BY MICHAEL MUSTO | “Everything used to be better” is the rallying cry of the old-fogeys. But this hag is here to tell you that’s as big a lie as saying that Gone With The Wind is an accurate portrayal of the Civil War. I should know. I’ve been around so long that my social security number is 3, and believe me, technology, for one thing, used to be shockingly primitive compared to now.
Starting out as a professional writer in the 1970s, I had to type and retype my articles and hand-deliver them to the publications, while also hoping I didn’t miss a call at home. If life is just a bowl of cherries, then trying to survive professionally in the ’70s was the pits!
Here are 20 Things That are Way Better Now Than in the Rotten Past:
COMPUTERS REIGN SUPREME. | As I mentioned, we used to have to type things out, using Wite-Out whenever mistakes happened, frantically trying to rub the liquid in so it wasn’t so noticeable. (CorrectType was also popular.) Sometimes, I would actually cut paragraphs up and Scotch tape them back in a different order, hoping the tape wouldn’t be too obvious. I’d also make sure to keep a copy of the article in case an editor later asked for a rewrite. If so, I had to hand-write all kinds of notes and squiggles on the manuscript and then type the whole thing again from scratch. Not fun.
VOICEMAIL IS A DUH. | Answering machines weren’t that prevalent until the mid-’70s. Before those devices became commonplace, you could hire a phone service to take your messages, but few had the money (or the pretension) for that kind of thing. So, generally, we were all on a “You snooze, you lose” basis. Whenever we left the house, it was with a terror that we might be missing out on a crucial phone call that could change our lives. We’d go running back home asap, hoping against hope that the person would call again. Life was like a constant thriller. Instead of Don’t Answer the Phone!, it was Answer the Phone!
CALL WAITING IS A PART OF LIFE. | We didn’t have that either! So, if you were talking to your mother on the phone, you were always cognizant of the fact that an editor might be desperately trying to call in with a plum assignment. That led to some real dilemmas.
PAY PHONES ARE GONE. | In 2022, they’re as hard to find as typewriters—thank god! In the old days, they were everywhere, but it wasn’t easy to track down one that worked and besides, you had to also make sure to have enough quarters on you in order to use them. I remember being stuck on a subway platform one night in 1979 and waiting for a train that never seemed to be arriving. I wanted to call my friend who was making me dinner and tell him I’d be late, but the first pay phone I tried on the platform didn’t work. It also ate my last remaining quarter in the process, so I then had to charm some coins out of a stranger to try the second phone there. And that one didn’t work either. “Good old days” indeed. Cell phones are everything.
SPEAKING OF WHICH: TRAIN ARRIVALS ARE ANNOUNCED. | I’m not advocating any kind of love affair with the NYC subway system; I’m aware of all the pitfalls there, which are among the reasons I ride a bike. But at least many stations now have light-up boards that tell you when the next train you want is expected to pull in. It spares you from getting that hopeless, “I might be stuck here through eternity” feeling.
LONG DISTANCE IS FREE. | In the 1970s, it cost a fortune to make an out-of-town call. As a result, I was one of many young people who relied on an old trick: When I was away on a trip, I’d call the operator and ask to make a “person to person call” to my parents’ number back home. I would ask for myself, so when mom answered, the operator would say, “We have a person to person call for Michael Musto.” My mother would very clearly respond, “Sorry, he’s not here” and we’d all hang up. That was a pre-rehearsed routine that was designed to let my folks know that I was OK and vice versa. Can you imagine? Nowadays, you can just call and talk.
EMAILS RULE THE DAY. | In the ’70s, I was not just a writer, I was also basically a delivery boy. I used to have to hand-deliver my articles—after all that typing and taping yet. I once shlepped to a newspaper office on the other side of town to leave my article there—in a blizzard—but the nasty door guard wouldn’t let me leave it at the front desk for some reason, and my editor up in his office wasn’t answering his phone. I had to try again another time, which was a complete nightmare and not quite what I’d imagined was on my job description as a “freelance journalist.” But these days, you just put the attachment in an email and press “Send.”
THERE ARE SO MANY TV CHANNELS AND STREAMING SERVICES. | There used to be a finite number of channels—no cable, no streaming. And then, through the years, the viewing palette grew and grew to the point where you can now spend virtually your entire life binge watching things you never even heard of. Some people have become addicted to all of that and spend their lives impossibly glued to their home screens, but for the most part, the more entertainment choices, the better for everyone (including actors, writers, and directors looking for work).
SIMILARLY: THERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS TO SEE MOVIES. | You used to have to either go to the theater or wait months and months for it to be released to video and/or TV. But now, the movies are often streaming at the same time as they’re in the theater—or maybe just a short time later. I always recommend watching movies on a big screen, but again, options are delightful.
