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How Was Life Before The Internet – What Did People Do?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: June 1, 2021

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: June 1, 2021


It’s hard to imagine a time in the world where smartphones and social media weren’t an integral part of your life. Let’s go back to what seems like an eternity ago, to see how life before the internet was different.

10 Ways Life Was Different Before The Internet

Amazon was just a river/rain forest

If the word Amazon was mentioned in a sentence, it was only in reference to the river in South America. No one could think about the possibility of online stores.

Planning ahead

Last-minute plans were not possible once you left your house. You’d be very careful to set up exact meeting times and locations with your friends.

Recorded music off the radio / mix tapes

If there was a song that you loved, you would have to record it off the radio. Looking for a compilation of songs? You’d have to make that yourself too.

You needed to leave your house to socialize

There was no online shopping or Zoom — if you wanted to buy something or see a friend, you needed to get off the couch and out of your house to socialize.

You had to look up information in encyclopedias

Before the days of Google and Wikipedia, if you wanted information on a particular topic, you would have to look it up in an encyclopedia, listing everything in alphabetical order.

Tinder in real life was a piece of paper

When there was someone you were interested in, in order to ask them out, you needed to either pluck up the courage to ask them out in person, or else pass them a piece of paper with three boxes: check yes, no, or maybe.

Web design was done by spiders

Many jobs did not exist before the internet. Those that were web designers were most likely a spider.

Wasting time in the office was more obvious

It was a lot more obvious if you wanted to look at something other than the work in front of you on the computer. Staring out the window or looking at inspiring pictures on the office walls were far more obvious than they are today.

Posts were made on real walls

If you had an event or information you wanted to share with other people, then you needed to physically print it on a piece of paper and post it on a real wall for others to see.

Mobile games were much simpler

When mobile phones first came out with the ability to play games on them, they were much simpler than they are today. Nokia’s famous snake game became a “game changer” in the world of gaming.

Looking something up took a lot of time and work

As Google and Youtube were not available, if you wanted to learn something you needed to read it in a book. Before the internet, you had to spend hours within a library searching through books to find the information you needed.


Games with more than one player needed a table

Multiplayer games needed to be played on a table, and with the other players in the same room as you! You didn’t have the freedom to play with people from around the world.

Trolls were mythological creatures, not angry opinionated people

Trolls were seen in fantasy films or children’s stories. Today they are people who feel the need to share opinions that would never have been acceptable in public before the internet. 

Long-distance communication meant letters, not email

You would get excited when the mailman would come by, hoping that someone sent you a letter.

Selfies required sophisticated technology

If you wanted to take a picture of yourself you needed more sophisticated technology; you needed to get the Gameboy Camera.

Search for movie times in the newspaper

If you wanted to know what time your movie was playing at, you had one place to search for the answer — the newspaper.

Life Before Cell Phones

Being unreachable

You could leave your house and focus on whatever task or activity you set out to do. No one could reach you or disturb you.

Looking someone up in a phone book was the original Google search

There was a huge book that had everyone’s phone number in it. You needed to look them up to find their number. If you wanted the number for a business, the yellow pages were the original Google.

Having fun outdoors

When not in school or doing chores, kids would be outside playing with each other for hours on end. Parents would send them out themselves and hope that when they were hungry for dinner or lunch they would come home to eat. 

Watching TV

You had to watch television shows when they were scheduled to air. This also meant you would have to wait a full week until the next episode aired.

Playing board games with your family

Family time was spent playing board games, many having established designated “game nights” each week. There were lots of different games you could play together. It was a great opportunity to have fun and bond with each other.


Used real cameras

People couldn’t use their phones to take pictures, you needed to use an actual camera.

Used maps or asked someone to get directions

When you went on a trip, you needed to be prepared and bring a physical map with you, or risk being left to constantly ask directions along the way. There was no Google Maps to reference.

Shared unfiltered pictures of yourself

People shared the pictures they took without any editing, emojis, or special filters. 

Used payphones

What happened when you were out and needed to call someone? Payphones. On every corner there were public phones, and it cost 25 cents to use.

Memorized people’s phone numbers

Before smartphones, if you wanted to call someone you had to actually know their phone number.

Life Before Social Media

There was a lot less FOMO

Today you are bombarded with everyone else’s pictures of their ever-so-fabulous lives, bringing up the feeling of FOMO, or fear of missing out. But back in the day you weren’t subjected to that unless someone showed you printed pictures of their trip or life.

Not everything had to be photographed

There wasn’t this deep desire to photograph every experience you had or thing you happen to see.

Didn’t search for approval from others

The reason for posting every aspect of your lives is to get approval from others to confirm that you are living correctly. Before the internet there was no way for you to get that kind of immediate, and consistent approval, so no one was searching it out.  

Were not subjected to other’s toxic opinions

Once in a while at a family gathering you would be subject to a relative’s unwanted opinion on your life. But with the age of the internet came constant posts or comments in your newsfeed about someone’s toxic opinions daily.

You didn’t have something to waste so many hours of your life

Quickly checking one Youtube video for reference is never as simple as that. Before you know it, 4 hours have passed and you watched 100 videos and found yourself ordering something new on Amazon. Before you know it, half your day has been wasted checking your phone or computer.

Not exposed to such tragedy from around the globe

Global tragedies have always occurred, but they weren’t in your face every moment of the day. Not only do you hear of global horrors as they happen, but there are the tragic images and videos to go along with them.

No constant comparison between yourself and others

Maybe you would be jealous of someone’s hair, figure, or job, but it wasn’t shoved down your throat to see all day, every day.

Not able to spy on others

The ability to stealthily stalk everyone you went to high school with was not as easy as it is today. You would have to sit outside their house to spy on someone — sounds creepy, right?


Life before the internet definitely had its pros and cons. It was a time with more face-to-face interaction and time spent outside of your house. It can enrich your life to incorporate some aspects of these activities and help find a balance between the two worlds.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.