Retrocon 2024

Life Before the Internet: Four Ways We Stayed Entertained in the 1980s

Okay, first and foremost, let’s go ahead and get the semantics out of the way. Before anyone tries to correct me about the introduction of the internet, I recognize that it was actually around in the 1980s. Sure, it was invented in 1983, but honestly… who of us really had access to it back then? Trust me, I was there. I know. I didn’t even get my first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, for those of us in the know) until 1989, so the struggle was definitely real.

But before we could dial-up and log onto the world wide web to connect with friends on the other side of the globe somewhere in the middle of the 90s (A/S/L, anyone?), we had to find other ways to keep ourselves entertained. We didn’t have all of the fancy-pants technology like iPhones and popular streaming services that are around today, so we had to be more creative and find other ways to have fun.

That’s not to say that it was all primitive or dull in the 1980s. Yeah, we had to use our imaginations sometimes, but we weren’t exactly dying of boredom, either. So whether you’re looking to take a quick stroll down memory lane ('80s kids unite!) or you’re a young whippersnapper who’s trying to see how we did it back in the good ol’ days, here are four ways we kept ourselves amused back in this totally rad decade.

Chilling Out At the Arcade

Man, when video games launched onto the scene, it was a total game-changer – no pun intended. Seemingly overnight, we went from building cootie catchers and playing with Rubik's cubes to having this digital marvel at our fingertips. The two-dimensional world was suddenly our oyster… provided, of course, you had the quarters to sustain it. Because at twenty-five cents a pop, not accounting for inflation, it added up quickly.

Of course, the arcade was more than just a place for enjoying video games. It was also a place for socializing, too. Many of them offered an endless stream of soda on tap (you had your choice of RC Cola and Slice, but if you were lucky, you might have been able to find the occasional Tab behind the bar), and pizza was as ubiquitous as fresh air, especially since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made this meal of choice the go-to for us '80s peeps.

Meeting Our Friends At the Mall

Today, malls are all but a barren wasteland, but way back when? They were the place to be. You didn’t need to have to pick up a new pair of parachute pants or run out of Aqua Net to justify hanging out at the mall. Shopping malls were where we’d chill out after school, and once we were done doing our rounds of the perimeter and getting into all kinds of mischief, we’d stop for a drink at the Orange Julius before heading home for supper.

But if your parents had cheaped out on your allowance that week, or you didn’t have enough dough leftover after payday at your part-time job, that was also totally fine. The mall was technically free, which was all part of the appeal. After all, you don’t have to spend a single dime to people-watch, and the adorable blue-hairs who would work out in their velour tracksuits were a wholesome pastime in and of themselves.

Rocking Out To Our Favorite Jams

Oh, '80s music. I’d write an ode to you, but you already outdid me with your incredible and unparalleled sounds. There’s literally nothing that compares to it, and even though some bands may try to embrace throwbacks, they only continue to fall short. Let me throw out a few names for your listening pleasure. Some of the more influential bands were Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, The Police, Metallica, and R.E.M.

Of course, that’s not to dismiss the pop tunes of this era outright, either. Madonna was the Material Girl, Cyndi Lauper showed her true colors by just wanting to have fun, Whitney Houston will always love us (and we will love her back!), Tears for Fears gave us a little peace in a mad world, and Michael Jackson was – of course – the King of Pop. No matter what flavor of music you liked, the 1980s had it, and then some.

Embracing the Culture (Or Counter-Culture!)

Okay, this one would be one of those great group therapy topics to work out with your doctor, but the 1980s were a much wilder time, and we’ve got the badge to prove it. Yes, those of us who grew up in it now have more than a touch of gray in our hair by now, but back then? We were all about marching to the beat of our own drum. We dyed our hair a rainbow of colors, listened to Joan Jett and The Cure, and embraced our own unique sense of style.

Of course, this decade also had its share of old-school values, too. For instance, the 80s gave rise to “D.A.R.E.” and other social programs like “Hands Across America.” Whether your goal was to love your neighbor, love yourself, or love the convenience of living in an era that hovered on the brink of a new century, there’s one thing we can all agree upon. There was absolutely nothing boring about this time period, and a little nostalgia is all it takes to bring us back to arguably the best decade in history!

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