The Death of Oregon Trail: Thoughts on Technology Today

Lately I’ve been finding myself using that cliche phrase “well, back in my day” a lot more than usual and most likely it’s in reference to something having to do with technology. And I’m just going to come out and say it: I feel bad for kids today. Really and truly.

I think back to growing up in the small New Jersey town my family and I called home. When we got our first computer – an Apple desktop that was the size of a mini-fridge – it was the coolest thing ever. I was entranced by those big floppy disks and would make banners in Print Shop all day long. Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry, I had a banner for it. Happy birthday? Got it! Just need a pick me up? I’m your girl. Our extra-loud printer could print out a card in a “quick” two minutes flat; I just had to remember to tear off the perforated edges and fold it into half twice. Print Shop ruled. And no day was better than Oregon Trail Day. It was talk of the classroom as we counted down the minutes until 1pm, when we would rush down to the computer lab and be allowed to play for forty glorious minutes.  Crossing the river, stockpiling food and water, keeping my wagon’s health up – all very important to my 8-year old self. Simple pleasures.

A few years later, we got AOL at home and the sweet, sweet sound of that modem, the “you’ve got mail!” and the little pings from my buddies online – those were some of my favorite things.  I remember chatting with a friend who had recently moved two towns away. It felt like I was crossing continents in this crazy world wide web of ours and the ten minutes we’d chat every few weeks was beyond fun. But still – we had no cell phones. No Facebook. I used the internet every so often and that was enough. It just wasn’t a part of daily life. There was no urge to capture everything and anything with a camera phone so it could be immediately uploaded to a social network of choice. We were free of text messaging and profile pics. Free of wall posts and notifications. We were free to be kids.

Teaching high school for six years was eye opening. I learned a lot about what kids today are into and it was incredibly interesting to see the transgression from 2004-2011 as social media took a strong hold in their lives. Beyond just cell phones, I saw a marked difference in the role things like MySpace, and eventually Facebook, played in their world.

And with that said, it made me realize just how fortunate I feel to have grown up in a time when we didn’t have those things. Sure, I had my awesome sky blue pager and occasionally my Dad’s Motorola car phone (leather case with a handle, of course)… but that pressure to have both an online life as well as an offline life just wasn’t there.

I worry about these kids. I worry that their social skills will eventually dwindle down to nothing. I feel bad that many of them won’t ever experience that rush of waiting for a call on the house phone, then stretching the cord as far as they can just to get a little privacy.  I can’t imagine growing up without the thrill of coming home and asking my Mom if I had any messages – if “he” had called, if my girl friends had left details for their party on Friday.

Friends who had their own lines were the coolest of cool, and busy signals were the most annoying thing, ever. My late night talk buddies and I even had a system where one of us would page the other and the other person would call up a business number and wait for the call waiting beep, so the ring wouldn’t wake up sleeping parents at 1am. Yearbooks were a big deal – when you wrote your home number in someone’s book, you’d anticipate the entire summer that the cute boy from 5th period might call. There was no instant gratification, no text messaging, no social media. It was old-fashioned, a “let’s have an awkward conversation on the phone and get to know you better” kinda thing. It was three-way calling with your best friends, and making silly answering machine greetings with your family. It was writing numbers on hands in pens, rather than punching it into your address book.

We didn’t change our profile page to reflect our ever-changing teen identities, we didn’t snap photos with our digital cameras and phones constantly. The internet held no importance in our lives. When we had to research something for school, we’d use real books or maybe Encarta. When we had a crush, we’d have a friend call the boy on his house phone, telling him how we felt, while listening in on the extension. We weren’t up to the minute with Facebook updates, we didn’t tweet and we wrote real letters that we passed between classes.

But now, kids text. They chat online. They add each other on Facebook, then ignore each other in the halls. My question is, how is social media, constant texting and being too plugged in really affecting them?

Sure, everything always seems better “back in the day,” and I’m sure some kids do in fact still use a house phone, abhor Facebook, and enjoy a good old fashioned, face-to-face conversation. But what about the rest? To me it seems like a little Oregon Trail and AOL didn’t take over our lives. They were exciting and new, but they were a small part of a much larger picture.

