10 Things We Just Can’t Live Without (Even Though Grandma Did)

Last week I read an article that discussed modern conveniences that our grandparents didn’t have.

According to the author, Jason from Frugal Dad, life would still go on if we didn’t have products and services like GPS devices, plastic sandwich bags, tanning salons, and even health insurance. While I agree for the most part, there are two items on his list where I think we have a real difference of opinion (which I’ll discuss shortly).

Of course, that piece got me thinking about other products or services our grandparents lived without that I consider to be truly indispensable today. Here are a few of them:

1. The Internet

Never mind the increased traffic and crowds at brick and mortar stores, or longer lines of people waiting to pay their bills at the last minute. If the Internet disappeared tomorrow, it would likely result in a tremendous hit to the US economy. A recent study found that the Internet is responsible for a little over 3 million jobs, with the value of their wages alone equal to 2 percent of GDP — and that’s before you consider lost productivity, reduced avenues for commerce and innovation, and the rapid exchange of information. This shows how important business dsl providers and online communications have become in business today.

2. Modern Commercial Passenger Jet Airliner

The introduction of the Boeing 707 in 1958 kicked off the Jet Age and the beginning of affordable commercial intercontinental travel for the masses. Today, more people than ever can travel from one coast to the other in a manner of hours — or travel to the other side of the world in less than a day. It’s just too easy to take this convenience for granted.

3. Credit and Debit Cards

Although Jason will tell me that grandma and grandpa got along just fine before “plastic money” was invented in 1950, there are too many credit card advantages to ignore. Besides, we live in the electronic age now; it’s tough to buy anything on the Internet without a credit card. Heck, these days your cash is no good if you want to buy an in-flight snack on a lot of airlines. And who wants to carry around thousands of dollars in their wallet whenever they plan on buying a big ticket item?

4. iPod

Scoff all you want; you know I’m right.

5. Automated Teller Machines

Here’s a fun ATM machine fact: Before ATMs became ubiquitous — and cash was still king — you didn’t have a lot of options if the banks were closed and you needed paper currency. If you were lucky, you could go to a local market that was willing to cash your personal check, or borrow money from a friend or neighbor. If not, no soup for you. You’d just have to wait until the banks opened the next day. That is, unless you were at the front end of a three-day bank holiday. (Talk about a long weekend.)

6. Personal Computer

The personal computer is arguably the greatest invention of the last 100 years. The power of the computer is used in so many ways, across so many industries, that it is virtually impossible to imagine living in the world today without them.

7. Tax Preparation Software

Yes, it’s still possible to do your taxes with a calculator, the requisite IRS tax forms, and a sharp pencil. It’s also still possible to make your own soap from rendered animal fat, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore either. Just sayin.

8. Cell Phone

Jason and I disagree here too. People who find themselves away from home without a cell phone and need to make a call have a bit of a problem. That’s because the days of finding a payphone on every corner are long, long gone. Consider that, as recently as 2000, there were more than 2 million payphones in the United States. By 2007, however, there were only 870,000 remaining. Anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers have continued to drop. When was the last time you saw a working pay phone?

9. Overnight Mail Delivery

Although highly important and/or perishable goods have been delivered by air mail since 1918, an air-based mail system capable of delivering letters and other small packages on a large scale virtually anywhere in the country wasn’t established until 1977. Today, either directly or indirectly, almost everyone takes advantage of overnight mail service more than they want to admit.

10. Permanent Press Fabric

You think people were upset after Pia Toscano got prematurely booted off American Idol? It would be even worse if they stopped making permanent press fabric; most people would finally have to learn how to use an iron. Well, at least Grandma would be proud.

Photo Credit: glenngould


  1. 1


    Hm. Interesting.
    1 – I’d have difficulty living without the internet.
    2 – Haven’t flown in years, and I absolutely detested the experience when I did. I like trains.
    3 – Except for a couple of automatic bill payments, we pay cash.
    4 – While I have an ipod, a gift from my mother a few years ago, I couldn’t find it to save my life. I honestly can’t remember the last time I used it.
    5 – We actually made the decision to do all of our banking with tellers. They’re much friendlier than ATMs.
    6 – Like the internet, I can’t imagine living without my computer.
    7 – I’m such a Luddite, I know. And one of my goals this year is to learn how to make lye soap (I already know how to render animal fat)
    8 – Haven’t used a cell phone in years, either. After seeing those iphones with their time-sucking games, I’m glad of that. Sit down for coffee with someone who owns one, and every five minutes, they’re fiddling with it.
    9 – That’s definitely handy when you need it.
    10 – Okay, while I KNOW how to iron (thank you, Mom), it’s not high on my list of favourite tasks. I’m not even sure I own an iron. But I could iron if I had to.

    :D I need to go check out what Jason wrote.

  2. 4

    joz says

    re things we can’t live without; you failed to mention the year perm press clothes came along. I think it was the late 60s as I was transferred to Las Vegas, and started buying things for my 4 kiddos, little by little. I had a laundry basket packed with clean clothes for ironing, which was a lot for all of us. I used to iron for eight hours on one day, but couldn’t after I began work. So that laundry basket full of clothes just sat there, the kids outgrew what was in it, I finally gave it all away( or tossed) about 3 years later (including my own.) Best thing ever happened was wash & wear!!! Hooray!! Also disposable diapers which I bought for my first grandchild. Before that, for me, was tons of diapers to wash.

  3. 5

    Maureen says

    You forgot a few things—Air conditioning–they used to have windows that opened and fans!;Television–they had a radio and moving pictures on a big screen;MP3 players, Ipods, etc…they played thier own instruments and sang their own songs–some had victrolas with records or they listened to the radio;Cars–they walked, rode bikes, rode horses or mules–if we walk or bike today it is at the gym and we pay to do it—we pay extra bills for all of the above–which generation was smarter?

    • 6

      Len Penzo says

      Which generation was smarter? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? I guess it all comes down to what we value in life. Some people would love to go back to the old days — it does sound romantic, after all. Then again, it’s easy to take today’s conveniences for granted and forget that things were a lot tougher back then too.

  4. 7

    Mary says

    I have to disagree on a couple of items – I don’t have an IPOD and don’t want one. I also never use an ATM. I get my cash from the credit union. If I don’t have enough, I use my credit card. I can’t believe you left off air-conditioning! Living in Houston, I might have to slit my wrists if we didn’t have it. Just kidding, I think, but really I would not want to live without it.

  5. 9

    Julie says

    I always do my taxes by hand. A few years back (2005, maybe?) one of the major brands of tax software double-subtracted one of my deductions and wouldn’t allow me to correct it. So even if I get a software freebie, I always calculate everything myself first. The time-consuming part is gathering up all the records in the first place, anyway.

  6. 10

    cj9639 says

    How about plastic containers. I grew up with glass shampoo bottles and glass cold cream jars. We would all have to clear the bathroom if anything broke. Our luggage weighed a tonne when we went on family trips.

    Here is another one speaking of road trips. Safety devices. Seat belts, helmets, car seats for babies. Why not have a cigarette while your at it.

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, it would be harder to get by without plastic. But I think we’d make it. As a teenage grocery store box boy though, I used to have a lot of clean-ups from broken glass containers; I bet box boys today don’t have near as many clean-ups as I did!


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