Remember phonebooks?

Ben Halpern on November 23, 2018

I’m old enough to remember what things were like before the Internet, but young enough to have mostly grown up with it. It has been an interesting... [Read Full]
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I remember all the coordination that was required to just meet somebody somewhere, especially at an unknown location, in the pre mobile phone era. Also, looking at real maps and asking people for directions in cities we visited on vacation when I was a kid.


I miss people asking me for directions. I’m kinda proud of my skills!


I don’t, however, miss struggling to get places or to follow directions.

I am, however, bad at navigating. “Oh! Sorry! That was the turn!”


I had a whole day taken up by trying too meet up with a friend to take a bus somewhere.

We completely missed our whole appointment because we couldn’t communicate.


Ah, interactive CD-ROM encyclopedias. Once they seemed so futuristic and advanced. Now they look even more quaint than the CD-ROMs they came on.

Though we all know what put and end to Encarta & friends: Wikipedia, search engines, & the rest of the internet.

also, remember that weird castle-themed quiz game it came with for years?


Whoa, I haven't thought about that game years and years


I remember very well the year 1999. It was in the first week after the release of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. At the time I didn't even know what an email address was. For some reason, my dad took me to this kind of exposition in the basement of a theater.

That's the first time I actually got on the Internet. I had no fucking clue of what I should do. I didn't even know the keyboard layout very well because I didn't have a computer. At the time in France we used something called the Minitel which was a remote terminal to display content generated server-side, through the phone line.

In this exposition I saw:

  • Computers with an Internet access
  • A VR headset which allowed you to visit a car
  • A 3D scanner which took a 3D picture of your face (you could then edit it on the computers)
  • A 3D printer which printed your face into wood

20 years later I'm still amazed by the vision those people had. They gathered a set of technologies that would take decades to go mainstream. All of that in a basement.

All right that's off-topic but that's what I think about when I read this testimony :)


It’s kind of crazy that we don’t physically own our media anymore.

I used to own Independence Day with Will Smith. Physically, in the room.


Must be partly why vinyl records have made a comeback. its a very 'real' medium. no bits nor servers, just a needle running in a grove.

Its funny, what once was people's goto music format, is now made as a novelty for collectors. Ive noticed this seems not limited to music, as quite a few indie developers have released games for old systems on actual cartridges for example.


I still enjoy purchasing physical media entertainment. If nothing else for the "...when X provider no longer has the license to stream it..." event.


Much to my wife's chagrin, I am into collecting Blurays of movies I like (and all of Game of Thrones). We still stream a lot of stuff, but it doesn't always hit the consistency of a good 4k disc.😊


America online.... AOL stacks of their CDs and running at least three of their subscriptions at any one time because I would forget my login details but I had a gold cd I could just use.

Ultimately these CDs became a place for me to rest my hot drink on top of but the whole AOL experience and that moment of being connected to the internet will actually be missed


The dictionary. A single place to check spelling and definitions seems so weird now, especially with autocorrect the defacto behaviour of so many apps.


Books in general. I went into Walmart a few months ago searching for bookends. I had to explain to four separate employees what I was looking for. After a search online for what they had in stock in that store, there was only a set that was shaped like a bicycle.


We had to explain what a fax machine was to our eldest a while back.
Things I don't miss. Leaving messages with your friends parents or siblings because there is one family phone.

Having to note down things on random scraps of paper rather than being able to take a photo. In fact just not being able to take photos because you don't have your camera with you altogether.


In the 90s, there was a series of ads where they would show a series of near-future things, like a travelling mother saying goodnight to her child via camera-phone, or classrooms of children having electronic "pen-pals" on another continent, ending with "And the company who will bring it to you is AT&T".

The last of the pieces that needed to come true was one I tracked down recently where a rebellious-looking young man, dressed like Bender from Breakfast Club, walked through a grocery store shoving things into the pockets of his huge great coat, and when he walked out, the security guard yelled out "You forgot your receipt!" That one, fully automated checkout, is the central idea to the Amazon store.

And the company that is almost out of the loop as anything but cell carrier these days is AT&T.


The Minitel service that we had in France was probably the first (and only) nation-wide information server system in the world. It was extremely popular. So much that when the web started to become popular, almost no company in France felt the need to create anything there since they had all on the Minitel.

On a side note, one of the richest person in France started selling porn on the Minitel and now owns one of the biggest ISP in France:, along with media etc.


