Life before 2000: A Gen Z tries to make sense of collect calls, paper maps and VHS

by HomeDecorBeauty


As a 41-year-old working side by side with a 22-year-old it is easy to forget she never felt the thrill of renting a VHS on a Friday night – or the frustration of discovering the person beforehand never bothered rewinding the movie .

So I sat down with Lyric Waiwiri-Smith to field her questions and school her on the best and worst of life before 2000.

Lyric Waiwiri-Smith: How did you cope without GPS? Did everyone just carry maps?

Amberleigh Jack: Pretty much. We had maps in the glove box and if you were on a road trip you had your passenger navigate. Also, if we got lost, we’d go into a petrol station and borrow their map. Or we would ask the attendant where to go and write their directions down.

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That blows my mind. I can’t read maps.

We figured it out. I got yelled at by my dad a bit because I didn’t read maps to his standard. But we all had a basic map-reading understanding.

Okay, one thing I’m wondering. Y2K was a fear that the internet was going to explode?

Yeah, so the theory went that when all the machines and internet and everything was set up, using two digit date systems, so all the dates technically ended in 1999. There was this big fear that when it clicked from 99 back to 00, everything was going to crash and burn because the systems didn’t have a year 2000. On New Year’s we were all kind of looking around at midnight to see if everything crashed. It’s kind of like the 2012 Doomsdayers.

Gen Z-er Lyric Waiwiri Smith (left) and her Stuff colleague, Millennial Amberleigh Jack.

Lawrence Smith/Stuff

Gen Z-er Lyric Waiwiri Smith (left) and her Stuff colleague, Millennial Amberleigh Jack.

Oh yeah, I remember that. What about music video channels? When I was growing up MTV basically stopped showing music videos.

We didn’t have music channels for a really long time. When I was a kid we had TV1 and TV2.

Wait, how long did you only have 1 and 2?

TV3 came out when I was 8, and I was probably about 15 when TV4 started. That’s why if you ask anyone my age they’ll probably be able to tell you about every Full House episode.

Because that’s all there was. Right, I’m seeing where the Shortland Street popularity came from now.

Yeah, when it started there would have been three channels. And unless you were really rich, there would be one TV in the house, so you’d watch what everyone watched. You just learned to like what was on because it was that or nothing. Telethons were cool though.

What the f… is a telethon?

It was a 24-hour TV fundraising event. People would pledge money for hosts to do something stupid, and they’d have all the celebrities and performers throughout the show. Mum would give us about $10 to phone up and pledge with through the night. We’d have the sleeping bags in the lounge, plenty of junk food and sometimes have friends over for sleepovers. It was so much fun.

Telethons were a 24-hour TV fundraising event that we loved as kids.

NZ On Screen

Telethons were a 24-hour TV fundraising event that we loved as kids.

Okay, so you go home from school, and then you just don’t talk to your friends until the next day?

Yeah, pretty much. I had a boyfriend when I was 14 and at night quite often he’d phone up, but it would have to go through the parents. Stuart would phone up and ask Mum to speak to me.

Like those 80s movies where they’re sitting on the phone twirling the cord around their finger?

Yep, you’d pull the cord tight to get to your room then shut the door on the cord to get privacy.

I got given a vintage cassette tape and player and I thought it was great until I realized I’d have to rewind it myself. I didn’t know how to rewind it. I was like, this sucks.

With walkmans and cassettes you’d just press the rewind button, but cassette players had a really bad habit of chewing the tape. So you’d have to pull it out and make sure you didn’t tear the tape then get your pencil and wind the tape back into the cassette by hand.

And if you wanted to listen to a song on repeat…

You’d just have to play it and rewind it, then play it again. But generally you’d play one side through, then turn it over and play the other side to get the tape back to the beginning.

No. No. When did CDs come about?

I got my first CD at 15. It was the Weezer self-titled album. It blew my mind. I could only play it on the computer, but the best present I ever got was a CD Walkman.

I bet it was. And you’d just carry the walkman with you?

Yeah, but if you ran or turned a corner too fast it would skip.

How would you run with a Walkman?

We just carried it. Everything was fairly big. Like those Alcatel cell phones where you had to ration your texts because they cost 20c.

The idea of ​​rewinding a cassette tape blew my 22-year-old colleague's mind.

Florian Schmetz

The idea of ​​rewinding a cassette tape blew my 22-year-old colleague’s mind.

Oh yeah, I remember that.

And making collect calls. Did you ever have to make them?

What the hell is a collect call?

If I was out with friends and had to get hold of mum I’d have to go to a payphone. But if I didn’t have any money I’d dial the operator and ask to make a collect call to mum’s number. So they’d phone mum and say, “your daughter is calling will you accept the charges?” and the cost of the call would go on mum’s phone bill.

What a rip-off. If you had a seriously pressing question before Google, would you just have to sit having no idea what the answer was?

Pretty much. Those random drunk conversations where someone was like, I wonder [whatever random thing]you’d just be like, yeah, I wonder.

So when did New Zealand get the internet?

I think my brother taught me the Internet around 1996. I’d come home from school, and we’d have an hour on the Internet and then the phone line would have to be free in case anyone called.

Wait, you can’t use the internet and the phone?

No because the internet and the phone both went through the same line. If you picked up the phone you’d get modem noises, so you’d have to yell out to whoever was on the computer if you needed the phone.

I feel like my attention span is so slow with the internet. I’m not as much a survivalist as some other people.

But you also don’t need to be. I remember being told at school we’d never have a calculator with us at all times, so we need to learn basic maths.

Woah, no way, and you guys must have had watches as well?

Yep, a nice watch was always a really cool present to get from Mum and Dad.

And then you’d got your Walkman, your pile of cassettes.

At the beginning of the day you’d decide what one or two cassettes you wanted to listen to that day because you wouldn’t carry everything with you.

This is crazy, I’ve learned some things today.

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