Nowadays the internet and all things social media do play a huge role in my daily life. But my start, the foundation of my interpersonal skills, those were built free of technological crutches, much like most of you I’m sure. I was able to figure out who I was without trying to find an online identity too. And so I ask, what’s your take on it? Do you feel like kids these days are missing out on “real life” with the over-abundance of social media and lack of face-to-face communication?  Conversely, maybe you feel like this is a great shift in a positive direction! I want to hear from you, too.

As always, thank you for reading! And thank you so much for all of the amazing comments in response my piece on being a Mom with tattoos. It was fascinating to read about all of your experiences.

 image via


  • Jessica Allen

    I agree! I’m only 21 but things weren’t always this oversaturated for sure. I used to use Encarta and have three way chats on the phone! We need just a tiny bit of mystery in our lives I think.

  • Kimberly Hawkins

    I really do think that social media is killing interpersonal skills in today’s youth. If I smile and wave at someone I make eye contact with in the 18-21 age range, I typically get the “Who is that crazy b***h?” stare of death. I am only 26 myself, but I remember doing all of those things. I grew up in a small town and my family was poor, we didn’t have the internet until I was almost finished with high school. I also think that text-speak is slowly killing proper spelling and grammar. Or, maybe it has always been this bad and technology is just shining an ugly light on the inadequacy that has always been there.

  • Elizabeth Siegel

    I was born in 1990, so growing up in the 90s, I kind of caught the tail end of dial-up Internet. I saw my family go from dial-up to DSL (most exciting thing ever) to digital cable. However, even in 1995, my dad was big on technology. I remember the day we got a Windows 95 computer. It came in a cow-spotted box- totally the goofiest thing ever to me, at 5 years old. Very quickly, though, my dad and my grandfather started buying us educational computer games. My sister, who was a baby at the time, grew up playing computer games from the time she had motor skills. She was three years old and always on the computer. Now she’s 16, and always on the computer, always plugged in. It’s funny to me how the four year age gap between us made us so different. When I was 11, no one had cell phones. When she was 11, everyone did, so she got one. Sorry for the ramble… I haven’t had my coffee yet. :)

  • Gia Greene

    Speaking as an 18 year-old girl whose middle school years were marked by MySpace and whose high school years (and my current college years as well) consisted of texting and Facebook, I can say that I am definitely not missing out or lacking in interpersonal skills – nor do I know many people who are. My grammar and spelling is, to say the least, impeccable, and I too was brought up on a steady diet of Oregon Trail. You never forget your roots and where you came from. It sort of upsets me when older people generalize about all teens and say that we all must have some kind of social problem because of the way we live our lives and with the social media present. I understand the point of this article, and it makes a good point indeed. But I feel that every generation is going to have something which irks them about the new generation because they want to hold on to the nostalgia of the way things were. This is a new generation; let them be! I can honestly say that Facebook and texting hasn’t made me nor anyone I know have less of a “real life”. We all hang out, we all call each other, we all are just as social as any other generation and we meet in-person, often. True, it can be rude when people are constantly texting when you’re trying to hang out with them, but that isn’t a common occurrence and many people my age do realize that it is a total faux-pas. So that is my take on it!

    • Danielle Hampton

      THANK YOU for responding! I was so hoping someone your age would read this and put in their two cents. Definitely wasn’t trying to say “all” of your generation – I think I even specified that…but from my first hand experience with teenagers I have seen a whole different side to it. Thank you for sharing your experiences- it was awesome to see your take on it.

  • Lauren M. Blanchard

    I still have dial-up guys. That’s right! Hello Giggles is being read right here, right now on dial-up internet! As a result, I never get to see those popular youtube videos, and a lot of what I do is some light internet reading. I check facebook daily, but it annoies me so much that I limit myself on it. I don’t have a smartphone, but I tweet via text all day long.
    I rather love how disconnected I am from the internet world. I feel sort of superior, rather than left out. I don’t need to be constantly entertained (when I’m waiting, I sit and think. A lot.), and I check “my internet” about once a day. It’s been over a year since someone tagged in me in a facebook photo, which I actually do feel a little bit bad about.

    • Danielle Hampton

      haha! Lauren I think I love you. And please tell me your computer makes that awesome dial up sound. Oh, how I miss it.

