Back in MY Day

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. Those in my age group (old farts) have a tendency to praise the good old days, just as our parents and grandparents did to us. Since those tales frequently ran along the lines of walking six miles to school in a blizzard, we always took them with a grain of salt. A similar wariness is warranted when “boomers” born in the first couple of years after soldiers came home from World War II start waxing nostalgic and making snide remarks about modern technology.

I am irritated by such things as word processing programs that want to correct my spelling and grammar, whether it needs correcting or not, and the intrusiveness of other people’s cell phone conversations, always carried out in loud voices. I am, frankly, in terror of future developments in AI. Even so, I would not want to go back to doing things the “old fashioned” way.

Before cell phones, there was no way to contact other people unless you had a landline and knew what number to call to reach them. One time back in the late 1960s, I was supposed to meet a friend to give her a ride back to college after spring break. When she did not show up at the pickup point I had no way to get in touch to find out what had happened. Was I waiting in the wrong place? Had she changed her mind or forgotten? The only thing I could do was wait around until it was really obvious she wasn’t going to show and then go on without her.Would that happen today? Probably not.

Before computers, I used a manual typewriter with carbon paper (and liberal applications of White Out) to produce my manuscripts. Enough said. Don’t even get me started on other office equipment.

Before e-mail and text messages, people wrote letters and made phone calls. The letters were long and newsy. Well, e-mails can be, too. There were lots of hour-long or longer phone calls to friends and family, even though long-distance calls could get expensive. I called my parents every Sunday for decades when I was in Maine and they were in New York and then in Florida. If they were still around today, I suppose we’d be in contact via Zoom or Face Time.

Before digital photos and videos, there was no way to tell if you had taken the shot you thought you had until you sent the film away to be processed. My snapshots tended to be out of focus, and I once shot a long sequence of friends in my college dorm with a filter on over the lens. And, of course, with 8mm film, there was no sound.

Before online search engines, research had to be done in print format. I actually miss spending time in the library stacks, but even the best university library wouldn’t have every book and article I needed. Inter-library loans helped, but there was still a lot that wasn’t available unless you could travel to the location where that material was housed. There were experts willing to share knowledge, just as there are now, but instead of instant access via the Internet, where we can ask questions on Google, join groups dedicated to special interests, and find online articles on the most arcane of subjects, back in the day the only options were a cold call on the telephone or a letter. If you could find a phone number or mailing address the recipient might or might not be willing to answer questions.

And did I mention that locating a book in a library required searching though a card catalogue? The system wasn’t difficult, but it took more than a couple of clicks with a mouse to find what you wanted. Thank goodness most libraries had a reference librarian on hand to help.

Before VHS, before DVDs, before Blu-Ray and streaming, I can remember being a young teen and recording episodes of Bonanza with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I had a wicked crush on Little Joe Cartwright. The recorder was also handy for capturing crank calls to teachers during pajama parties and taping music off the radio.

Overall, things are both better and easier in 2023. I have one word of warning, though. To be able to contact someone by cell phone, the cell phone has to be turned on and the ringer has to be working. The other day, we thought our cat had gotten out of the house. When Sandy spotted a black cat out in the field and couldn’t find Shadow anywhere inside, he set off to try to catch the cat he’d seen. This involved tromping through muddy brown grass still dotted with snow, and thickets, and ditches full of cold snow-melt. I went looking, too, but I’m too wobbly on my pins to be much use, so after he started visiting the neighbors to ask if they’d seen her, I came back home. That’s when it occurred to me to double-check. I got out the cat treats, took them upstairs, and shook the container. Voila! Shadow emerged from underneath the bed. Relieved, I set about trying to reach Sandy to tell him the good news. Yes, you guessed it. He had his cell phone in a case on his belt but he didn’t have the ringer turned up and he couldn’t feel it vibrate. After he eventually came home, we found out that the black cat he’d been chasing belonged to one of our neighbors.

Modern technology has come a long way, but it doesn’t work if you don’t turn it on.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and


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16 Responses to Back in MY Day

  1. Jeanie Dannheim says:

    Somehow I miss those long phone calls that don’t exist anymore. Carbon paper and mimeographs and white-out? I don’t miss them. I know I’m not thinking clearly, however, when reading historical mysteries and wonder why they don’t just CALL the person they can’t find…oopsie! And I do miss your last series, that I can’t remember the name of, about our friendly editor/ sleuth. I’m sorry that didn’t continue.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thanks for your comment. I miss writing the Deadly Edits books, but as a wiser writer than I am (Margaret Maron) said when she ended her long-running series, it’s better to quit before the writing starts to go downhill (I’m paraphrasing there). My publisher, Covid, carpal tunnel, and a few other things all conspired to tell me it was time to semi-retire and, overall, I’m glad I did.

  2. Dru says:

    Thanks for the memories. I still have my landline. The typewriter, carbon paper and white out, don’t miss that at all.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      We still have our landline, too. The last thing I want is to have to keep turning my cell on to check for missed calls and messages. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just for emergenices and I only turn it on when I go somewhere in the car. Don’t even get me started on the fact that I’m unable to send text messages because the keys are too small for my arthritic fingers!

  3. kaitcarson says:

    LOL – My first secretarial job was PRE-white out. Can you imagine. We had pencils filled with a pumice like material and a brush on the end. Lots of holes in paper in those days :). My college roommate and I write letters on occasion just to keep our hands in!

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Oh, I remember those days, too. I earned extra money in college by typing other student’s papers. Of course, back then, I was considerablty better at hitting the right keys.

  4. susanvaughan says:

    Excellent post, Kathy. This from another old fart, I too am terrified of AI.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Susan, I think all of us who were once teachers feel that way. Trying to catch kids copying or buying papers off the Internet was hard enough!

  5. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    This made me smile. In the old days, my friend Joe and I would walk part-way home from high school, split up, and call each other, talking for HOURS. There was no call waiting or message-taking if the line was busy, so who knows how many calls my parents missed? Now I never talk on the phone (or even answer it), except to FaceTime my girls and grandkids. Text or email all the way, LOL.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      We don’t answer the many robo calls to our landline, but I still use it to deal with doctor’s appointments and so forth. It’s much easier to hear over the landline speaker phone than the one on the cell phone. I love email, but texting? Nope. Those tiny keys and my fingers are a bad match!

  6. Alice says:

    Yes, and that cell phone won’t work if it isn’t charged.
    I, too, recall those typewriter erasers – – probably still have one in the junk drawer.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Good point, Alice, but thank goodness dead phones (and dead zones) are possible or it would be really hard for today’s writers to put their characters in situations where they have no choice but to get themselves out of trouble.

  7. John Clark says:

    I have a vision of the human race ten years hence where 90% have a permanent forward neck bend toward a hand groping an imaginary cellphone and completely oblivious to their immediate surroundings. Cash trumps debit cards, text messages are spawn of Satan, but I do love the ease of research these days.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Totally agree, John. I still use cash (and–gasp!–checks) to buy most things. I loathe having to put anything on automatic payments. On the other hand, typing on a computer is sooooo much easier than banging away on my old manual typewriter, and so much easier to correct.

  8. Julianne Spreng says:

    I honestly miss the card catalog. Many was the time I’d discover new titles, authors, subjects while thumbing through. Now you have to know what you want before you can look for it. No more pleasant surprises.

  9. kaitlynkathy says:

    There’s definitely something to be said for browsing card catalog cards, and also for sitting in the stacks, browsing random books. I used to enjoy doing that (sometimes even when I was supposed to be working–as a library assistant, shelving was one of my regular jobs)

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