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What College Was Like Before Social Media: An Explainer

Campus life was massively different not so long ago. Ready for a history lesson?

Sometimes I think about college kids today and I'm jealous. When I was in college just a decade ago, we had crappy landline phones, clunky laptops and no way to share our lives on social media.

Back then, being "social" meant leaving your tiny dorm room and interacting with other humans face to face. (Not Facebook to Facebook.) That sounds sarcastic, but in some ways we would've been better off with Swarm, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and countless other apps in our pockets, and here's why...

It was harder to meet people

You might not realize it, but a "facebook" used to actually be an actual book. That you could, like, hold in your hands and thumb through the pages of.

Yes, when I arrived at Syracuse University in 1997, each of us was issued a book that included the faces (and names) of every other freshman in our incoming class. It was incredibly tedious to use, yet the only way to visually learn who your classmates were.

So of course we all meticulously went through this facebook, page by page, pointing out the good-looking people. Then, we had to scour the campus hoping and trying to stumble upon the actual face -- and body -- of those hot people we'd seen in print. Unfortunately, the face-to-face meetings rarely met our expectations.

It was more boring

In fact, it's hard to remember how we even spent our time. If we saw something cool on campus, we couldn't Instagram it; we simply had to look at it and enjoy it and maybe tell two friends about it later. If we were out partying, we couldn't take a pic with our phone and instantly upload it Facebook; we had to use a disposable camera (don't ask) and wait a few days to actually see what we looked like partying.

And, worst of all, if we were bored in class, we couldn't surf Twitter or Reddit; we had to just doodle or daydream. (That's when you sit there simply thinking -- it used to be a popular pastime and it was totally not as fun as retweeting things.)

Related: What Dating Was Like Before Cell Phones: An Explainer

On the other hand, maybe college was better before social media, because...

It was friendlier

Nowadays, at your fingertips, you have hundreds if not thousands of instantly accessible photos of anyone whose name you know. Sit next to a cute boy or girl on the first day of class, and once roll has been called, you can surreptitiously get on your phone and see countless photos of them (hopefully some beach vacation shots!), not to mention figure out who their friends are, what hometown they're from, what pop culture they like, perhaps even what they just ate for lunch. Back in my day, we actually had to "get to know" a person. It was kind of awful. Who wants to ask so many damn questions?

It was less embarrassing

Because we were all able to (kind of) control our personas. The only thing you could know about us is what we told you about us. So even if you were a dork in high school, by the first day of freshman year you could lie and claim you were, like, the homecoming king or star of your high school's field hockey team. Nowadays, those egregious lies can be disproven with a few quick loops of several social media sites.

There was less evidence

Likewise, there used to be no chance that pic of you humiliating yourself at last night's party could spread virally -- unless you did something so crazy, the student newspaper picked it up. (Newspapers are a history lesson for another day.)

In many ways, the pre-social media era was actually great for a college kid, and I'm thankful I was a part of it. Because, thinking about how I would have lived (I mean, ruined) my life if social media had existed back when I was in college, I can completely imagine...

  • Tweeting embarrassingly lame things out about an ex-girlfriend.
  • Losing out on future job opportunities due to a snarky LinkedIn profile.
  • Posting terrible shots of me on Facebook that I thought looked cool.
  • Perhaps even sending out a dirty selfie to someone.
  • And, of course, writing plenty of dumb things on the internet that would haunt me forever.
  • Actually, maybe I haven't grown past that final point.

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