9 things we used to distract ourselves before we had phones

We’ve been avoiding real-life conversation forever. It's just easier these days.

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Scientists say smartphones are incredibly distracting, even when we’re not using them, and that they’re killing our ability to have high-quality conversations with each other.

In other words, smartphones are basically the devil, and before we were glued to our pocket-sized Internet devices, we were all smooth-talking, socially-adept conversation gurus.

Or maybe not. The truth is, people have been avoiding long, heart-to-heart conversations with friends, family members, and strangers for a long time now. I’m not saying we’re not distracted by our smartphones (we definitely are), just that smartphones aren’t the first time-wasting distractions to have made their way into our lives. Here are just a few of the things we used to distract ourselves in the pre-smartphone era.


Before there was Reddit, Buzzfeed, and, of course, Greenbot, people spent their days reading non-Internet material in the form of ink-and-paper books. Sure, you can arguably read more material with a smartphone and a mobile data connection, but phones are bad while books are good.


the list distracting newspapers Museum of the City of New York

Nobody has ever wanted to interact with strangers on public transportation, as evidenced by this photo taken by Stanley Kubrick in 1946.


Long before we had smartphones we had portable music players. Nothing says “don’t talk to me” like a pair of headphones.

The radio

the list distracting ww2 family tuing radio BBC

It’s not like families sat around and talked to each other before smartphones wormed their way into our lives. Check out this photo of a family tuning in to the radio in 1938 (complete with gas masks at the ready).


the list distracting tv dinner

We like to think that smartphones are the most distracting invention of the 21st century, but that honor almost certainly goes to television. We literally planned our lives around TV, inventing things like the TV dinner and TV trays.


Radio, television, and the Internet all play into one of the biggest (and oldest) distractions of all time: Sports. It doesn’t matter how you’re watching a sports match, or listening to one, or following one Twitter. You’re almost certainly not paying much attention to the people you’re with or having meaningful conversations with your loved ones.


the list distracting smoking Lewis Hine, 1910

Before smartphones and the Internet, people wasted time at work by taking smoking breaks. Frequent smoking breaks. But smoking has been on the decline since the late 90s... right around the same time technology started changing. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Writing letters

There have always been ways to communicate with people without actually talking to them. Writing letters and notes, for example. A handwritten letter may be more personal than a group text message, but it’s still less personal than an in-person conversation.


Before there was Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, and Words With Friends…there was good old fashioned Windows Solitaire.

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