10 Things We 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, 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. For the most part, I agree.

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

The Internet

How important are online communications and business DSL providers today? 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% of GDP — and that’s before you consider lost productivity, reduced avenues for commerce and innovation, and the rapid exchange of information.

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.

Credit and Debit Cards

Although Jason says 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 it virtually impossible to even buy an in-flight snack on most airlines without a credit card.


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

Automated Teller Machines

Here’s a fun ATM machine fact: Before ATMs became ubiquitous there weren’t a lot of options when banks were closed and you needed a little quick cash. 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. Well … unless you were at the front end of a three-day bank holiday. (Talk about a long weekend.)

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.

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.

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. At the turn of the century, there were still more than 2 million payphones in the United States. However, by 2007, there were only 870,000 remaining — and anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers have continued to drop. When was the last time you saw a working pay phone?

Overnight Mail Delivery

Although highly important and 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.

Permanent Press Fabric

You think people were upset after Judith Hill got prematurely booted off The Voice in 2013? Well, it’d be even worse if they ever stopped making permanent press fabric; most people would finally have to learn how to use an iron. Then again, at least Grandma would be proud.

Photo Credit: glenngould

(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on April 11, 2011.)


  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.

  2. 3

    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. 4

    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?

  4. 5

    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. 6

    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. 7

    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.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      You’re right. Back in the early 1980s, when I was working as a grocery store box boy, I used to have lots of clean-ups from broken glass containers; so many more things came packaged in glass back then.

      The broken bottles of maple syrup were the worst — they were a bear to clean up!

  7. 9

    Ray says

    Never used an ATM,don’t even know or want to know how to. I watched a guy at the local armpit empty one playing lottery tickets one night.

    Ipod or anything i***,bah humbug. Need music ? There is a wonderful invention called “RADIO”.

    Cell phones..if I had my druthers,I would not have any phone.
    Smart phones……..have caused people to forget how to talk to one another eye to eye. Those that walk into fountains and fall into open manholes deserve it and the laughs that it brings.

    Too often texting is saying something by text that one would not have the guts to say in person. It also has made a mockery of spelling and cursive writing.

  8. 11

    Ellen C says

    Mentioning public pay phones brought back a situation that occurred about 5 years ago. Being away from home and not owning a cell phone, a situation arose where I needed to call my husband. Luckily, I actually found a functioning pay phone. While using it, an older gentleman walked up and stood there staring at me. When I was through, he commented that he hadn’t seen anyone use a pay phone for years – he was awestruck! He had some younger people with him and he went on to tell them about how phone calls used to be made. I felt like I was in the way-back machine.

  9. 13

    JD says

    What MY grandparents lived without and I couldn’t (well, could, but wouldn’t want to)? Running water and indoor bathrooms. You are taking those for granted Len, because we are so used to them! My husband bathed on his grandmother’s back porch in a tin tub in summer visits, or in front of her fireplace (no central heat) — my grandfather’s farm had an outhouse but we could bath at the kitchen sink — it had a pump. My own childhood home was heated by a coal furnace and we had to shovel coal in it each cold day. He and I are both in our fifties, by the way, not 85, as one might suspect. It’s funny to me that people consider Ipods necessary, yet my grandparents didn’t have electricity or running water.

  10. 15

    Mindimoo says

    Call me a Luddite but I still have an old dumb phone that I use perhaps half a dozen times a year for emergencies. I refuse to get a smartphone because I am really turned off by how people so easily become addicted to them and are constantly distracted by them – in restaurants when they’re with friends, at parties, wherever. Everyone seems to be paying more attention to what’s on their phone than to the person in front of them. I can honestly say life is really not that difficult without one.

    • 16

      Len Penzo says

      Although I have a smartphone, Mindimoo, I agree with you 100%. I really detest them. Unless it is necessary (which is almost never), I only use mine as a phone — not as an “Internet-connection-on-the-go.” I hate that people always have their noses in them, sometimes even when you’re trying to have a conversation with them!

      Ironically, the Internet is actually making us less-connected. Awhile back the Honeybee and I went out to dinner and a young couple (early 20s) sat at the table next to us. The Honeybee and I spent our time talking to each other face-to-face. As for the other couple, believe it or not, they spent almost the entire time looking at their smartphones and not saying a word to each other. It was really strange — but that pretty much seems to sum up what kind of society we have become. Sad.

      (I know. I sound like an old fogey who likes to shout “Get off my lawn!” to the kids — but it’s not true. Really!)

  11. 18

    Harry Larsen says

    Well, do we ‘really’ need all those things?


    Of course, I wouldn’t be typing this reply if it weren’t for computers and the Internet, but if this country is ever hit with an EMP or huge solar flare, or a terrorist attack on our electric infrastructure, we’ll surely have to do without a LOT of those electronic devices.

    I won’t mind. I can still keep myself occupied talking with my wife and kids and reading books and tending my garden. Just saying.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>