Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
A girl with a ponytail asks Megan what life was like before the Internet. The girl obviously was born after the Internet was invented. Megan responds that life was very boring without computers or mobile phones. This comic appears to be a parody of the common complaint — often done by elder people — that life was better and more fulfilling in the "good old days", in that there weren't so many distractions and people could actually get things done that were meaningful. The ages switch roles with the younger character being prepared to believe that life was more fulfilling before technology, and the elder rejecting the proposition.
To Megan, even a more fulfilling and engaging life "wasn't worth" the price of what it meant to be bored in the days before smartphones and computers that could go online. Even though the ponytail girl says that she still experiences boredom in spite of having advanced technology to occupy her, Megan assures her that her version of boredom is nothing like what those in the pre-Internet days had to endure. Again, this is a reversal of the typical exchange in which a young person tries to insist that they still have social contact/get out and about/do worthwhile things in their spare time, and the elder person responds, "Not like we did."
The title text continues in this vein as Megan talks about what people in her day resorted to doing when they were bored, for lack of anything better to do: they watched daytime TV. Daytime television consisted mainly of soap operas, talk shows, game shows, infomercials and children's programming and is notorious for being, in Megan's words, "soul-crushing". To round off the comparison, Megan uses a modern-day metaphor to express her extreme distaste for daytime television, saying that she would rather "eat an iPad" than go through that again. In other words, modern-day gadgets are so much better that she'd still have more fun if she were eating them than if she had to go without them.
Megan might just be responding with the opposite of what she's expected to say in this dialogue in order to mess with the younger girl. In reality, life was neither likely to be noticeably more fulfilling or noticeably more boring without technology: it was just life. People are equally capable of wasting their time and of doing worthwhile things regardless of what age they live in, and those who wax nostalgic about an older, better time are liable to forget that. This recalls the Hedonic treadmill theory which states that people will always be at roughly the same level of happiness regardless of positive or negative events or technological advances in civilization.
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- [Young girl talking to Megan, both holding smartphones.]
- Girl: Do you remember before the internet?
- Megan: Oh yeah, totally.
- Girl: what was it like?
- Megan: Not having a phone or computer to distract you?
- Girl: Yeah.
- Megan: It was SO. BORING. All the time. I just sat there. It was the worst.
- Girl: But wasn't it, like, more fulfilling? Engaging?
- Megan: Wasn't worth it.
- Girl: I still get bored.
- Megan: Not like we did.
I'm pretty sure that Randall doesn't make this mistake, but "Before the Internet" and "Before the Web" are two very different things in a way that old fogeys like myself (and him) tend to mutter on about when anyone younger than maybe 40 make the mistake of conflating the two.
If that's Exploit Mom, she'd probably be too young to really know times pre-Internet in the truest sense. (Although "before the layperson knew about the Internet" could be placed somewhere in the mid-to-late '90s, which is after the early '90s inception of the Web.)
Enough pedantry. Someone needs to make a more useful comment than the above, and quickly! 22.214.171.124 06:00, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- The person asking the question is a child-character. The adult-character then followed up with a clarification question "[Do you mean] not having a phone or computer to distract you?". Though, in your "truest sense", "before the Internet" and "the first decade or so of the Internet" would be mostly the same. The Internet didn't have much of an impact on or value to society until after it reached a certain size. 126.96.36.199 07:15, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- Yeahbut you're still conflating "Internet" and "Web". "The first decade or so of the Internet" still takes us up to maybe the start of the '80s at the latest. A college/university student of that time is now in now in their 40s (hence the "[Even, sic] if that's Exploit Mom"), and I don't think that the adult character looks old enough. Hack off ten years or so (for the first Web Generation to find their new distraction, via AOL if not their college) and I think it would work better. Of course, I don't dismiss Megan/whoever being a little sparing with the truth for a good tale. 188.8.131.52 23:11, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- What society refers to as the "Internet" didn't really surface until the mid-to-late 90s. Before that, the systems that formed an "internet" (lower-case, to refer to the generic concept of wide-area interconnected systems) was only barely accessible to the public, and the systems that were connected this way in the early 80s were part of the original ARPANET that was primarily used by the military. In short, the "Internet" that we take for granted today was a product of its own discovery, which largely occurred in the mid-90s. An average-aged mom with a kid in the average age range to be asking questions like the one in this comic would probably have grown up in the 80s. 184.108.40.206 03:39, 29 March 2014 (UTC)
- Yes, exactly. Like I said, there's pedantry involved in this issue. But the internet (OSI layer 1-3 or 4, depending on how you define it) was named circa 1974 and pre-existed that in a vaguely recognisable form at the tail-end of the '60s. And is different from the web (OSI layer 7, itself). It's just an observation, and I would just count the adult in the strip as an 'unreliable narrator', whether intentionally or otherwise. 220.127.116.11 04:50, 29 March 2014 (UTC)
I read a lot. Before the internet was cheap, I would go to the library on my bike, borrow 5 books (the limit), read them all and go to the library again. On a good weekend day I could repeat this 3 or 4 times. Some books I've read thousands of times. Relevant irrelevant comment18.104.22.168 07:18, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- Very impressive. Libraries are typically open for 8 hours a day, so you read 15-20 (3-4 x 5) books in 8 hours. That's about 30 minutes per book.
