What did people do before the internet?

Life before smartphones and Google is hard to imagine. So how did people communicate, work and entertain themselves without the internet?

What did people do before the internet?
Google was launched 25 years ago, and iPhone turns 17 this year. So it can be hard to picture a world where the internet didn’t exist (even for those of us that experienced it). But there was a time when people lived, worked, and entertained themselves without Netflix, Google and iPhones. And it was arguably a much simpler time. Technology has undoubtably advanced our lives in many ways, but with the growth in the demand for dumb-phones and digital detoxes, many of us are choosing to find ways to experience a simpler non-tech lifestyle.
Whether you're a Gen Z'er curious about the "old days" or someone looking to reminisce, here’s a nostalgic journey back in time to explore what life was like before the internet.

What was life like before social media?

With over 5 billion people on social media, it’s hard to imagine what life was like before it. Since the launch of Facebook in 2004, more and more people are living their lives online, but more and more people have been victim to its side-effects.
  • There was a lot less FOMO Before social media, there were no feeds of people showcasing their lives. People didn’t know what other people were up to all the time, and you were less likely to compare yourselves to others.
  • Online trolls weren’t a thing There was no wall or profile to hide behind when throwing shade or commenting hateful remarks.
  • You had a lot more time People spend an average of 6 hours a day on screens, with mindless scrolling eating into a lot of our free time. With no social media, there was more time to be outdoors, socialising or relaxing.
  • There was no urge to ‘capture everything’ With no cameras and no social media, you didn’t have the urge to capture a photo all the time. You went to gigs to enjoy them, not to show everyone you went.
  • There was no such thing as an online ‘influencer’ Influential people were celebrities or your friends, there were no #ads or social media trends to follow.
  • You caught up with people IRL To connect with people, you had to meet up with them or call them. You couldn’t just send a like on instagram.
We use technology and the internet for a lot more than just social media. So what did people do before the internet to work, learn and travel?
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How did people socialise and communicate before the internet?

Social media, FaceTime and mobile phones make communicating and arranging social occasions effortless. But what did people do pre-technology?
  • People used to write letters Before emails and instant messaging, people wrote letters by hand to people who lived further afield. Waiting for a reply could take days or even weeks. Pen pals were common (especially ones you met on holiday or through school), and receiving a letter in the mail was a special occasion.
  • People used to call landline phones and phonebooks People used landline phones to stay in touch, so if you weren’t in it was hard to get hold of someone. Phone books were essential for finding numbers, which were all listed in a directory called the Yellow Pages. Many households had just one phone, often located in the kitchen or living room and long-distance calls were expensive, so people used them sparingly.
  • People used to knock on doors and meet face-to-face Meeting friends in person was the norm. People gathered at parks, cafes, or each other’s homes. Social clubs and community centres were popular spots for regular meet ups. You’d knock on someones door or arrange a time to meet, and you’d be there.
  • People used to use pay phones If you were out and about and needed to make a call, you’d use a pay-phone on the street. These are still dotted around in some towns and cities but are rarely used.
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How did people entertain themselves before the internet?

With no Netflix or On-Demand streaming, you couldn’t choose what you wanted to watch at any time of the day.
  • People watched live TV and radio Without streaming services, families watched TV together, often planning their evenings around their favourite shows, aired at a particular time. Saturday morning cartoons and prime-time TV were major events. Radio, cassettes or CD’s were also a key source of entertainment and news, especially during long car rides.
  • People read books and newspapers Books, newspapers, and magazines were primary sources of information and entertainment. You didn’t get news alerts on your phone so you’d have to wait until the next day. People would also head to libraries to browse and rent books instead of buying them or reading them online.
  • People spent more time outdoors Screens bring entertainment indoors. Before the internet, people spent much more time outdoors, walking or gardening. Children played games like tag, hide-and-seek, and hopscotch. Bicycling, roller skating, and playing sports in the neighbourhood were daily activities.
  • People went to the cinema or watched VCR/DVDs There weren’t any movies online. If you wanted to watch a film, you’d either watch it on a VCR or DVD, or find showing times in the newspaper or billboard and go to the cinema to watch it on the big screen.
  • People played board games and card games Instead of online gaming or doomscrolling, families and friends gathered to play board games like Monopoly, Scrabble, and card games. These activities tended to need multiple players so were a time people to socialise together.
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How did people shop before the internet?

Before the internet, you couldn’t find something online and get it delivered to your door the next day. So instead:
  • People visited physical stores Shopping meant going to physical stores. People found inspiration by window shopping and often made a day out of visiting different shops. There were no online reviews, no home delivery or online returns.
  • People shopped using catalogues For those who preferred shopping from home, catalogues like Argos were popular. People would browse and then purchase in store or fill out order forms and mail them in, then wait for their items to be delivered weeks later.
  • People went to actual banks Banking required a trip to the local branch. ATMs were a newer innovation, but many transactions were handled face-to-face. People used to write cheques that people would physically need to bank to transfer funds.
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How did people work and learn before Google?

Google launched in 1998, so before that people couldn’t quickly google something for an answer. You had to solve it yourself or look it up.
  • People looked things up in encyclopaedias and books Research for school or work was done using physical books. Encyclopedias were a valuable resource, and libraries were essential for accessing information. Instead of googling for resources or using online learning platforms, people would learn from others or books.
  • People used typewriters and fax machines Before computers, typewriters were standard for writing documents. Fax machines were used to send important papers ‘quickly’ but these had to be sent to another fax machine.
  • People only worked in the office Remote working or ‘WFH’ wasn’t a thing. Everyone worked in the office or from a physical building. Business communication relied heavily on in-person meetings and phone calls. Travel for business purposes was more common, as virtual meetings were not an option.
  • Documents were all written or typed on paper You couldn’t write an email or sign documents online. You had physical documents for everything.
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How did people travel before the internet?

People still went on holiday and found addresses before Google Maps or Sky Scanner. You just got a little more lost and planned more time in for journeys.
  • People used physical maps and atlases Road trips required detailed planning with paper maps and atlases. Asking for directions was common, and getting lost meant pulling over to consult a map or ask a passerby.
  • People used travel agencies as catalogues There was no Airbnb or SkyScanner. Booking a holiday often involved visiting a travel agency where travel agents helped plan itineraries, book flights, and arrange accommodation for you.
  • People used CFAX or TeleText on their TVs Some people even used teletex on their TVs to find holiday deals that they would then phone up and book over the phone.
Life before the internet was more difficult in some ways. You weren’t easily reachable, you’d often get lost and travel wasn’t as easy. But it was filled with rich, engaging, and meaningful activities that involved more IRL connection and nature. While technology has brought many conveniences, there's a certain charm in remembering (and experiencing) the ways people connected, entertained themselves, and navigated the world without digital assistance.

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