My 20s weren’t lived online. They weren’t posted, shared, liked, judged and sharply criticized, not on Facebook or any other digital platform.

Don’t get me wrong. Those and all years of my life in Key West are well documented in photos — alarmingly well documented — the inevitable result of having a professional (and incessant) photographer as a best friend.

His photo archives could keep me – and so many others – from ever holding public office. 
But before he could weaponize them, he’d have to FIND them. 
And all those photos, thousands of them, from, say, 1999 to 2008-ish, were taken with actual cameras and stored on “cards” until transferred inconveniently to a computer — not a phone; a computer. There they resided benignly until printed, or perhaps emailed to specific recipients.

But they couldn’t be posted anywhere for all the world to see. There was no global distribution system. It was still possible for whatever happened in Vegas … to stay in Vegas.

A friend recently observed with relief how the happy timing of our birth and existence kept our 20s, a decade of questionable Key West decisions, relatively private. 

Ah, the good old days, our own personal dark ages.
Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, so forget Insta, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat. 
Webcams were the exception, not the rule. Live streaming? Not so much. I remember standing with friends in front of an early webcam at the Hog’s Breath in the early 2000s, waving like morons so my parents in Jersey could catch a stuttering, grainy glimpse of us singing along to Clint Bullard.

We were all getting our first cell phones around 1999, and paying  by the minute to use them. 

We were still pressing the 2 key four times to type the letter C in primitive text messages. We marveled at the musical miracle that was Napster, happily waiting hours to download free songs. 

Phone photos were barely recognizable, much less shareable, as cell phones didn’t connect to the internet. 

We didn’t know what we were missing — or what was yet to come. 

And yet somehow, we managed. 
Without newsfeeds, online followers or Apple IDs. 

Google was still being populated with information, websites, public records and sparse search results. Commercials and ads didn’t mention websites, and we ALWAYS said “www dot” when sharing a web address. 

Locally, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office would soon launch and a daily digest of mugshots. 

But nothing went viral. Ever. It wasn’t even in our vocabulary. We were still learning about computer viruses and plugging our landlines into the back of our computers for a noisy dial-up connection. 

Hell, Netflix was still sending us DVDs via snail mail, but we were smugly proud of our tech savvy while updating our movie lists online.

My fellow Key Westers of the late ’90s and early 2000s, can you imagine a sea of smartphones hovering above the dance floor at Wax? Or at those after-hours parties that made you glad you had a pair of sunglasses in your purse around dawn? 

And I’m not alone in my relief. I know this because I wasn’t alone in my 20s. We all were there: Mangoes, PT’s, Brooklyn Boyz, 801, Bogart’s, the Parrot, “the tree,” the old Bottlecap, Conch Flyer, and of course, Schooner Wharf.

Technological advancements have arguably made life easier. But there is and was a time and a place for everything.

 Thankfully, my 20s were behind those high-tech times. 

Enjoy Fantasy Fest, Key West. God knows I have. 

But remember, what happens in Key West… stays forever online. 

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.