- A short novel is about 200 pages. I'm an accomplished reader, and I read about a page a minute. Assuming you read exclusively short novels, you managed 7 pages a minute, or 3500 words per minute, or one page every 10 seconds. That's about three times the 1000-words-per-minute limit on human skim-reading comprehension. I'm very impressed!
- This may explain why you have had to read some books thousands of times. At a reading speed of 3500 words per minute, your comprehension was likely extremely poor, necessitating you to go back many times to understand what was going on. May I suggest that in future, you read more slowly, so that you can understand better the first time? You'll enjoy what you're reading so much more.22.214.171.124 17:11, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
Does this comic even need explaining? Pretty self-explanatory of you ask me. —126.96.36.199 08:04, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- I think some sort of explanation relating to why this is funny. It is sort of the opposite of the standard nostalgia. Rather like our parents generation may have had a similar discussion with their parents about the invention of TV (add a generation if you are too young). When you think about it, it is a bit odd how society is keen to develop tech to make things better, and at the same time declare that things were better in the past. We sometimes get quite good expositions on this sort of thing here... hopefully someone with some sociology/psychology knowledge can explain this a bit better. 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Agreed it's fairly self-explanatory. The 'reverse-nostalgia' point is interesting. I guess the joke here is kind of that the Mom is making it sound like there was nothing to do before the internet, whereas in reality there was plenty to do; people weren't sitting around waiting for the internet to be invented so they didn't know that it was a thing that could be missing from their lives, it just seems that way now because we can't imagine our lives without it. In a way, it's almost a variation on the classic 'we can't watch TV, it hasn't been invented yet' joke.184.108.40.206 11:31, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- People weren't sitting around waiting for Internet to be invented. Computers already existed, so people were walking around with floppy disks (or tapes) and saying things like "It would be great if we could exchange data while sitting home ..." -- Hkmaly (talk) 11:48, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- My main question is whether the Mom character is being serious or sarcastic - as in the way some people like to wind children up by giving them made-up answers to questions.220.127.116.11 11:33, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- Yeah, she could be messing with her by just answering with the opposite of what she's clearly expected to say in this exchange. I think the joke works both ways. Enchantedsleeper (talk) 15:24, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- Of course the past was better. Before the Internet, I had lot of free time I could spend whatever I wanted. Now I'm forced to spend most of day in work. Oh, wait, that isn't because of Internet but because I was child and had summer holiday and now I'm adult. (Also, the Internet technically exists since December 1974, but for most people, mid-1990s is start of Internet and my "before the Internet" refers to that). -- Hkmaly (talk) 11:48, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
Isn't this a joke on how older people say younger people don't interact with eachother unless through cellphone etc. Even if they are sitting right next to eachother--Nitho (talk) 11:59, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
In 1105: License Plate we can see Ponytail is a police officer. Therefore she must be at least 22, and therefore she was born before 1990. If this comic features Ponytail, then it must be set at most in 2000 (when Ponytail was 10). But in 2000 or before people didn't have smartphones. In my opinion this comic is set in 2014, and therefore the girl character is not Ponytail but simply a girl with a ponytail. 18.104.22.168 12:44, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- Or maybe 1105: License Plate was set in 2024?
- While we are identifying Randalls characters by how they are drawn, I don't think he does. (except for Blackhat and Beret Guy) -- Xorg (talk) 13:20, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
- Of course he doesn't. In 1344: Digits it was arbitrary to label one character as Cueball and the other as Guy. 22.214.171.124 17:34, 28 March 2014 (UTC) (I'm 126.96.36.199).