Unthinkable Things People Did Before Smart Phones Were Invented

Published 1 year ago on September 5, 2018
By Hugo

Cell phones have made life more convenient- no one is disputing that. We are more connected to the world than ever before, and whether it's FaceTimeing your friend halfway across the world, ordering an Uber after a late night out or even just Googling a question that pops into your head, there is no doubting that cell phones, and more recently smartphones, have revolutionized the way we now see the world. For some generations, smartphones are all they know.

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However, in the not-too-distant past, society functioned just fine without them, so read on as we list 15 things people did before cell phones and smartphones existed.

1. Listened to music on CD/MP3 players


Music streaming is all most younger generations know when it comes to listening to their a fantastic tunes, but until the early 00s, which saw an explosion in illegal streaming sites such as Napster and Limewire, you had to buy your music in record stores.

These came in the tape format before being preceded by the CD format and then the revolutionary iPod. Now, however, people don't even have iPods, they listen to most of their music on their iPhones and Android devices or through streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

2. Read physical maps

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Your parents might still do this, but if you're under 50, you've probably come to rely on your handy satnav navigation system or Google Maps to get you from A to B.  However, not that long ago, people relied on huge booklets with maps of an entire city spread over hundreds of pages.

Thankfully, we no longer have to endure our parents shouting at each other over where to go and whether its the first turning on the left or the second. Now we have a soothing voice politely guiding us to wherever we please.

3. Check email solely on your computer/laptop


Before instant messaging, emails were deemed revolutionary, and many predicted the handwritten letter would be completely phased out. While that hasn't quite happened, receiving a personal letter on any day other than your birthday is probably incredibly rare.

Indeed, by the 90's and early 00's, emails had changed the landscape of communication, but you needed a decent home operator and Internet connection to access them, which meant response times typically varied from a few hours to days. Nowadays, however, all you need is a smartphone, which allows us to reply to emails as quickly as we would respond to a text message.

4. Used an ATM for all balance inquiries 

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With the advent of online banking, we can check how much (or how little) money we have with the tap of a finger, as well as make transfers and payments at any time and anywhere without having to queue in a bank for a bank clerk to do it for us.

That also applies to ATMs. Once considered a luxury to be able to check your balance in a automated whole in the wall, we don't even have to leave the house anymore- we can simply download an app and check our finances on our phones.

5. Arranged for real taxis to pick us up

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Thanks to the luxury of Uber and other instant-taxi services, hailing for a taxi in a congested city street is no longer a pain we have to deal with. Instead, we can order a much cheaper, and usually more efficient ride, with just one touch to the screen.

While Uber and its ilk have experienced its fair share of criticism, it still beats paying over the odds for a traditional cab service that continues to overcharged its customers.

6. Used the landline as their main phone

Shutterstock/ Dean Drobot

Do you even own a landline anymore? There was once a day not that long ago when most peoples' means of communication would go through a landline, and if you were a child, you probably have fond memories of your mother calling you to let you know your friend wanted to play soccer in the local park.

But a phone connected to a thick socket via long, tangly chords is now barely in existence. With the smartphone, landlines- unless in a workspace environment- are almost obsolete.

7. Didn't threat over unfiltered photos

Shutterstock/Kaspars Grinvalds

As crazy as it now sounds, it wasn't that long ago that people went on Facebook and Twitter and posted unfiltered pictures of themselves with friends and family because they were content and happy No light-friendly filters altered their appearance to that of a supermodel. It was just a picture and nothing else.

Oh, how times have changed. Today, apps like Instagram and Snapchat allow us to instantly post photos of ourselves that aren't a true representation of who we are, or even the world around us.

8.  People played video games on their Game Boy


This handheld console revolutionized the market, the Game Boy had a small processor (even for the time) and a monochrome display but its use of cartridges and incredible battery life made it a smash hit and over 120 million have been sold.

As technology progressed so did the brand as the Game Boy Color and then Advance came along adding further stock to Nintendo's control of the market. In time, however, games on cell phones proved immensely popular, most notably the breakout Nokia game Snake, which argubally spawned the mobile video game market as we know it today.

9. Payphones were still a thing

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Payphones were lifesavers, even if they did cost us an arm and a leg. While they are rarely needed nowadays due to most people owning mobile phones with rolling contracts, payphones served a great purpose back in the good old days.

Generally dotted around every street corner and city block, you'd usually insert a quarter into the machine and make a quick call. In the UK alone, there were 92,000 telephone boxes in 1992 before mobile phones took off, many of which were the signature red telephone boxes that have become a staple tourist attraction for tourists visiting London.

10. Commitment was taken seriously

Shutterstock/ mozakim

Thanks to instant messaging and the number of distractions we have at our disposal, we can easily flake on a friend by shooting them a quick text telling them we're feeling tired without having to go through the trouble of calling them and hearing the awkward disappointment in their voice.

What a bunch of wusses! 

11. Felt more alone


While social media, dating apps and various other offshoots of the online world has made it easier to connect with people, many young people feel more alone than ever, perhaps because physical contact seems to be less and less valued when we can merely FaceTime everyone at the touch of a button.

However, spare a thought for the lonely souls who didn't even have the comfort of instant messaging services to ease their blues. Less than 20 years ago, most people didn't own a cell phone, while the Internet had barely taken off, which left the majority of lonely souls trapped with only a good old book and any hobbies they may have had. 

12. Relied on a phone book 

Shutterstock/Sallehudin Ahmad

Smartphones, just like the cell phones before them, stored all our numbers for us, but smartphones have the added benefit of being able to Google the number and address of every restaurant, addresses, and neighbourhood in the world.

Not only is this an amazing luxury we take for granted, but it's also allowed us to do away with clunky yellow pages books that required us to flip through countless pages just so we could find the number of a local Indian takeaway. 

13. Ventured outside

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Yes, the Internet has well and truly made us hermits. Instead of seeing our friends for a drink in the local pub, we're more than happy binging on a Netflix series by ourselves or communicating via a group chat on WhatsApp. But not too long ago, children relished the outside world. Intrepid kids without the distraction of Fortnite and Instagram rode their bikes well into the evening and ran until their lungs gave way.

How times have changed. 

14. Patience was a virtue

Shutterstock/ Tyler Olson

Before the smartphone took hold of our attention spans and reduced them to a level akin to a goldfish's, we were perfectly accustomed to waiting for doctor's appointments and trains for long periods of time by ourselves without a phone. Heck, if we were cultured, we might have even brought a book.

However, for the most part, people quietly sat and waited, something younger generations can't fathom. 

15. Eye contact wasn't awkward

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Let's face it: Smartphones have made the human race more introverted and less capable of looking people into the eye and engaging in a normal conversation. Before smartphones took hold of our social skills, however, social events saw people engage with one another on a human level. But today's generation sees any social event as an opportunity to Instagram it and tell people who don't even know them how great their life is.

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