the end of our story. However, I will never forget that feeling of anticipation, the nervous tingling in my fingers and the fear that my heart would explode in my chest while I was standing in that phone booth. 

Now, we don’t have to call someone’s home anymore. We simply use our smartphones to send Whatsapp messages. It’s easier, yet also less exciting and often even annoying. Everyone is reachable at all times and glued to their phones. 

Of course, having a smartphone is extremely practical. One time, one of my best friends picked me up from the train station and on the way to my house we ran out of gas. It was a Sunday and the nearest gas station was closed. With no smartphones available at that time and no public phone nearby, we walked up to a random house and asked if we could use their phone. My friend called his father, and he came to rescue us. Such a scenario would be almost impossible today – but again, it is a memory I wouldn’t want to have missed for the world.

Library vs. Internet 

It’s so easy these days to look up something – anything, really. “I’ll Google it”, is the default reply to any question we don’t know the answer to.

During my high school days, it was common to go to the library when working on assignments. I very much enjoyed walking through the different sections, looking for certain books and then sitting at one of the tables, making notes. There was something meditative about the whole process. Researching something online is anything but. 

However, being able to use the Internet at any given moment for research purposes has made life so much easier. It would have been a blessing to use the Internet when I was still in school. I’m glad I can at least use it in my work life.  

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge is a previous editor of NOW! Jakarta. An experienced writer and avid bookworm.