Constable: Imagine today's COVID-19 with yesterday's technology

  • If the coronavirus pandemic hit a generation ago, we probably would have gotten the news from Walter Cronkite. As limiting as that sounds, the newsman hailed as "the most trusted man in America" wouldn't have spouted conspiracy theories, phony cures or other fake news.

    If the coronavirus pandemic hit a generation ago, we probably would have gotten the news from Walter Cronkite. As limiting as that sounds, the newsman hailed as "the most trusted man in America" wouldn't have spouted conspiracy theories, phony cures or other fake news. Associated Press

  • If we found ourselves forced to stay at home a generation ago, a rotary dial phone would have been the main lifeline to the outside world. Even with careful dialing, you still might have be frustrated after reaching a busy signal.

    If we found ourselves forced to stay at home a generation ago, a rotary dial phone would have been the main lifeline to the outside world. Even with careful dialing, you still might have be frustrated after reaching a busy signal. Daily Herald file

 
 
Posted4/2/2020 5:20 AM

As challenging as life is during this Age of COVID-19, can you imagine if we didn't have today's technology?

No internet, no streaming videos, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube, no conference calls, and no Zoom, GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The morning newspaper on the doorstep, the nightly news on three TV stations, the U.S. mail and our telephones would be the sources of information for all of us if we were sheltering at home in the 1960s and '70s. Our phones would be tethered to the wall, and limited to one-to-one conversations, unless you were lucky enough to have a second phone where a loved one could listen in on the extension.

Of course, many calls to doctor offices, pharmacies, other businesses and even friends and family would end with that annoying busy signal telling you another person got to them first.

The frustration we feel now when autocorrect messes up a text pales in comparison to the frustrations of having your finger slip only a number away from completing your call on an old rotary dial phone, forcing you to restart your dial from the beginning.

Long-distance calls cost too much for casual conversations. While conference calls were out of the question, you might pick up your phone to discover a neighbor already was using your shared party line.

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If the coronavirus had arrived in 1990, before cellphones were ubiquitous, you would have discovered that businesses were closed because of coronavirus only when you tried to open a door and found it locked.

Libraries and schools would have stuck signs out front explaining the situation to confused residents who arrived in person.

Thirty years ago, "it would have been difficult to get the word out in such a short time," Jane Rozek, longtime reference and history librarian, says of the decision to close the Schaumburg Township District Library at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 13.

"Chances are we would have sent follow-up releases to local newspapers, and radio and TV stations, alerting our cardholders to changes in returns, letting them know we were suspending fines or giving updates on when the library would reopen."

Instead, email did the trick.

"We immediately had a run on the library. People came in and grabbed books and DVDs by the armload," Rozek says. Of course, even with the doors closed, library patrons can check out eBooks, eAudiobooks and movies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If a coronavirus struck in an era before the internet, students, reporters and others would have been out of luck.

"There were no databases to be accessed," Rozek says. "We relied on reference books, serial services, CD-ROM magazine indexes, hard-copy magazines, and microfilm or microfiche. All of which was restricted to in-library use."

But a lack of technology might have made us calmer, says Sandy Fries, program chair of mass communications and journalism at the College of DuPage.

Instead of being bombarded 24 hours a day with nonstop COVID-19 news and speculation, most suburbanites in the 1960s were content with the news arriving at 5:30 p.m. in a new, longer 30-minute format called the CBS Evening News.

People limited to getting their news from TV newsman Walter Cronkite didn't hear him repeat outlandish conspiracy theories, promote fake cures or add a political spin.

"I've had people forward me videos of bizarre, crazy theories of what's going on with coronavirus. I never heard that extreme wackiness until the internet," Fries says.

Without a Cronkite to tell us, "That's the way it is," Fries says he ignores the vast majority of seemingly endless options for news and depends on stories from The Associated Press, the Daily Herald, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

"When I look for coronavirus news," Fries says, "I have to be really careful about what source I have."

Communicating and sharing information in the old days had its limits. But the plenitude of resources we have now still comes with limitations.

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