SHORT LEAD TIMES | I used to write for magazines that came out up to two and a half months after I turned in the article. It could be a piece about how in love two particular movie stars were, but by time it was published, they were at each other’s throats in divorce court. Thanks to the omnipresence of sites and their quick lead times, it’s pretty hard to come off less than topical these days. You can also input post-publication changes if they’re needed.
FACT-CHECKING IS VASTLY EASIER TO DO. | Fact checkers used to have to pore through textbooks, search through microfilm, and call libraries and other sources. Today, they do a simple Google search and boom, their job is done. Many publications don’t even bother with fact-checking anymore because the writers can effortlessly do it themselves. And it’s all so quick and easy that we can return to our binge watching in a matter of minutes.
NO MORE HANDED OUT OR MAILED FLIERS AND PRESS RELEASES | You hardly see them anymore because you can now reach people via email, texting, and social networks. And no one misses them: You save the cost of printing and postage, as well as a whole lot of hassle. You never even have to leave the house. And think of all the trees saved!
YOU CAN TRACK DOWN PEOPLE EASILY. | Social networks are handy for finding folks you need—which in my case usually involves those I want quotes or information from. Conversely, people have tracked me down on Facebook and Instagram to offer me jobs or promotional opportunities. And you can communicate easily via texting (thanks to the aforementioned cell phones, which I initially thought were annoying, but ultimately found utterly invaluable). In the 1970s, if you were supposed to meet someone and they weren’t there and they also were not reachable at home, you had to just wait and pray before eventually walking away and calling it a night. There was so much wasted time and emotion that every night had the potential to bring on a breakdown.
TRAVELER’S CHECKS ARE OBSOLETE. | If you were going abroad, you used to have to buy traveler’s checks and then cash them in and convert them once you got there, and it was a huge pain in the derriere, especially since you never knew just how much value to bring. Nowadays, you just charge, charge, charge.
WE HAVE BIKE LANES. | Yes, I’ve talked about how bike lanes are far from hazard-free. But still, it’s a better situation than when bike riders roamed randomly all over the street. There are more bikers now, of course, and thus the need for the lanes, but it’s still a good idea to stick to those lanes—as long as you keep riding in a straight line so as not to be cut off by the loons out there.
THERE ARE UBERS AND LYFTS. | I once almost missed a business trip because my car service to the airport came early, then left because I wasn’t outside yet. They split before the scheduled pickup time! And there were no available cabs for miles! But with Ubers, you simply request one, get in, and then pay a fortune. The price isn’t fun, but the dependability of it is divine.
YOU CAN HAVE FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATIONS FROM AFAR. | Praise the universe for Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom. The future has arrived. It’s basically a telephone call, but with visuals—and you can always block the video aspect of it (or sit offscreen) if you don’t happen to be wearing your finest ball gown. My movie club could not have continued without Zoom, and we can now even have the most extraordinary guest stars from around the globe.
THERE’S NO NEED FOR ALARM CLOCKS AND WATCHES. | Clunky timepieces were always irritating and expensive, whereas nowadays, all you have to do is glance at your phone for the time and set the phone’s alarm for a buzz. In a hotel, you’re no longer dependent on a scheduled wakeup call. I remember times when that call didn’t happen and an entire appointment was almost obliterated! Thankfully, my natural biological instincts saved the day, but nowadays, all fears are gone, and I love no longer having to search Chinatown for discount watches.
EVERYTHING IS VIDEOTAPED. | Between surveillance cameras and cell phones everywhere, people can’t get away with stuff as much as they used to. Everyone can’t be a criminal anymore—but everyone can be a crime buster and hold up the evidence!
PROSTATE EXAMS ARE LESS INVASIVE. | The doctor used to shove their hand way up your butt and practically touch your tonsils, in order to see whether your prostate was swollen. It’s quite possible that I’m the rare gay man who never cared for that procedure. But today, they can stick to blood tests to see if there are problems. You only have to sit there and endure a simple jab. Developments like this don’t really offset the rise of fascism, but hey, they do make everyday existence a tad easier for certain people.
THINGS WEREN’T SUFFOCATINGLY PC. | No, wait—I won’t count this one because that was actually a good situation! You could actually make fun of things! So there was something better back then—but not powerful enough to offset all the horror. Trust me: I’m happy to be here right now. Now, get outta my way. That’s MY Uber.
Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work regularly appears on this website as well as Queerty.com and thedailybeast.com, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, which made its debut in April of 2021. Follow Musto on Instagram, via musto184.
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