How 80s babies used social media in the 80s

The 1980s was a great decade. Madonna dominated the pop charts and bedroom walls around the country were adorned with posters of Wham!, Adam Ant, and Boy George. The pop and rock music scenes were alive with possibilities and music showed its compassion and political muscle through Band Aid and Live Aid.

But those far off days were quite different from now. There was no Internet the World Wide Web only appeared in 1991! The military and universities had fledgling communications systems that had some internet-like features, but Tim Berners-Lee hadn’t yet formulated the concept that became the Internet as we know it today.

Can you imagine a time before Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok? How did people manage to communicate? Well, they just had to make do with old-fashioned means like writing letters or using a landline telephone. In the 1980s there were no cellphones like today. If you wanted to speak to a friend you either went round to their house or called them up on the house telephone. Sometimes you even needed to get permission from your parents to use the telephone!

All the main social media platforms are very much 21st-century phenomena. Even Facebook was founded only in 2004. Some of the early social media sites, like Facebook, were instant successes. Others, like Myspace and Friendster, were initially popular but were overtaken by more familiar names. The email was an early way of communicating, as was the use of bulletin boards. Online chatting was also possible.

Blogging also began around the same time with Livejournal one of the first sites. Blogging has become a major means of communication on the Internet. The same can be said for vlogging, which is using a video rather than text. YouTube is an immensely popular site for vlogging and is now used by 73% of adult Americans. None of this could have been possible without personal computers, and these did not become common until the 1990s.

So, what was life like before these Internet giants came on the scene? Let us look at just how everyone communicated with each other. Here are the social media platforms of the 1980s!

Top social media of the 80s

1. Phone a friend.

In the 1980s most homes had a telephone. Yes, just the one in each home (although some wealthier families had extension telephones). This made life hard for any teen who wanted to chat with a friend for ages. Parents would soon be shouting if they needed to use the telephone themselves or were expecting a call.

One of the great images from the 1970s and the 1980s is of a teenage girl sitting on the stairs at home talking to her boyfriend while twirling the telephone cable through her fingers. Because the telephone was in the hallway, she had to sit on the stairs! More embarrassingly the whole family could hear everything she said.

Even more embarrassing was asking a prospective date out by phone. This approach needed a lot of courage as you could not see the person you were talking to. You couldn’t judge the effect your words were having. The only option was to chat for a few minutes and then pile in and ask the question. Sometimes the answer was? no’ and you would be deflated – but at least they weren’t able to see your tears!

For a chance to have a private conversation with a friend there was one other choice. Get out of the house and find a phone booth! In the 1980s phone booths were much more common than today. There would be one on most street corners and in bars and coffee shops. You needed coins – no cards to swipe in the 1980s – and that limited the length of your chat. Better a short private chat than a longer one with your parents listening!

One thing to be said for having only one home phone – you could take it off the hook and instantly become unavailable. If you needed to have an hour of peace and quiet away from the stress of daily life, you could. Your home phone would give an engaged tone to anyone trying to call and they would think that you were talking to someone else!


Talk chat today is a live online setup that allows you to enter a chat room and talk to who else has entered the same room. There is anonymity but at the same time, some people find it companionable and comforting.

In the 1980s if you wanted to chat with a stranger you would be warned that it was not a good idea. The risks were too great of being attacked or harmed. Chatting was something you did with friends and family face-to-face. At home, you could chat with family, but chatting with friends required getting out and meeting them someplace.

Meeting friends in a park, playground, or at the beach was the norm. You might also meet up in a coffee shop or bar. This was social interaction at a personal level. It did not require any technology. Teenagers would spend hours just hanging out with friends talking about fashion, music, or sport. Any information about the latest trends would come from magazines, radio or television. MTV launched in 1981 and brought the world of music and celebrity into people’s homes in a way that had not happened before.

Meeting up to chat often came before an event. Maybe you and your friends would go on to a sports fixture or visit the movie theater. Both of these gave plenty of talking points afterward.

The 1980s saw most kids getting out of the house, meeting up with friends, and then playing in the park or riding bikes around the neighborhood. The home was fine but not all day every day. There might be schoolwork to do or household chores to complete but the best part of the day would be out with friends. Today it is considered quite normal to spend a whole evening on the Internet talking to friends and those friends could be anywhere in the world.

3. Pen Pals

pen pals History of social media

Back in the 1980s if you wanted a friend abroad, then getting a pen pal was the way to do it. Quite simply a pen pal was someone about your own age that you wrote to regularly and who wrote back.

It was quite easy to get a pen pal. There were pen pal clubs and organizations that advertised in kid’s magazines. Schools often had connections with foreign schools that could lead to pen pal contacts. National postal services around the world would promote pen pal links to boost the number of people using their services. There was (and still is) an International Letter Writing Week that is promoted across the world.

Pen pals often exchanged gifts and photographs. It was possible to confide in a pen pal in the sure knowledge that they would not give away your secrets. It helped if you led an interesting life or had interesting hobbies and so make for great letters.

Language students would sometimes be encouraged to choose a pen pal and then write to them in a language they were learning. A student learning French could choose a pen pal in one of many French-speaking countries. Not only would it help them learn the language but they would also pick up cultural information too.

4. Local radio stations

The 1980s were the heyday of the radio talk-in show. Local radio stations across the country would run talk- in shows often late at night. The hosts of these shows became household names and they generally attracted a loyal audience and a band of regular participants.

Radio talk-in shows were frequently seen as an antidote to loneliness. Many people who lived on their own would see the radio show host as a friend that they could talk to during the night. Similar talk-in shows are still aired by many local radio stations as they do fill a deep-felt need.

At that time the psychological benefits of local radio shows of this type were enormous. People felt in contact with others and that they had an outlet for their views and opinions.


In the 1980s written communication also included fax. This was simply a means of sending a copy of a written message via telephone. It was necessary to have a fax machine at both ends, but although few homes had them, many offices used them for business communications.

Anyone away from home, for example, a backpacker could arrange to send a fax from a post office or travel agent. It was a simple way of sending a message to the folks back home. Just as simple was the much older messaging method – the telegram.

Telegrams have disappeared now. They have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Yet at one time they were the quickest and easiest way of sending a short or urgent message. News of births, deaths, and accidents would be relayed by telegram. Special telegrams would relay congratulations and during wartime, the arrival of a telegram was dreaded. It meant someone was dead, injured, or missing in action.

In Conclusion

Social media platforms are shaping people’s lives in these early years of the 21st century. Influencers on YouTube or TikTok have celebrity status and huge fortunes. Young people especially devote much time to following their favorite social networks. Social networking has become an essential skill for many.

It is hard to imagine that in the 1980s none of these social networks existed. Whether they are a force for good or not is a matter of opinion. No one can deny, however, that they dominate 21st century life in a way that we could never have imagined back in the 1980s. The characters in Star Trek were envied by their personal communicators. Now we have so many diverse and influential ways of communicating that we might regret that envy.


I am a blogger that was born in the 1980's. So I decided to write about the 1980's because I feel that was one of the best decades ever.

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