12 Things We Did Before Technology


I was born in the 1970s. I was born long before PCs, cell phones and GPS. I was born before pagers even. Remember those? It was a small brick you carried around and when someone called the number, they could punch in other numbers that magically appeared on your tiny screen, so that you could call them back:

Old school, baby.
Old school, baby.

Believe it or not, not even too terribly long ago, we didn’t carry tiny computers around in our pockets. Yeah, you young ones are thinking I’m old now, but imagine how archaic “carrying tiny computers in our pockets” will sound in a few decades when you have one implanted in your brainpan. Eventually, you will be old, too. Someday, there will be a “back in my day,” just you wait.

This is a list of things we had to do before we had tiny computers in our pockets. I wrote it so that you can laugh at us and also realize how lucky you are to have a tiny computer in your pocket.

1. Use maps and ask for directions.

This one actually baffles me and I lived through it. How did we get anywhere without Google Maps and GPS? The answer is, not very easily. We got lost a lot. We had to stop at gas stations and ask for directions and use pay phones.

“Come on over,” usually involved writing convoluted directions with landmarks on the back of an envelope. For example, here’s the back of a flyer for a friend’s party. The front had all the usual flyer type stuff, but the back was made up pretty much exclusively of directions:

2014-05-10 16.38.24

2. Make flyers.

And speaking of flyers, we made flyers. There was no such thing as Evite or a Facebook event. When you were having a party, you had to make physical flyers on paper, which you photocopied and handed out to people in person. I kind of miss this one since a lot of these flyers were very creative:

2014-05-10 16.22.22

partyinviteFlyers also applied to shows in venues trying to make money:

2014-05-10 15.44.49

2. Wait at home for phone calls.

Before pagers even, most people had one phone number and that phone number was for every member of your household from your mom and dad to your bratty little sister. If you were waiting for a boy to call you, there was a very good chance that someone else in your family would be on the phone, because somehow, they always were. When someone was on the phone, another person trying to reach you got a busy signal. No call waiting, no voicemail, just a busy signal. Denied.

In the early to mid 70s, if you weren’t home, it would just ring and ring. By the 80s and into the 90s, we had answering machines. These were machines with tapes in them that a caller could record a message onto, but they were hardly foolproof.


Sometimes, if you really wanted to talk to someone, you set a time. Call me between 6 and 8 on Saturday. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent sitting at home waiting for that cute boy to call.

3. Look things up in books.

When I was in school, the internet didn’t exist. That meant that, when it came to writing school papers, we had to do research the old-fashioned way, i.e., in the library with the Dewey Decimal System, invented by this man:

Kinda hot.
Melvil Dewey, hot librarian.

Until the late 80s when the word processor appeared, papers were either written out by hand or typed on an old-timey typewriter. We photocopied things a lot.

4. Have pointless arguments.

The Guinness Book Of World Records may seem like a silly thing now, but back when it was started, it was designed to stop pointless arguments. Who holds the record for the longest handstand? Look it up.

Huh. It still exists.
Huh. It still exists. (guinnessworldrecords.com)

Many, many pointless arguments were had before the days of the internet where answers are just seconds away.

Who played Han Solo in Star Wars? It was Harrison Ford. No, it was Sean Connery. No, you’re wrong. It was obviously Harrison Ford. No, he was Indiana Jones, not Han Solo…. and so it went. Without the internet or a third party who knew the answer, sometimes these stupid arguments would escalate or just never get answered.

What is the name of that song? I have no idea.

5. Make mix tapes.

Once upon a time, there were physical things called tapes that we recorded songs onto. They could be any song you wanted in any order. They had a side A and a side B, and they involved a lot of thought. What songs went on a mix tape were very crucial since they usually involved sending a message to the recipient of the mix tape.

This is not a mix tape. This is a tape with two albums on it, but it illustrates the attention to detail necessary in a mix tape.
This is not a mix tape. This is a tape with two albums on it, but it illustrates the attention to detail necessary in a mix tape.

Making a mix tape is, sadly, a lost art.

