I Lived Like It Was 1996 for a Week
Photos by Michael Sedbon
During the past year, magazines have bombarded us with "the return of the 90s." Clothes, art, music: all of it rolls through the rotating door of style. What's with this bullshit? Seriously, who would want to return to an era where the only positive aspect is that people from the 80s can remember their youth? I was born in 1993. I don't give a fuck.
In that era, children played with Pogs, Pokémon cards, and Tamagotchi. The computers were dumber than humans, and the internet consisted of 3,000 nerds. As for cell phones, they existed but no one had them—apart from your super-modern uncle, maybe.
Twenty-year-olds and teens lived without much: VHS movies, video games, making plans to meet up via their parents' corded phones, and going to the movies as often as possible, checking the times through Moviefone. There wasn't anything fantastic going on. What do people miss so much about it, then? This is what I wanted to find out.
I prohibited myself from using all technological inventions from after 1996 for a week. That means seven days. No more cell phone, no more computer, no more internet, no more DVDs, no more iPhone—I'm not going to make a detailed list, but basically nothing remained. I had to force myself to listen to No Doubt. I'd never lived like this. I had no idea what to do with the boredom.
For fun, I only allowed myself an old school game console, a newly purchased VCR, and—and that's pretty much everything. Then I took a deep breath, and sent one last group text telling my friends that I would not be available during the next week. I turned off my iPhone, and the rest follows.
First observation: since I lose my phone all the time, living cut-off from the world is pretty normal. The music was the first thing that sucked, though; I had a Discman bigger than the Torah and people threw me menacing glances when they saw that I changed the song to Elastica.
The day passed more or less normally. Not once did I feel the need to send a text or talk shit on Facebook. While I was eating dinner, my home phone rang. Out of reflex, I didn't answer—I always have told myself that if anyone was trying to find me, they'd call my cell. That's a problem when you have no cell. I plugged in the fat, square TV to play Mario Kart, but there was no remote.
In normal times, I would have gone on the internet to look for some guy with the same problem on a forum, but 1996 is not normal times. I told myself, it's OK—I was left with the VCR. Except that I then realized that the VCR was sold to me WITHOUT THE CABLE. I wanted to kill the asshole who sold me a cable-less VCR. This lasted a good five minutes, then I decided to do something else: sleep. Second observation: in 1996, everything was more complicated.
Note to my father, if he's reading this article: during all the years that you told me about living in my own present-day bubble, "One day, you'll see, it will fail you, Wallis." That day has arrived.
Living without the internet is not very practical. Neither is living without a phone. It was 3:30 PM, and I had to quickly return to my office, but all five Paris Metro trains were shut down because of a suspicious package. I wanted to take out my cell and ask my way to the RATP—invention of the century!—or get Vélib (a popular bike-sharing service) and use GPS, but I couldn't. I wished I could call my boss on my cell phone and tell him that I was going to be late—but no, not yet, not in 1996.
I then asked the passengers where I could find a bus to take me to the East Bridge. In 1996, everyone had a different manner of arriving at their destination. I followed the majority opinion. The bus stop in question was impossible to find and I lost my way. At the office, I got yelled at.
At home, my computer sat there taunting me. I missed it. Or, not just the computer, but the cold softness of the digital age. I just wanted to put my ass in front of a movie or TV show until everything passed. In the 90s, people still had things to do.
In the morning, before going to the office, I made an appointment with the dentist—oh joy! The Metro was blocked again, by another suspicious package. It's official, I have the worst luck, unless there really was some resurgence of terrorism in Paris that particular week. In 1996, there were always telephone booths—and that was cool, but they've since all disappeared.
Without the internet, it's difficult to do anything at the last minute. It's all planned ahead of time. You can't really "wait and see." In the 20th century, plans still meant something.
I got tired of living like a recluse. So I called two friends who have landline phones to see if they wanted to spend a couple hours in the real world. We chatted like it was an episode of Daria, and when it was over, we hung up.
Shit, I missed the internet. I always thought that Facebook was useless until I had to live without it. I wanted so badly to have people commenting on my photos, and I wanted to "like" my social network in all of its pointlessness. It's the most practical way to talk to the people in my life and the fabric of my existence. I missed Facebook. I wanted to make love with Facebook. I'm focusing on Facebook, but it's the internet itself that I wanted to exchange fluids with. In its place, I joined some friends in real life, as the students before me did.
The night before, I left my coat at a club. Faced with the impossibility of going to find the number of the club online, I decided to actually go there. When I got to the coatroom, it was closed. I was too early. I decided to look into it another time. In doing this, I understood the 20th century French concept: take care of everything some other time.
I feared the weekend more than any other time in the week. I knew that I was going to want to go out and call lots of people, but I didn't have anyone's number, and I couldn't just see what people were doing on Facebook. "Courage, Wallis—only 48 hours left," I toldl myself, and I thought how liberating it is not to be disturbed. Then, "48 hours, that's too long." Fuck, it's Friday, the day to do things, to drink cheap drinks and dance to repetetive music. I feel lost, but it's sometimes it's liberating to not be found.
Nothing special happened on Saturday. Nothing special happened on Saturdays 17 years ago; people listened to Prodigy to pass the time. I had the damning desire to eat Mexican for lunch, but I thought over the fact that I don't know any Mexican restaurants around my area, so without the internet, there would be no fajitas. I holed up inside my house until Sunday, reading sad things.
The last day in hell. I had to return the TV to its owner. I wasn't going to miss it. It was useless, anyway. Upon meeting her, I complained about the lack of remote control. She told me that a remote wasn't necessary to change the channels. I felt dumb, and then took the Metro with my heavy Discman.
I retrieved my phone and could finally go back to the internet, but on a rotten, old computer, the other having been confiscated by my editor. I had so many Facebook notifications, so many that I would have to check them all later. I texted. I sent emoticons. I conversed using invisible matter—I was back in the 21st Century.
All in all, I haven't had any revelations. No epiphany that could have opened my eyes to the technology-caused vacuum, and it's not like I've decided not to return to the modern day. I just think it's nice to be alone from time to time. Until it gets boring.
The thing that sucks the most is that today no one can live without the internet and Facebook and cell phones and all of that. Me, especially. People all want to offer their opinions, talk to each other, and no one can actually do anything without consulting help forums. Facebook makes us all unhappy. Yeah, this sucks. But I assure you, it also sucks not being about to find a Mexican place when you're starving.
PS : For those who would still like to disappear from the internet, you can always use Freedom. Only it can help you.
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