Entertainment And News

What Life Was Like As A Teen Before The Internet — MTV, Mixtapes & The Mall

Photo: Aliaksei Kaponia / Zamurovic Brothers / Shutterstock
Teenager, 90s computer

Almost everyone is living most of their lives online nowadays, and the younger you are, the more of your day-to-day you’re likely spending with a screen.

With the internet being so central to life, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time it simply… didn’t exist.

But as wild as it may sound to many younger people these days, if you’re of a certain age, you remember those pre-internet days all too well–and probably quite fondly.

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Reddit users are looking back on life as a teenager before the internet.

On Reddit, people dug into those halcyon analog days in a thread in the NoStupidQuestions subReddit in which someone asked “Teenagers before the internet" what they did in their spare time.

The answers are a real trip down memory lane for many of us, and a reminder that we all used to live in a very different world.

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Mixtapes… So many mixtapes…

By far, the most popular responses to the question of what teens did before the internet had to do with music — especially the painstaking construction of mixtapes.

Today, people just slap together a Spotify playlist like it’s nothing, but to do that before the internet? Well, that was a *project* — especially if you had to tape songs off the radio, as several Redditors remembered doing.

As one put it, “Waiting for the radio to play your favorite songs so you could record them took a big chunk of time.” And that of course came after the long process of “calling the radio station constantly, asking them to play" your favorite song as another recounted.

Once you actually got ready to record the song, you were faced with a different problem: “hoping the DJ didn't talk over the end of it.”

In fact, several Redditors had deeply embedded memories of DJs doing just that–ruining their mixtape recordings with their jabber over the song. As one recounted:

“Nearly 30 years later, whenever I hear ‘Dreams’ by Cranberries, I still halfway expect a DJ to cut in to the end with his horrible yodeling, because that's what happened on the recording I ended up making,” one user recalled.

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When malls were THE place to be.

Redditors called out lots of activities they engaged in before the internet, and a visit to their local mall came in at the top of many people’s lists. 

Nowadays we tend to think of malls as sort of… well, played out — places we go only as a last resort when we can’t find what we want on Amazon or all the myriad other online shopping platforms.

But for pre-internet kids, malls were the place to see and be seen. Tons of Redditors had fond memories of loitering in America’s shopping centers, blowing their allowances on cookies at the food court.

One Redditor remembered that if they weren’t at home talking on the phone “for hours at a time” they were “out at the mall with friends” hanging out at the video arcade and movie theater that every mall had back in the day.

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When MTV was all that mattered.

Music videos are pretty much exclusively an internet thing now, with artists maintaining their own YouTube video playlists for fans. But there was once a time, before shows like “Catfish” and “Teen Mom” were even a glimmer in anyone’s eye, when MTV was a channel that played nothing but music videos.

Similar to the whole mixtape debacle, pre-internet kids spent hours plopped in front of their televisions waiting for their favorite videos to play. As one Redditor remembered:

“I remember staying up til midnight to watch the release of Encore by Eminem on MTV. I think I was like 9 or 10 or something and I got grounded so hard for not going to bed. I think I also taped over some show or something my parents were watching lmao”

Ah yes, the fiery drama that would ensue when you accidentally taped over your mom's "Murder She Wrote" episodes with the latest installment of MTV's "Total Request Live"... Kids today will never understand!

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics. 

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