Even though we might not fully appreciate it, our lives have become a lot simpler and more manageable since the release of the inaugural iPhone in 2007. We get into cars not knowing how to get where we’re going, and carry around 64GB music libraries at the tips of our fingers. We take high-resolution photos and edit them on the spot. But what was life like before the iPhone? Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
Generation X (1960-1979): Your home phone had a rotary dial, which means it really ticked you off if your friend’s number had a “9” in it. If it was a wall phone, the phone had to be literally hung up on a hook to end the call. When you weren’t at home your only option was to find a public pay phone and pray there wasn’t a soliloquy going on in the phone booth.
Millennials (1980-1999): Thankfully, rotary dials had been all but phased out by this generation. You had phones with punchable numbers and coil cords, which allowed you to walk around the wall into the other room to have a more private conversation. Mobile phones were just coming into existence, but they weighed more than a pound and had only an hour of charge.
Generation Z (2000-present): We don’t always make calls, but when we do, we make them at any time from (pretty much) anywhere.
Generation X: You had to know how to read a paper map. Most cars carried road atlases, which were incredibly detailed maps of all major parkways, state routes, and interstate highways. Can’t read the road map because it’s too small? Better hope you’re in a heavily populated area for which the map has a zoomed-in version.
Millennials: Road atlases were still widespread for most of this time period. By the end of the ‘90s, however, MapQuest had made printable custom driving directions popular. Being able to type in an address and print the turn-by-turn directions was a huge load-off when going somewhere you’d never been before.
Generation Z: We get in the car, text our friend for their address, click on the hyperlinked address in the text, and the iPhone churns out turn-by-turn directions.
Generation X: The most common method of photography during this era was black-and-white developed film. Simply put, you had a roll of film that you used to snap photos; once it was used up, you took it to a darkroom and had it developed, which could take multiple days. The horror! #LaterGram wasn’t a hashtag then--it was a way of life.
Millennials: The era of color photos! Your photos would now resemble reality and its vibrant colors to a tee. This was also the era when Polaroids became a big thing. (Technically they had been around since the ‘60s but this was the era when they really took off and became ubiquitous.) Polaroids allowed you to print out a photo within seconds straight from the bottom of your camera.
Generation Z: We take photos of everything in our lives, and edit them for sharpness, angle, and filter-color on the spot. Then we upload them to social media so our friends can see how interesting and edgy our lives are.
Generation X: Vinyl records and radio. The only way you could listen to music on demand was by listening to a vinyl disc or the radio. There was no way to listen to music as you worked out or jogged. In a way, though, this was almost a blessing. Music was a pure artform to be consumed on its own and for its own sake. It wasn’t uncommon to put a vinyl on, make yourself a drink, lounge back on a recliner, and just let an album run through.
Millennials: This era was marked by the rise of the cassette tape and compact disc (CD), both of which were steps in the direction of steadily shrinking music players. The Sony Walkman was the hippest thing at the time: you could walk around and listen to music through earphones--the iPod before the iPod. Of course, it only took tapes and later CDs, which meant that you couldn’t have you whole music library with you, only what could fit on a single tape.
Generation Z: We carry more music on our iPhones than most mid-century radio stations had in their arsenals. We listen to it while we drive, run on the treadmill, and sometimes while we work.
Generation X: If you wanted to become the equivalent of “Instagram famous” in the ‘60s and ‘70s, your best chance was to be really, really, really, ridiculously good looking--or star on one of your school's sports or cheerleading team. Walking around in your high school letterman jacket with your thumbs in your pockets and your hair greased back wasn’t cliche back then; it was the cool thing to do. I know this because I’ve seen Back to the Future and Dazed and Confused
Millennials: Macho, male-dominant culture was still very much a thing, but by this time period some of it had been siphoned from organized sports into counterculture activities like skateboarding, rapping, and spraypaint-tagging. Also, wearing your backpack with two straps was eminently uncool. If you wanted to be socially accepted, you wore your backpack with one strap and kinda slouched as you walked, as if you were one of the little smoking aliens from Men in Black.
Generation Z: Basically your only shot at becoming wildly popular is to post an absurd amount of photogenic and/or hilarious shots of you on social media. That means sarcastic, annoyed-looking selfies (“so bored in this class, someone save me”) and constant duckface with at least four of your “best” friends.
Generation X: If you wanted to ask that cute new girl from geometry class out, you had to go up to and ask her in person what she was up to that weekend while her friends hugged their school books and snickered at you. And if by some miracle she said she was free and her parents would let her go out with you, you had to go pick her up at her house, which required going up to the front door, knocking, and praying that her dad didn’t answer the door and grill you for five minutes about your intentions.
Millennials: Similarly, asking a girl out in this era required using your vocal cords (as opposed to text) and you probably had to do it in person, at least at first. Calling a romantic interest’s home and talking for hours on end while you twiddled the coil cord between your fingers was also a staple of this generation. Society’s restrictions on courtship had loosened a bit by this time, but you were still expected to actually leave the house with your partner when you “went out.” For better or worse, there was no Netflix and chill.
Generation Z: Like someone? Shoot ‘em a text, meet up, rip on your mutual friends for an hour, and stare at your phone for 75% of the conversation. Have no one to ask out? Download Tinder or the other twenty dating apps and start swiping!
Generation X: The most reliable source for news was the newspaper. Every all-American family got a delivery of the local town paper and/or the New York Times. If you didn’t read a newspaper--or listen to the radio--you were hopelessly out of touch with what was going on in the world around you. Network news channels were surging in popularity but still lagged far behind their paper counterparts at the time.
Millennials: Although newspapers and network news programs still dominated the news world, cable news programs like CNN and Fox were rapidly becoming fixtures in the lives of Americans. This era also marked the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, with cable news programs dedicated to blasting the news out to households across the country for the duration of each day. By the latter half of the ‘90s, America Online (AOL) began to surge as the go-to news source for minute-by-minute updates for technologically inclined consumers.
Generation Z: Social media as a whole--Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.--has now replaced the traditional establishment media as the primary news source for millennials. The iPhone is to kids today as the newspaper was to generation X.
Generation X: Need to pencil in a meeting in for later in the week? Literally pencil it in on your calendar, because that was the most reliable way to schedule things at the time. Secretaries were an integral part of corporate culture for that very reason.
Millennials: For the most part, things didn’t change much until the late ‘90s when release of the Palm-Pilot, which gave users a mobile calendar that they could hold in their hand. There were obvious limitations, of course, such as limited battery life and the use of the stylus.
Generation Z: If you need to remember something nowadays, you can simply type in the event into the Calendar app with its date and time, and have an alarm ring at a certain point before the event. Bada bing, you’ve got yourself a date.