  • Lauren M. Blanchard

    I still have dial-up guys. That’s right! Hello Giggles is being read right here, right now on dial-up internet! As a result, I never get to see those popular youtube videos, and a lot of what I do is some light internet reading. I check facebook daily, but it annoies me so much that I limit myself on it. I don’t have a smartphone, but I tweet via text all day long.
    I rather love how disconnected I am from the internet world. I feel sort of superior, rather than left out. I don’t need to be constantly entertained (when I’m waiting, I sit and think. A lot.), and I check “my internet” about once a day. It’s been over a year since someone tagged me in a facebook photo, which I actually do feel a little bit bad about.

  • Erin Haselton

    Amen sister.

    • Danielle Hampton

      Amen to your amen!

  • Laura J Coker

    Yay! Your post brought back so many fond memories – Oregon Trail and writing someone’s number on my notebook and passing notes between classes. I’m glad I had those experiences growing up, and I’m glad you’ve afforded me a little stroll down memory lane :)

    • Danielle Hampton

      Wasn’t Oregon Trail the best? I recently tried an O.T. app…but without the pixelated (awesome) graphics and music, it just wasn’t the same.

  • Jennifer Burkholder

    My friends and husband mock me relentlessly because I hold so dearly to my landline to a phone attached to my kitchen wall with a cord and I have to get up to get the phone and stand there like a nerd talking.
    My only beef with the technology, aside from my general distaste for technological progression in these areas is that it seems harder to monitor what’s going on in your kids lives. I have always worried about my own children and now that I have a 2 month old girl, I constantly worry about what is reasonable to withhold, at which ages she should be allowed to have a cell phone, Facebook page, etc etc and keeping her small and sweet and her life simple for as long as I can without ostracizing her from her peers. It’s so tricky! I just hope I can indoctrinate her with my dislike for those sorts of things. 😉

    • Danielle Hampton

      Oh gosh I’ve thought about those same things! My son is 10 months old and I often wonder what it will be like when he’s a teenager.

  • Diana Del Valle

    You are officially old when you start saying, “Kids these days.”

    • Danielle Hampton

      Ugh, I know, right?! 😉

  • Jonna Isaac

    I think about this almost everyday. It’s fascinating and potentially frightening. Our world is changing SO quickly and in drastic ways. As an adult who grew up on the same exact stuff you talked about, I find myself deleting my facebook app and vowing to take a break from social media, and it always lasts like a day. If i’ve grown so weirdly dependent on it, how much more is it affecting kids, when their brains are giant sponges and their habits are being formed!? What will become of us humans?!

  • Yael Latner Kanter

    I have been searching for Oregon Trail for years. I only remember playing it in the new fangled computer LAB at my high school. Oh how I deeply miss that caravan. Bring it Back!

  • Leslie Polish

    Thank you for this post, its such an interesting topic because left face, it everyone has an opinion about technology… (even got my 94 year old great grandmother a home phone without the spinning dial- a big step!). As a young college student, I remember having some technology in elementary school all the way to high school, but for me it was all about slowly easing myself into it. My family played computer games, starting with Jump Start 3rd grade, complete with a tree house school and a talking frog. My first cell phone was in 8th grade, and didn’t have a facebook until my Junior year of high school (skipped myspace all together, and was about 3 years late to facebook in my area). I like to say that I am able to make my way around the internet, learning about interesting blogs and always able to find the kind of articles I need for research in classes. I think my parents did a great job of not making me afraid to learn new technologies, but also not letting me jump in too fast either. I like to think that as long as I am able to disconnect from technology sometimes and just have some fun once in a while, then I’ve got it balanced. Thats what its all about right?- not too much technology, but not to little.