6. Buy things.

There was a time when, if you wanted to hear an album and your friend wouldn’t make you a mix tape, you’d have to go out and buy it like a chump. If you wanted to read a comic book and your friend wouldn’t lend you their copy, you bought it. If you wanted to see a movie, you bought a ticket or waited for it to come out on video. There was no digital super repository of all of humankind to download things from. A torrent was just a stream of water during heavy rainfall.

7. Go to arcades and video stores.

If you missed that movie you wanted to see in the theater, you waited a few months until it came out on video where you could rent it from a video store. There are still a few of these old-fashioned video stores littering the cities of the world here and there.

You would walk into a physical space, choose a movie, rent a video copy of it that you would put in something called a video cassette recorder (VCR), watch it, rewind it and return it.

Video Store 1982 or 83. (2warpstoneptune.wordpress.com)
Video Store 1982 or 83. (2warpstoneptune.wordpress.com)

If you wanted to play a new video game, you went to your local arcade armed with pockets full of quarters. You would stand at a big boxy thing squeezed in next to a lot of other big boxy things, put in quarters and play the games in public. And then you’d go home poorer.


8. Change our phone numbers whenever we moved.

This one is a relatively recent change. I’ve had the same phone number for at least fifteen years now. A friend of mine is still using his California number even though he lives in another time zone. That would have been impossible long ago.

Before that, whenever you moved, and even when you switched cell phone providers, you had to get a new phone number. This was rather annoying actually, especially, if you, like me, moved a lot. People never knew how to get in touch with me and this was before the days of social media.

I lost touch with a friend, because he moved and left an answering machine message with his new information, which my answering machine promptly ate (I told you they weren’t foolproof). Then, as fate would have it, I moved a couple of weeks later and we totally lost contact. I never heard from him again. I’ve halfheartedly been looking for him for twenty years. Things don’t always work out like the movies.

My nemesis.

9. Wait for photos to be processed.

There was a time, again, not too terribly long ago, probably in your lifetime–when pictures were taken with film. Pictures on film had to be developed by people with a series of chemicals. Usually, unless you were a professional photographer, this meant taking them to the Fotomat or the drug store and having some seventeen year old dump chemicals on them while they looked through all of your personal memories before you did.


There were no do overs. You photographed what you photographed. If you didn’t like the picture and wanted to redo it, too bad. The moment was gone. It’s printed now. Your eyes were closed, your hair is a mess, you have red-eye… oh well. And all of this took at least a day.

10. Wait for our favorite television shows to come on.

Prime time was king. All the TV shows in TV land vied for a coveted prime time slot, which was weeknights from 8 to 10 pm when most Americans had finished dinner and were plunking themselves on the couch for a night of TV viewing.


We were so excited when the VCR came out because it meant that we could record things and watch them later! How cool is that? We can go out and do something while our VCR is busy recording Miami Vice! That’s so radical.

My family got cable when it first came out and HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax only showed second run movies. They didn’t make anything of their own. MTV actually showed music on television.

11. Use address books.

An address book didn’t used to look like this:

Screen shot 2014-05-10 at 7.57.30 PM

It used to look like this:

This person should have used pencil. (barbergp.com)

It was a bound paper handwritten affair with pen and/or pencil writing in it. It was a big deal for someone to use ink to put your number in their address book. Most of the time, we used a pencil. This is partly because everyone kept having to change phone numbers every time they moved. Notice how many crossed out things there are on that picture above?

12. Write things by hand.

If you met someone you wanted to talk to more later, instead of just plugging their number into your smart phone or looking them up on social media, you exchanged phone numbers. For whatever reason, I saved all the ones I was ever given. I have a lot of them. I have hundreds of little bits of paper and cocktail napkins and matchbooks and business cards with handwritten phone numbers on them. Most of the names I don’t even remember or have any context for at all.


If you lost that bit of paper, you were out of luck. You might never meet that person again since you had no other way to contact them.

In addition to phone numbers on napkins, we hand wrote pretty much everything from party flyers to school papers to shopping lists. We did a lot of writing before computers. Being left-handed, I can’t say that I exactly miss writing by hand. Nowadays, if I write more than a few lines, my hand cramps up like a chicken foot since I’m way out of practice.

Now, if you’ll excuse my old self, I need to go slather Ben Gay all over my wrinkly bones before The Wheel Of Fortune comes on.

Find out how well you know your old tech with the Arcane Tech Quiz.