The World’s Changed A Ton Since 1997

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On Saturday I’m delivering the commencement address at my high school, Martin Luther King Magnet here in Nashville, Tennessee. I went to MLK from 7th-12th grade and while I’d go on to George Washington for undergrad, Vandy for law school, and Vandy again for an MFA, the most difficult years of school I ever had were 7th and 8th grade at MLK. I never had to work harder in school than those two years. After that, honestly, everything has been pretty easy in school. I give MLK credit for having more influence on me than any other part of my schooling. It was an incredible place filled with incredible people. I loved every minute of it.    

I’ve been thinking a ton about what to say to the graduating seniors this year because MLK is a special place to me. At eighteen years old I was sitting at the exact same place as them listening to some old dude talk to me. And now eighteen years later I’m the old dude talking to them. Seriously, when you are 36 years old you are positively ancient to a high school senior. Have y’all realized that next year’s presidential election will feature lots of voters who don’t even remember 9/11 happening?

So I’m in charge of sending these graduating seniors off to conquer the world.

And when you get ready to do a commencement speech you spend a lot of time looking both forward and backward. Can you tell where you’re headed by looking at where you’ve been? Maybe. But if you’d told me back in 1997 that I’d make a living typing on my computer on my own Internet website, it would have seemed totally foreign to me. Not the least of all because in 1997 I couldn’t even type.

Some of you are old enough to remember when you used to handwrite all the papers you turned in at school, right? Do you remember what a big deal it was when you had to — and this was inconceivable at the time — type your paper? I remember being aghast at the very idea. “We have to type the paper!?” The teacher who required you to type a paper was a despot, some third world dictator hell bent on ruining your run-up to graduation. “Oh, I was going to go to the Oasis concert, but instead I’ve got to TYPE THIS TEN PAGE PAPER.”) I remember trying to hunt and peck my way through a ten page paper back in April of 1997. It took me multiple days. I remember sitting watching the sun move across the entire sky while I was still sitting there trying to type. 

(True story: I took typing lessons in adult education class the summer before I went to college because my dad said, “If Bill Clinton was your age, he would know how to type.” I swear to God my dad said this. Typing was like the height of technological advancement to my dad. If you didn’t know how to type you were doomed to a life of fast food work drudgery. The adult education typing class was me and the most degenerate losers you have ever seen in your life. All just sitting there typing on these ancient computers from 1982. I mean, think about the collection of grown ass people who would decide that learning how to type was the key to their life in the summer of 1997 in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. There weren’t a ton of forward thinkers there. Also, why didn’t anyone teach us how to type in high school? All the crap we spent time on and no one thought to teach us that? Are kids just born knowing how to type today? I feel like my kids will just sit down in front of a computer screen and innately know how to type. It’s like they all live in the Matrix now.)   

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been thinking about the most is how much of a technological revolution we’ve seen in the past eighteen years. Just consider what the world was like way back in 1997. No one in my graduating class had a cell phone at graduation. Some of us had cell phones, but they were gigantic Zack Morris style cell phones that weighed as much as a gold bar. It was incredibly expensive to make cell phone calls and if, god forbid, you made a long distance cell phone call your mom would beat you with the cell phone until you bled.

We had one cell phone in our house that my mom kept it in the glove box of our 1985 Volvo station wagon. This was the car that I drove. It was rust red with pleather brown seats and looked a bit like a Russian submarine from 1956. Honestly, you could not design a car that was less cool than the 1985 Volvo station wagon. Here it is if you doubt me. I have no idea why my parents picked rust as the color, knowing my dad it was probably so he could drive the car for 35 years without it ever changing color. Rust becomes rust.  

The local cell phone rates were so expensive that our cell phone was only to be used for extreme emergencies. Like, you or one of your friends had to be near death to make a phone call. The cost was so high that when you pushed the numbers into the phone it felt like you were keying in the nuclear codes. Especially at my house, where we still had a rotary phone, because my dad refused to replace it while it still worked. So you had to put your finger in the hole and twist it around to call someone. Then you’d hear the actual whirring as the phone realized what number you had dialed. (We still use the word dial, but how many people have ever actually dialed a number? Honestly, my dad would still have this phone if my parents hadn’t moved). Anyone else remember the homework hotline — that was big technology back in 1992, you could call and get your homework assignments if you missed school — I couldn’t use the homework hotline because you had to use a dial tone phone. So me going from a rotary telephone to using a cell phone was like going from a peck on the cheek to sex. I had no idea what I was doing.

As a result when you called on your 1997 cell phone, you spoke in a rapid fire lingo like the guy from the old Micro Machines commercial. “DougbrokehislegandweareatthehospitaltellhismomtheydonthavetoamputateBye.”