  • Mandy Hall

    THANK YOU FOR WRITTING THIS!!!! I have begun to feel exactly the same and asked myself how my 4 year old will handle all those things when she goes to school. I feel like we have “sheltered” her in a way of keeping her from video games, non- educational TV, and the internet. The preK classes are already teaching them computer skills – which is both a good and not so good thing. I miss the time of not haveing all the interuptions of constant email, facebook updates, and not being able to just make a PHONE CALL on my “smart” phone! I understand no matter what generation your from, there will always be change, but I never dealt well with change in the first place… 😛

  • Samantha Ritchie

    As a 17 year old, I can tell that you are looking at my generation. I get where you might be concerned about how tech-soaked we are, it can be strange for me too. But it is what it is, and I don’t think that most teens social skills have been lost. People are just as awkward/confident as they ever have been, there are just so many new channels to express this awkwardness/confidence on. I don’t think internet life can ever replace real life, they will just continue to overlap with eachother. They will never be the same thing, in my mind but they also aren’t two entirely separate “worlds.” (ie: I don’t know anyone with a separate “internet persona” that is wildly different from who they are in “real-life”). They overlap because of the internet’s convenience (why sit there explaining a what some guy looks like to your friends if you can pull up his profile?), and also because it’s entertaining (ie: “I saw on face book that so-and-so and whats-her-name are dating!) I admit that this convenience can be a hassle at times. But kids know when things are tacky, or getting too-internetty (?). For example, its not cool/normal for people ignore people in school who they text regularly…that’s weird. and we are able to call each other out on it. I always call out my friend who tweets constantly and she is able to laugh about it too. For the most part I think teens are able to balance everything out, and we really aren’t much worse off for it. Just my two-cents…

    • Samantha Ritchie

      PS: I loveddddd Oregon Trail too!

  • Holly Yip

    I feel like we must have grown up together because everything you reminisced about, I remember too (except my pager was purple). I look at kids today and worry about their future, see the world of communication dying even as it advances. How can you have a complete social experience in 140 characters or less? But now I understand all those people who used to say, “just wait until you’re older; you’ll see what I mean.” Great post!

  • Gia Greene

    Um I accidentally clicked the “Not My Fav” button under your reply, Danielle…I thought it was like a reply button!!! So sorry!

  • Mandy McDonald

    I totally agree. I taught elementary music for 2 years and my 5th and 6th graders were already on facebook! They would comment about videos on YouTube that I would never let an 11 year old watch. Not only is it totally absurd to me when a 9 year old has a cell phone, but the cyberbullying that has exploded recently is insane! I guess the good that comes out of the way we are seeing some kids act with all of this technology is to teach our children how to use it responsibly.
    I had internet from about 3rd grade on and now at almost 26 I definitely find it easier to write things out than have a actual conversation with someone.
    I’m sure this comment is a little all over the place and I contradict myself, but I’ve got a one year old running around begging for crackers and I haven’t had caffeine yet :)

  • Kelsey Stamper

    Hi Danielle,

    I read your blog all the time, and I just noticed that you’re writing for this blog too, which is awesome. This is the first of your columns on here that I’ve read, and I agree with you completely.

    I was born in the late 80’s. I remember having a phone with a cord attached to the wall in our apartment.
    Eventually we started renting a house, and we got a cordless phone, which was absolutely amazing. That was all we had for a long time, except the Disney channel. We did have that.

    One day when I was about 7 or 8 we got our first computer, but I didn’t even know what the internet was. All I knew was, that computer had a game on it called “Hover”. I had never had any kind of video games before, so I was hooked.

    Once I got a little older, I got an email address on AOL, which was a huge deal for me. Then I got instant messaging, and I started using “Chat speak” (I notice someone else mentioned that in an earlier comment), and eventually I realized that my spelling in every day life was suffering, so I started forcing myself to spell correctly.
    I made that choice on my own, so children today can too.

    I agree that children are suffering, but we, as adults, are suffering with this “tech addiction” as well.
    My boyfriend and I can’t even go out to dinner together without pulling out our phones, checking facebook, and snapping silly photos of each other across the table.
    I have a mentally handicapped brother, and today he wanted to go outside, so I took him out, and sat him in a chair. He looked at the trees and the sun, and just observed.
    It was adorable, but all I could think about was how my iphone was inside, and I couldn’t go in, and leave him outside alone.
    I immediately kicked myself for thinking that. It was a beautiful moment, watching him just enjoying nature and all I could think about was checking facebook. There is so much wrong with that.

    I made myself just focus on the trees and the sun like he was.

    I think everyone could use a break from cell phones, and the internet.
    Kind of like when you were a kid and your parents only let you watch a couple TV shows a day.

  • Megan Younce

    I could have written this. AMEN

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