Your phone (that thing you’re looking at now, or no doubt have close by your side) is a wonderful invention, and its uses just keep expanding. In its wake, a lot of the things we took for granted would always be there have quickly become obsolete, quaint, and utterly pointless. Not all of the items on this list are gone from this world completely – but their days are numbered for sure.
For decades this struggle played out on a regular basis: You absolutely need to talk to someone but can’t find a damn phone booth – and when you do, you’re out of change. So, you have to go through the rigmarole of calling an operator and placing a collect call. It was all a tremendous hassle – one that I don’t miss.
I suppose, in the exceptionally rare event that someone doesn’t have a cell phone handy, it would be useful to still keep a few of these phone booths around. Although, I’m sure there will come a day when we realize, there’s no more phone booths – a bittersweet moment, for as much as I hated the hassle, they were so commonplace that it’s weird to think that one day they’d be gone.
We already take GPS for granted; we can’t imagine life without it. Yet, it wasn’t that long ago we needed paper maps (which were impossible to fold properly) and stops at gas stations to ask for directions. Indeed, getting lost was a common occurrence – a stressful part of normal life.
I have a vivid memory of my family being lost in backwoods Ohio at night, where it was just one corn field after another. We eventually ran out of gas…. It was quite stressful. In today’s world where finding even the most remote address is a breeze, this simply would not happen.
Arguments Over Trivia
I can remember being in a long roadtrip with a friend and we got into a heated argument over whether Matt Dillon played Molly Ringwald’s crush in Sixteen Candles (I won’t tell you which side of the argument I was on). Dillon wasn’t in the film, but in the days before you could call up IMDb on your phone, the question was left unanswered for literally days. Can you even imagine being in this situation today, where pop culture trivia is always just a few clicks away?
I also distinctly remember in the early 1990s trying desperately to recall the name of the odd character with pointy hair played by Martin Short. It seemed no one I knew could provide the answer for me, and it was an annoyance for days afterward, until I finally obtained the glorious answer: Ed Grimly. Oh, sweet relief! Again, this is a scenario (albeit a stupid one) that simply could not happen today.
Like standalone music players, standalone cameras are on the endangered species list. However, as commonplace as boom boxes and Walkmans were, cameras were everywhere. Whether it was a Polaroid or cheapo disposable, everyone had one, almost without exception. No one (least of all, Kodak) would have predicted that, seemingly overnight, they’d become obsolete. And once film went digital, it was an easy transition from standalone camera to smartphone application, and the rest is history…. a history full of selfies and pictures of food.
Conversations Between Strangers
Remember when waiting in line at the DMV or sitting in an airport or on a bus meant painful unabated boredom? Unless you happened to bring a paperback, you were stuck with nothing to do, nothing to look at, and nothing to listen to for hours? What was a person to do to pass the time? Once, that actually meant talking to another human being.
I don’t want to paint the pre-smartphone world as a place where everyone held hands and was engaged in wonderful conversation. Subways have always been full of people awkwardly staring at one another, praying their neighbor doesn’t open their big mouth and start talking. Yet, at the same time, it didn’t consist of an entire society zoned in to their handheld devices, completely oblivious to those around them. As unfriendly as our society can be, in the spaces where people wait, whether it was the doctor’s office or the movie theater queue, there has always been pockets of conversation where sporadic pleasantries are exchanged. Now, these places are rooms full of zombies, hypnotized by images upon a tiny screen….. perhaps as you are right now.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.