Social Media: How Did We Network Before the Internet?

HandshakeHow did you meet?

How did you find your job?

How did you select your college?

How did you find your home or apartment?

Many of us have heard our parents and grandparents story of “when they grew up….” how they didn’t have many of today’s luxuries (or what some consider necessities) that we have today. Whether it is a telephone or computers, times have changed.

From reading the classifieds in a newspaper to surfing websites that offer jobs, homes, and the news – the way people interact has shifted into social networking.

Let’s begin with some definitions.

What is networking? Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. Networking is nothing more than making and nurturing connections between people. We all do it, though some are more adept at it than others. Usually, a network is defined as a group of connections through which people socialize, share resources, and enhance productivity.

Now, define “Old School.” A time before the advent of web sites created for the purpose of networking is implied by the last three words. But, how far back should I go? I’ll go all the way back, and use my own personal history to give a series of little snapshots.


As a child, I carried my network in my head. It consisted of the people in my family and extended family, neighbors, and some people in our small town with whom I had regular contact. Memory and close interaction were sufficient to maintain my network up until high school. That was when I started keeping a notebook with names, addresses, and phone numbers of people that I wanted to stay in touch with in the future. I graduated high school in the mid 1970′s and my network continued to grow.


By 1980 I had begun my career, and my social network began to acquire professional connections. Most of the connections were still stored only in my memory, but those that were useful but not used on a regular basis were kept in a “little black book” and on a rolodex. The black book was simply a notebook with sections based on an alphabetical listing of people’s last names. A rolodex, for those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, was a storage system for business cards that could be organized by name or business category.

Actual business and social connections were maintained through personal contact, telephone conversations, and the occasional letter sent or received by US mail. Much effort was made to schedule time for coffee and lunch meetings, and other social activities that helped to nurture face to face time and opportunities for personal discussion. There were then, as there are now, secondary and tertiary connections in my network with people that I had never met or spoken with, people connected to the primary contacts in my network. If I wanted to connect with one of these, I would make contact with the person that I knew of them through, and ask for an introduction.


This was pretty much standard throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with the introduction of personal computers making it slightly easier to keep track of network connections. Computers brought databases that could be manipulated to store and correlate network connections. This meant that even those of us that are not naturally adept as information organizers could keep track of larger networks with a little effort. Through the 1990s, both cell phones and email became common and helped to make networks even more accessible and useful. Because we carried our phones with us, we could reach each other to speak more easily, and the ability of email to connect the same information with a lot of people at the same time brought us right to the edge of today’s proliferation of social media and personal technology.

Networking has been made easier, though sometimes a little less personal, with the technologies and media that have grown in the last few decades, but it has always been with us. From the beginning of civilization to now and beyond, networking is simply part of who we are and how we get things done. Nowadays we just happen to use LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Twitter to make it easier than ever to create, extend, and keep in touch with our network.

Contributor: My ISP Finder

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