What was life like before smartphones?

By on December 2, 2015

Mobile devices and entertainment systems have come a long way since “Saved by the Bell” character Zack Morris first flaunted his brick cell phone on TV in the ‘90s, and video rental stores were politely urging us to “be kind, please rewind.” It’s easy to take for granted the gadgets and services we now rely on every day.  How did we ever manage to live, work and play without smartphones, tablets, broadband, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi?

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and fondly look back at some of the gadgets that changed our lives and seemed so high-tech in the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Back in the ‘80s, it was actually possible to get a kind of 3D gaming experience with the Tomytronic 3D, a binocular-type device. It didn’t matter that the effect wasn’t great, it felt like the future. Then in the late ‘90s, Nintendo elevated the gaming gadget world with the Game Boy Color. Not only were the game graphics in vivid colors, but the gadgets themselves came in cool shades like dandelion yellow, berry fuchsia, kiwi green and, of course, Atomic Purple and Neotones Ice. These were must-have gadgets.

Today, the Oculus Rift virtual reality system has such sophisticated display technology that it bears little resemblance to the Tomytronic. Now, when it comes to using portable, handheld gaming gadgets, we turn to our smartphones and tablets.

But before today’s smartphone craze, pagers were really cool and glamorous. People who had pagers were considered to be really important. Since they needed a pager to be contactable at all times, they appeared to be indispensable; things just couldn’t get done without them. The only problem was that once paged, the person would have to scramble to find a phone and hope he or she had change for the payphone.

Remember how exciting it was when the first personal digital assistants (PDAs) became available? It was such a thrill to sync it up with your calendar and contacts on your desktop computer in the office, and what a relief it was to carry around a streamlined, digital device instead of a bulky Day-Timer organizer. They were certainly useful, but these devices couldn’t make or receive calls and had limited or no Internet connectivity.

Remember the calculator watch? That had to be the ultimate geeky gadget of its time. Gadgets today like the Samsung Gear S2, Fitbit and various other wearables do so much more than tell time and calculate, not to mention being more attractive and fashionable.

Then there was the coveted Speak and Spell from Texas Instruments. Hours of fun, right? Then again, it’s difficult to imagine that there were gadgets like this one that were designed for just one application, when today we can use our tablets to run thousands of different apps.

We rely on our smartphones today for just about everything. Just think of all the different gadgets we would be lugging around if we didn’t have smartphones -- a PDA, portable CD player, humongous cell phone, pager and Game Boy, just to name a few. Smartphones have the functionality of all those devices put together and then some. Our in- home tech has even evolved, where we can watch what we want, whenever we want, thanks to video-on-demand and streaming services on our mobile devices. Twenty years ago, if you went to the video rental store too late on a Saturday night, all the good movies would be gone. That disappointment is a thing of the past.

Today, information and entertainment are literally at our fingertips. It’s important to remember that while gadgets have become more attractive and easy to use, they wouldn’t work without reliable cellular and fixed broadband networks, like that offered by Verizon. Through continued delivery of strong broadband and 4G LTE networks, we can continue maximizing the gadgets of today and maybe start to imagine the next cool tech of tomorrow.