How did we do X before Y?

As I posted previously, we’re looking for examples of how technology has changed an ordinary task so fundamentally that you can’t believe you once did it differently. As I wrote “Even though I was there and did it, it is beyond my power to comprehend now.” Thanks to everyone who contributed:

Laura Borns: How did I ever figure out how to get places with a folded paper map rather than GPS?

Cyd Harrell: How did I ever maintain relationships without voicemail and text? Remember when you actually had to get somebody on the phone?

Chris Gielow: How did I ever get things done (like the bank and the office) when I had to physically go places to do them?

Grady Karp: How did I ever pick people up at the airport before cell phones?

Lora Oehlberg: How did we meet someone for lunch at a specific time and place? (cellphones have taken care of a lot of last-minute details of “I’m running late” or “I’m on my way” or “I’m on the other side of the street”)?

Lora Oehlberg: How did we find out about music we’d like before friends sending YouTube links, or Pandora (I suppose at a music store, at the radio, or mix tapes)?

Lora Oehlberg (who rocks, if you can’t tell): How did we figure out who was talking to us on the phone before Caller ID? I remember there used to be a polite way of inquiring who was talking, or informing the person on the other end who you were (I’ve forgotten how this exchange goes now). Now we either a) avoid unknown numbers or b) listen to a semi-familiar voice immediately start talking, assuming that we’ll eventually figure out who it is based on what they’re talking about.

Peter Stahl: How did we ever create a flyer or newsletter without word processing or presentation software; when all we had was scissors?

Peter Stahl: How did we ever create a photograph or movie without a phone (like I would have believed “phone” 15 years ago!); we had to use film: purchase, load, expose, unload, take to developers, wait, pick up from developers, pay!

Peter Stahl (who also joins the club of rock stars): How did we make copies before personal printers and scanners? We had to use carbon paper!

@Kimwolf notes that she never has to wait to get home to check her calendar, because it’s always in her pocket.

The smartphone makes a prominent appearance here, of course, but really it’s a nice list from information-related tasks, to social norms, to interacting and collaborating with others, to pure production. This is helpful to put together with our other work streams trying to get at the different thematic areas to explore.

We’ll be running our next crowdsourcing request soon. Meanwhile, feel free to add to this list wherever you are seeing it!

Cat Macaulay: How did we distract ourselves from important tasks before social media? Guess that what was the executive toys were for, do they still exist or has the pendulum thingie been replaced by Twitter and Facebook?

Lora again: How did we get into buildings? Or control access to physical spaces over time? I’m at a university where RFIDs in cardkeys are THE way to let people in/out of rooms. Just set students’ cardkey access to the computer lab expire at the end of the semester, no problem.

Jeff McKown: How did they ever change the channel before the remote control? (Wait, I remember now…my dad would make me get up and do it.)

Nicolas Nova: How did I locate text in a document before Apple/Ctrl-F?

Scott Thorpe: I can’t even remember how I sent text-based messages before email. Did I print it out and mail it? Did I fax it? Did I just spend a long time on the phone waving my hands in the air explaining complex ideas?

Linda: How did we plan vacations without the internet? We relied on travel agents? And how did they know what places were worth visiting and what hotels were attractive and convenient?

Ryan DeGorter: How did I ever check the time while mobile? I no longer need to have an annoyance on my wrist 16 hours of the day.


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