Stories of a simpler, but not so distant, past


Instructor David Drnek riding a bike as a kid

Hey, you. Yes, you. Look around right now. What do you see? 

   Odds are you see people mindlessly staring at their phones. Cell phones have slowly become commonplace in our daily lives. 

   Waking up in the morning? Set an alarm on your phone. Hanging out with friends? Send a text. Feeling bored? TikTok time.. 

   Life before cell phones was unrecognizable from today, and a world without these devices is hard to visualize.

   Many who grew up without a cell phone can still vividly remember their lives before a five-inch screen dictated nearly every decision. 

   Stories of a simpler, but not so distant, past help remind us of life’s most important qualities, which shockingly enough, are not handheld devices. 

   “It was more peaceful. I wasn’t checking social media. I wasn’t answering emails and text messages 24 hours a day,” Instructor Bob Myers said. 

   More peaceful. A recurring theme when people look back on their lives before cell phones.

   For Myers, a time without cell phones meant more freedom. “I had more hobbies: I did more woodwork, more gardening, and spent more time fishing. I also worried less about people in my life that I was not hearing from,” he said. 

   Myers noted how crucial genuine togetherness was before cell phones, even if it was just to pass the time. “My friends and I hung out daily–for hours–often doing nothing. We just hung out, doing nothing together,” Myers said. 

   Not until his late thirties would Myers get his first flip phone. 

   He worries that people will forget to spend time with each other in real life and will instead focus on the world taking place on their screens. “Constant communication with a gigantic number of people, I think, magnifies inadequacies and contributes to anxiety,” Myers said. 

   Had he grown up with a cell phone, Myers believes more of his childhood would have been spent secluded and lonely. 

   “I think I would have stayed home, avoided people, and just done stuff online,” Myers said. 

   He believes that he would have been worried about how his peers responded to his social media presence. Particularly, he thinks that social media would have caused him to be more withdrawn and to struggle with anxiety. 

   For 39-year-old Matt Hamm, cell phones have provided him with an outlet but also has its downsides. “Phones provide an escape and a neurotic response to anxiety and boredom. Yet, the activities within our phones themselves are a large source of this anxiety. Phones provide a socially accepted outlet for narcissists to be on full display,” he said. “Addictions–which change the literal person you are–and time wasting are amplified with phones,” Hamm said. 

   Similar to Myers, Hamm noticed the stark negatives of cell phones and just how harming these devices have the power to be.

   For Instructor David Drnek, growing up had its distinct aspects. “It wasn’t that much different, it just wasn’t as easy to get a hold of people, so you had to maybe wait until you got done with work before you could call them or contact people,” Drnek said. 

   Drnek remembers life before his cell phone fondly. “When we were kids, you met people face to face. Now it seems as if you just meet people online, and then you have to figure out how to actually see each other face to face, and that’s weird to me.”

   There it is again, the stressed importance of real, quality time spent together in person.

   “Life before cell phones, you didn’t have instant access to all kinds of things like you do now,” Drnek said. For Drnek, the most remarkable difference between life with and without a cell phone is the constant, immediate access to all kinds of entertainment and distraction. “I think it’s kind of taken some of your childhood away; I think you guys have access to things that you’re probably too young to have access to,” he said.

   Drnek does not resent his adolescence without a cell phone. “I probably would’ve got in a lot more trouble than I got into, and when I did, everyone would’ve known about it immediately. Word spreads very quickly now with all of that stuff,” he said. 

   Eleanor Bryant, 83-years-old, shares similar nostalgic feelings about life before her cell phone. “As a young child, I rode my bike, skated, and dug holes to China. The older I got, the more I read,” Bryant said. “I could be gone for hours doing whatever I wished.”

   Again, the loving remembrance for childhood’s freedom.

   Bryant is glad she did not grow up with the stresses of a cell phone. “It would not be the childhood I remember with fondness,” she said.

   Although Bryant recognizes the joy she experienced without a cell phone, she also knows life today is not the same. “This is a different time, and I feel cell phones are necessary for today’s life. There is no going back to the ‘50’s,” Bryant said.

   For 69-year-old Debi Binkley, cell phones were unheard of growing up. 

   “I didn’t have a cell phone until about 1997 or so when I was about 45 years old. I didn’t really know what it was like to have access to the internet at my fingertips, or to be able to call someone from my car, so I didn’t really miss it or wish I had it,” Binkley said. 

   Binkley spent most of her childhood days playing outside—playing kickball, tag, and tennis, as well as trading cards. She recalls long days riding bikes with her friends and siblings. 

   “Up to age 11, our parents allowed us to play outside wherever we wanted to go and told us, ‘Just be home in time for supper or before it gets dark outside.’ That was the rule, and that’s what we always did. None of my siblings argued about it. We just all made sure we were home in time for supper, or at least before it got dark outside,” Binkley said. 

   Binkley has lived through the evolution of personal technology. “The first cell phones I remember were about ten to twelve inches long, and you had to pull out an antenna to get reception. They looked more like a walkie-talkie. Then, they started getting smaller and more refined,” she said. “Somewhere along the way, I thought I would try one out, and I have always been glad to have one ever since, mainly because of convenience.”

   Despite the freedom she enjoyed as a child with a cell phone, she stresses the importance it has in our modern age. 

   “I am glad that kids today have been able to have cell phones, mainly for safety and security reasons, which allows them to stay in contact with their parents and family when they are away from home,” Binkley said. 

   Binkley worries about how technology may distract people from real-life interactions, though. She believes that kids may lose their interpersonal skills by not engaging in more conversations. 

   However, Binkley believes that the proper use of technology can unite people in a way few other activities can rival. 

   “I love FaceTime and phone calls from my family and grandchildren especially. It really makes me so happy when one of them takes the time to just give me a call or show up on my phone unexpectedly. I love hearing from them at any time, so if a text or message is all I can get, I’ll take that too,” Binkley said. 

   Life before cell phones brought people together in a way that seems to be impossible today. Now, children lack some of those face-to-face relationships; kids have lost the peace and freedom they used to grow up with.

   This technology seems to pose great solutions for our future—ensuring safety and communication unparalleled to any previous generation. 

   As Hamm said, “The world is always changing, and it always comes down to how we spend our time.” Regardless of the distractions at play, quality time spent enjoying togetherness will always be one of life’s biggest values.