Without ease of cell phone use when you went to meet up with your friends everyone had to know the plan before you left your house or you were screwed. Good luck trying to track someone down if you switched movie theaters for a better showing of “Titanic.” They might as well have died. Every single one of you who is my age remembers having to wait for someone at a place that sucked because if you left you would never see that person again. Planning was paramount. Changing plans was an exercise in futility. Every night was like D-Day. 

You also had to know everyone’s phone number. The only cell phone number I know now is my own, but I can still remember most of my friends numbers from high school. No one in the graduating class of 2015 will know a single phone number other than his or her own.  

Anyway, I would venture to guess that every graduating kid will have his or her own cell phone with them on the floor during graduation. Many of the students will probably be texting about what a loser I am while I’m talking. Texting! No one even thought of the idea of texting in 1997. And just about everyone will have seen naked photos of someone on their phone. ON THEIR PHONES! Do you know how hard we all worked to see pornography in 1997? Every guy over thirty reading this right now has jerked off to scrambled Playboy. “Oh, yeah, that blue boob is awesome! Look at that blue boob with a sideways head beside it and a squiggly line that’s constantly moving. This is so hot!”

If you wanted to listen to music, you had to have actual casette or video tapes, you couldn’t watch every show ever made or hear any song for .99 cents. Oh, and your cell phone can take perfect pictures and videos now too. 

Another true story about my dad, when I was like sixteen he decided to buy a camcorder to record everything in our house. (My dad’s incredibly sentimental, he cries at everything. He cried at my second cousin’s kindergarten graduation. My mom asks for movie reviews by including the phrase, “Is it too sad for your dad?”). So my dad comes home from Wolf Camera at the mall — talk about a bad business that was destined to die, how about the poor bastards who opened camera stores in the 1990’s? — with this brand new camcorder — which was bigger than any camera that we use in the Fox Sports studios now, you had to hold it on your shoulder like a bazooka — unpacks it and then looks at the instruction manual, gets frustrated with how complicated the instruction manual is, repacks the camcorder and returns it without ever taping anything. (Yeah, we had actual videotapes then too. The only clouds blocked the sun). 

So everyone having cell phones is the biggest change. Not just cell phones of course, but the fact that your cell phone is more advanced than any computer that existed on earth back in 1997. This is going to shock you, but we didn’t have the Internet at home when I graduated from high school either. Not even that crappy AOL dial up. (Although when I came home from college we had AOL dial up for my sister. She was more tech savvy than anyone else in my house. Which basically meant she could use a curling iron and a toaster. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard AOL dial up on a rotary telephone). The only place that had the Internet at school was the school library, and you had to get a permission slip to use the Internet there. One kid got banned from the Internet for looking at boobs in the school library. (In a tremendous upset, it was not me). Got banned for looking at boobs on the Internet? In 1997 that was the entire purpose of the Internet. Some would say it still is since forty percent of all Internet traffic in the world is pornography. Forty percent! 

I hadn’t spent much time on the Internet when I went off to college — I was too busy learning how to type — but I still remember the first time I went on the Internet. It was at my friend Greg Schamberg’s house. This was my sophomore year of high school, so around 1995. He had AOL and there were like three of us spending the night at his house and we went online to the chat rooms, got into arguments with other people in the chat rooms, and called people gay. (I was twenty years ahead of the curve for Alabama fans). We were like, “This is so awesome, you can call people gay on the Information Superhighway!”

I didn’t have an email address when I graduated from high school and I even laughed when I got to George Washington in the fall of 1997 and they assigned us email addresses. The computer guy there said, “I promise you, you’re going to use these more than you use anything else on campus.” I remember scoffing at the very idea. “Sure, like electronic mail is ever going to be more popular than real mail. Whatever, loser computer guy.”

I could probably keep writing about 1997 for a long time — in fact, this needs to be my next book — but my point in thinking back before I think forward is how remarkable the past 18 years of technology have been. Could anyone have really predicted how much of a revolution in communication was upon us then? Would any of us have thought that in 2015 we wouldn’t know a single phone number, but that every piece of information in world history — including every movie, song or show ever made — would be instantly accessible on our palm-sized cell phones? Hell, would anyone have predicted that cell phones would get so small that people would complain and want bigger screens?

As Boyz to Men’s, “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” blared out over the loudspeakers in 1997 and we all stood up to take pictures with our cameras that still required us to go to the drug store and get all the crappy pictures alongside all the good pictures — oh, no, Ian took pictures of his balls again on my disposable camera and I didn’t even know until now — did any part of me ever think I’d be back eighteen years later and be able to type this many words in a single hour?

No way.  

The world is truly an amazing place. 

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.