Stumbling in the Dark

Life, love and sex before the Internet.


I don’t know what more there is to say about this issue’s cover topic (sex). Probably nothing. But let me add this: The Internet has, well, killed romance in a million different ways, in ways that anyone born after the 1990s — or certainly 2000 — will never fully realize.

There was a time, boys and girls, when we didn’t have an Internet; we didn’t all carry smart phones, which meant we didn’t know what anyone else was doing. That is the No.1 thing we lost when we gained technology — we lost the mystery of not knowing what or who or where someone was at any given time.

Today, you just pull out your smart phone and text or, if you’re really daring, actually place a phone call and speak to another human being. If whoever you’re looking for is into social media, it’s just as easy to find him or her by reading their last Facebook or Twitter post or last Swarm/Foursquare check-in (Does anyone still use Swarm?). There are even apps that allow willing victims to be traced via GPS — as creepy as it sounds.

Most people find comfort in having this knowledge, in knowing that finding their friend or lover is but a few clicks away. It’s almost like never being alone.

It’s impossible to explain to anyone born after, say, 1995, what life was like before smart phones and the Internet. But god help me, I’m going to try. To do so, I have to take you back to the ’80s, or at least my ’80s, back when computers were nothing more than glorified typewriters with little if any connectivity.  The only telephones were the ones attached to the wall with cables. Email did not exist. We all took pen to paper and composed old-fashioned letters. I know this is true because I have a file cabinet full of them.

How did we survive as a species? None of us had the slightest clue where we were going to find love or, for that matter, sex. The only way to find a companion was to go out and get one. We were cavemen and cavewomen, with cars.

Oh the endless hours spent waiting for phone calls — or making phone calls — merely to figure out which bar my friends were going to hang out at on a given Friday night. If, for whatever reason I missed that call — the one that laid out the evening’s plans — I was stuck either wandering the streets of Omaha looking for my friends or not going out at all.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. The fact is, there were only so many places we would go on weekend nights, and most of them were the same pick-up joints or meat-market bars we’d gone to the weekend before, all strung long along south 72nd Street — Brandywines, The Crazy Horse, Jodhpurs, yes, even The Ranch Bowl was a singles bar back then. All are gone now.

Do pick-up joints still exist in the modern world? Are there bars that cater exclusively to the hook-up? Do kids these days still dance as part of a human mating ritual? I doubt there are very many people trying to hook up at Benson rock shows. The rise of Omaha’s indie music scene seems to have coincided with the downfall of singles bars, and, of course, the rise of the Internet.

What’s the point of asking a random stranger to dance — or buying them a drink — when you’ve got the entire world at your fingertips, complete with background information and photos? There is no point. It’s so much easier to simply use technology to make the connection for you. How many people reading this column found their “soulmate” — or last weekend’s hook-up — online?

I mentioned the topic of this month’s column to my wife (who, incidentally, I met the old-fashioned way, through a mutual friend, and whom I first asked out via email — cutting edge in 1996). She thinks things were better before the Internet, when we were all stumbling around in the dark. I’m not sure she’s right.

I can only imagine how different my life would have been if I’d had the Internet and a smart phone when I was 21 and single and looking for love in all the wrong places. How much dark, inner-angst I could have avoided. I was never good at the bar scene, unlike my friends who were amazing, fearless Casanovas. I was too afraid of the inevitable rejection to ask girls to dance. In retrospect, no amount of technology would have made a difference. Lucky for me it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve found my soulmate (Happy Valentine’s Day, honey).

The finding part no longer is a problem for singles. The Internet has become one giant singles bar filled only with those who want someone to ask them to dance. The mystery, the risk, has been eliminated forever. But no matter how easy it is to find someone willing to make a love connection, there’s one ultimate truth that can never be avoided: You still have to meet them if you’re ever going to find out who they really are. And for that, you’re on your own.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com


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