The Gym Before Social Media and Smartphones: Was It Really That Much Better?

I was in the metro. Next to me was a man with neanderthal facial features who appeared to be a recovering bulking victim. His face was buried in a 7 inch smartphone. I don’t know what he was reading, but it appeared to be terribly important. The guy was in a deep trance. In front of me was a middle-aged man. His smartphone’s CPU was also running hot. I turned my head North-East and guess what I saw? Some kid playing on his pocket computer.

After a few stops a girl wearing a skirt and fatal red blouse got on the train. This is when the amazing happened. Everybody, including the neanderthal, unburrowed and started staring. I knew this was going to happen when she entered the scene. Sometimes you can learn a lot about human behavior by just looking at others when their idle state is provoked.

Then, after a while everybody reconnected and resumed browsing and chatting. I wondered what would modern life be without powerful phones in people’s pockets. This reminded me of the popular belief that back in the day, before the social media and smartphone revolution, bodybuilding and the gym culture in general were more real, user friendly and less narcissistic. It may surprise you, but I don’t believe this is really the case.


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A lot of things have changed since the golden era. There are new machines, new training programs, new supplements, new gym clothes and new ways to communicate with your fans. The truth, however, is that the crux is still the same.

Many people tend to overrate the past due to nostalgia, myths and fairy tales. Legends are appealing because we are always looking for magic outside. The retro photos and the breathtaking stories make the bygone years feel otherworldly. Sorry, but I don’t buy that. I think it’s all one big lie and I am tired of hipsters. “Retro” is not a synonym for “better”. Remember that before buying a typewriter.

The most significant impact over the last few decades was caused by personal computers and the Internet. While new technology can reduce the pain, the heart of the machine is still the same. The external has changed but the inner system operates the same way. The banks still lend money with interest, don’t they?

So, why would the world of bodybuilding be any different without smarphones and social media? Do you really think that if those technologies were available back in the 70s, the outcome would have been any different. I don’t. Smartphone can upgrade, but people can’t. That’s why so many philosophical ideas have remained true over the course of centuries. The mind, just like the body, still works the same way. Nothing has changed except maybe for clothing styles.

If sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were available back in the day, the overall situation would have been very similar to what we are witnessing today. Arnold and his crew will have had trillions of followers on Twitter, billions of Facebook likes and personal YouTube channels to show off different workout routines. On the other hand, Mike Mentzer would probably be abusing the hell out of Twitter and Facebook to criticize high volume training and promote heavy duty routines.

People can choose to believe whatever they want, but I don’t think the muscle heroes of yesteryears are much different than the current champions. The important values are still the same. One could argue that the lifting population used to train much harder back in the day, but guess what? The core of bodybuilding has not changed either.

Today professional bodybuilders may be relying mostly on machines, but steroids are still here, aren’t they? The magazines claiming that supplements can help you achieve steroid like results are not going anywhere either. Therefore, I don’t think we can say that social media and quad-core smartphones have modified the deep core of the muscle industry.

At the end of the day, everything old was once new and looked upon with skepticism and disdain. Twenty years from now, there will be other crazy machines that I will most likely treat with hostility: Back in the day you actually had to write something and hit enter to send it, not just think about it, you know…

My final answer is that gym culture was not better before the social media and smartphone revolution. It definitely had some unique charm, but better? You have to be kidding me. If we go in a time machine and return to the so-called golden years, you will find out that the envy, lies, deception, hatred, health problems, back stabs and sadness were present there too. Don’t worry, there isn’t an apparatus or invention that can take these away from our human nature. They are staying with us until the end, whatever it may be.

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