Last week my Gen Z kids and I were discussing modern conveniences that my grandparents didn’t have. I think most people today would agree that life would still go on if we didn’t have consumer products and services like GPS devices, plastic sandwich bags, and even health insurance — but it would certainly be a lot more inconvenient.
Of course, that got me thinking about other products and services that my grandparents — or Gen Z’s great-grandparents — lived without that most people consider to be truly indispensable today. Here are ten of the biggest:
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. One particular study found that the Internet is responsible for at least 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.
Passenger Jet Airliners
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 there are people who say 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.
Modernized Poultry Farming
Scoff all you want; you know I’m right.
Automated Banking Services
Trust me; people take direct paycheck deposits for granted today — and ATMs too. By the way, 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.)
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.
For most people, their cell phone is an extension of themselves. But people who find themselves away from home without their cell phone now have a bit of a problem if they need to make a call, because the days when you could find a payphone on every corner are 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
There are too many people out there who get upset whenever they lose Internet service — even if it’s only for a few minutes. But I guarantee you it’d be even worse if the world stopped making permanent press fabric; most people would finally have to learn how to use an iron. Then again, at least my grandma would be proud.
Photo Credit: glenngould
Canadian Doomer says
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 ipad, 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.
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.
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?
I have to disagree on a couple of items – I 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.
I always do my taxes by hand. A few years back 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Mrs. Frugalwoods says
I can’t imagine life without the internet or a personal computer. I’m sure I would adapt and modify how I live and work, but, it is a darn useful tool.
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.
I agree absolutely with all of these.
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 cell phones necessary, yet my grandparents didn’t have electricity or running water.
Len Penzo says
Bravo, JD! I most certainly did take those for granted.
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.
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!)
How To Save Money says
Cellphone. Internet. Though there are some disadvantages when we overuse these two, the benefits outweigh them by a really big amount.
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.
RD Blakeslee says
Outhouses used to be fun on Halloween. Boys could tip one over with Grandma inside.
… and paper grocery bags. Boys could fill one with dog poo, set it afire on some poor soul’s front doorstep, ring the doorbell and run.
When the door was answered and the bag stamped on to put out the fire …
Len Penzo says
The flaming poo-filled paper bag trick is really bad, Dave! Of course, I know you never did anything like that when you were a boy!
RD Blakeslee says
Haa. Every one sittin at home during the holidays lets get the Penzonians stirred up with conversation other than DC.
Grandparents did not deal with
Password was a game
Did not pump own gas remember the guy with 3 in cash roll to make change.
Oh no the more I type I just turned into grandma
Christmas tree was real
Pick up truck had a purpose!
Turned in bottles for deposit
Did not have to recycle
Dog had a job. Not a comfort toy.
Does cereal still have toys in it?
The Jetsons and star trec were tv shows now they are real!
One thing is amazing.. Eagles, coyotes, geese made a comeback.
Garage sales were on the weekend now its 24/7.
Tis the season lets don’t forget grandma knew how to produce hope, faith, peace and joy without spending a dime!
We all,must figure out how to sooth our financial soul. Anyone have any S ans S green stamps they are not using?
RE: S ans S green stamps they are not using?
Never heard of s&s,but there were S&H stamps. Or was that an abbreviation used for my areas phone number? Sherwood=SH 6080 and party lines 3 or4 more neighbors on one line could tie thing up. Another was in the 70s driving from california sacramento valley to anywhere like nevada exploring the desert emptiness. 10 to 20 miles befor finding a ranch to use their phone. No phone.Thats why so many cars were left in the desert when they broke down. Too expensive to tow em out. We didnt have tow services like today. cheap. I cant go 1 miles into town without a phone. They do save alot of time and problems though. I like the flip phone just fine. The i6 was more than I really needed when the purchase cost is factored in. Mono speaker on the front dash playing LA Woman was great,until I discovered 2 speakers for the 2 doors. I recall using my first cell phone in 1986 in a rural town of 80K and when I pulled it out people stared at me. I saw one or two ever to that time. Car phones had been around a few years,but rarely saw those unless I was in parts of LA that had rolls royces etc. To be a security guard and carry ones own weapon required nothing special ,like testing etc. You could get hired as an ambulance driver/off the street with no experience. That was the early 70s. If you had 2 rifles on a rack in the back window of a pickup everyone could see and you parked it in the highschool parkinglot, No one thought that was anything.Late196os til ?
Len Penzo says
Thanks for sharing those, Tommy. I remember in the 1970s my dad had a car phone; they were very very rare back then. He had it in his company car, which he was allowed to drive between our home in Fontana and his office in San Bernardino everyday. The phone was pretty big and sat on the car’s transmission hump; I believe the phone had only one available frequency as there was a “call” and “busy” light on the phone. My Dad couldn’t call when the busy light was lit. It was quite a luxury back then and everybody who saw it thought it was the coolest thing.
Len Penzo says
Good overview. Where I lived Blue Chip stamps were the predominate shoppers’ incentive.
Happy holidays, Duke!
Joe DeGiorgio says
My grandmother detested even a fan on the hottest days – forget about air conditioning. She also did not like to use a clothes dryer, preferring to use indoor drying racks, and the outdoor clothes line.
I could put together a very long list of things my grandparents didn’t “need” like our generation does – and I’m 56!
Len Penzo says
Nothing beats the freshness of clothes that are dried on the line. I know people who still do it to this day.
No ironing — hours saved! There are pluses and minuses, but I love fresh fruits and vegetables all winter long. Pretty gloomy choices when I was growing up. t
Len Penzo says
Great point on the fresh fruits and veg, Carol. I think most of us take for granted that summer fruits and vegetables are available all year long now thanks to rapid international trade transportation.
How about day care? I remember my mom and her friends, all 50s housewives, talking about child care which they thought was terrible. They said it was Communism to put all the neighborhood children together in one building to be watched, as the Russians did in the 40s and 50s so all their women could be forced to go out and work in the fields. Mom and her friends definitely favored one parent being home at all times to care for the kids.
Even later when my mom started working part-time, there was no organized “day care.” Babysitting was done by aunties and grandmas. I parked my tail at the dry cleaner on the corner after school, so the owner’s wife could keep an eye on me for an hour until my mother came home.
Len Penzo says
You’re right, Jtwink. I remember those days very well — and I am not THAT old!
Sometimes I wish it was still like Grandpa’s time. Life was more simple then. Me, I pay cash for everything. And I still use the U.S. Mail too pay my bills. Call me old fashioned if you like. But I’m not going to change what has been working for me since I graduated from School. Grandmas were pretty smart back then.
Len Penzo says
Yes they were, Bobby. Like in anything in life, there are pluses and minuses to everything. Yes, life was simpler, but it was definitely tougher too!