I may be in that age range too (though possibly on the younger end of it). My family didn't have internet until I was at least 10, though we were relatively slow tech adopters anyway.

As for your question, would typewriters fit? And probably Rand McNally atlases. My dad taught me how to read those for whenever we had family vacations. I would be his copilot on the drive as a kid.


Call centers
Tech support
Agricultural jobs
Mechanic positions
Low end software development
Delivery services
Car services
RDBMSes, and by extension traditional monoplatform dbas

And with any luck, human bodies and eventual death.


I remember programming back in the 80s (yes, I know I'm old - thanks ;-) and we used to have to post, in the physical mail, floppy disks with sourcecode to one another across Europe to see what we were working on.

It was actually kind of exciting getting an envelope from somewhere 'exotic' like Sweden in the post and seeing what people were doing :-)

Also - having one phone in the house, usually in the hallway, that had a notepad (for missed call details etc) and paper addressbook next to it. Ah, the olden days... ;-)


I did the same in the early nineties. We declared the letters as books to save stamp money :)


I have a desktop computer at work. In fact, two. I work in science, and the data-providing instruments talk to desktops, mostly in Windows. But most of what I actually do could be done with an iPad with a BT keyboard. Already, we're moving to the extremes -- smaller screens that show us the results, and big cloud-y machines off somewhere like US-EAST-1 doing the work -- and the personal desktop machine is increasingly more trouble that it's worth.


Heading back to mainframe and terminal style regional infrastructure.


A bunch that I relate to have already been mentioned but a couple others are phone booths/pay phones. I can only think of one that I know still exists à Montreal. I'm sure there's others, but they're definitely a rarety.

Any old media for the computer: floppies 3 1/2" and 5 1/4", iOmega Zip drives/disks.

Ordering music CDs by mail from Columbia House. (Just a Canadian thing?)

Dial-up Internet that is implied by other comments like using America Online.

Going to the library and going through countless drawers of cards to find a book.

Physical encyclopedias. The list goes on...

Almost forgot to mention the Nintendo Power Glove.


"...Ordering music CDs by mail from Columbia House. (Just a Canadian thing?)..."

United States thing as well. :)


I stand corrected. I'm going further on a metro line I take and I'm seeing payphones or two at each station. 📞 🤷‍♂️


I was the official 8” floppy distribution for Xmodem for CP/M back in the day when anyone knew what that meant. 🤓

Party line telephones

Dial phones

Maps and map books for the car.

Wind-up (then self-winding!) analog mechanical watches.

Incandescent bulbs.



The thing that really weirds me out is the record scratch noise used in all movies to indicate something happened. I know what it's from and it's history, but my kids don't. Yet they know what the noise means, but don't know why they know. Heh :)


Phone books seemed to go through a death throes kind of phase, where for a little while there were half a dozen different ones a year. Maybe that was just my area.

Shopping malls have started to close in smaller towns.

I think the idea of owning a car, unless you're a professional driver, is starting to go away, but less so in rural areas.


I remember going to a computer show at a local event center. It was just a flea market of computer hardware and software. I remember purchasing something called the "Internet Yellow Pages", which was a phonebook for the Internet. This was before search engines were ubiquitous and the Internet was small enough where a physical book was a relevant resource in finding various websites in categories, such as e-commerce, education, entertainment, etc.


My mom still believes in keeping Phonebooks.
I think as generations pass human culture will witness evolution.

I remember trading Game CD's with my friends, and asking people for directions those days are long gone now, along with the days when Humans were more social in real life.


Ah yes. Definitely something that could be re-purposed. In NYC we have Wi-Fi spots where I believe you can make phone calls from or charge your phone if needed.


Calling people (while we carry phones around in our pockets).


I miss my Discman. I had a the one with a strap to hold it on your hand while running. Kind of felt like Tron. 💿


PDA, mini-disc, Minitel, bi-bop, radio text messaging...


TVs were fat and when you switched them off the screen was covered in an invisible fuzz. I can't remember the last time I saw a CRT television.


Phone booths/ payphones. I remember hanging up on someone talking on the phone because my dad was taking a long time on the phone next to them. Just pushed the lever thing down on their phone. 😬😬😬


We don't have a phone line growing up, but I do remember yellow pages!


Cartoons only be available on Saturday morning.


Talking on a HAM radio to people across the country.


My father in law still uses a phone book. And yes, he has Google on his phone. Some habbits die hard.

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