Student Question: What was it like in the olden days without a smartphone?


I’m just teaching part time these days, so it’s all pretty relaxed and fun for me and I don’t get stressed out at work anymore. (Yes, I know, lucky me.) But sometimes  issues do crop up. And one of these issues is caused by THE SMART PHONE. I wrote the following while I was teaching an intensive course to newbies at a large Korean company – young people grrrr – and I was obviously a bit wound up when I wrote it which amuses me now when I’m sitting here happy and calm in my peaceful living room alone at the computer. :)

Smart Phone Culture in Korea

The constant texting that goes on in my English classes drives me mad. (I need a glass of soju to calm down!) Everyone has a smart phone on the desk next to them. EVERYONE. From college students to the company CEO. But texting during class is worst in the classes where the students are under 30 years old. I suppose I should be grateful that they at least have them on vibrate mode. Usually. But as soon as they get a message, they HAVE TO reply to it STRAIGHT AWAY. Even if I am speaking directly to them at the time! The older students also have smart phones on their desks and they will check messages as soon as they get them too. But they won’t necessary reply straight away. And they don’t tend to get as many messages as the younger students, so it’s not as big of an issue.

I asked some students, as I always do at the beginning of the course, NOT to text during class. I say this half-heartedly nowadays because I know that they won’t stop. Or can’t. And the more comfortable the students feel in the class, the more they text. (Boy they feel REALLY relaxed in my classes these days grrrr) Some students try to be discreet under the desk. (FYI – I can still see you) Others just openly sit there texting or should I say Kakao talking  at several hundred words per minute. (Kakao Talk is a free Korean messaging app that Everyone uses here). They are probably ‘chatting’ with their mates in another class were another teacher is sighing with frustration too. :(

One student tried to defend his constant texting in class by saying that if he gets a text from work he has to answer it. Well of course he does. But straight away? Really? It’s that important? Even though he is a newbie and still in training? Even though his bosses know he is in an English class right now as part of his company training? And even though he has a 10 minute break every 50 minutes and could comfortable reply to any texts then? Even after all of this he must still reply to the text as soon as he gets it? (takes a deep breath)

I was complaining about this issue with an advanced class and they all agreed that they couldn’t live without their phones. And that’s when the (and it was a serious) question arose – What was it like to go on a date in the ‘olden days’ without a smartphone?

Well first of all  – OLDEN DAYS?! And second – OMG they really don’t know adult life without smartphones!? The kids I taught at elementary and secondary school used to make me feel old, but they were kids so I expected to feel like I came from a different generation. But these students are ADULTS. However, the question did make me think back to what it WAS like without any sort of mobile telephone device thingy.

Fortunately/unfortunately I DO know very well what life was like without smartphones or mobile phone equipment in general. Yes, I’m that old. And in the spirit of the time travel Korean drama I’m watching at the moment –  Rooftop Prince – let’s go back in time to the olden days of 80s Britain without any form of (shock,horror) mobile telephone technology.

Making a date without a mobile phone 101 England 1986

Before we start Operation Make-a-Date, we will assume that you have already met someone you like – perhaps at school or through a friend. (not online of course as there is no online dating service in Olden Days) You want to call and make a date to go to the pictures (cinema) on Saturday night.

1. Understanding the telephone location and terms of use


When you want to make a call, go to the place in your home where the telephone is located. This may be in the hallway or living room. You may have to ask your parents for permission to use the home telephone as they are the ones paying the telephone bills and money doesn’t grow on trees, you know? If you are not given permission to use the home telephone or if you want to make this call in private, take a stack of coins and go out to the nearest red telephone box which will be located somewhere on the street. Hopefully there’ll be one within walking distance of your house. And hopefully there won’t be a queue to use the telephone, but it might smell like a toilet in there.

Now you are ready to make your call.

Note: Before we start, make sure you know the number you want to dial. The telephone does not store numbers inside it so you must always dial each number yourself – yes, every number every time you make a call: either write the number down in a notebook – a special telephone book is a handy place to keep all your numbers together in alphabetical order – or remember the number in your head and dial it from memory. (Yes, I did just say that.)

2. How to use a rotary dial

If nobody else is using the telephone, lift the receiver and place the earpiece (1) to your ear. Now you should hear the dialling tone which means that the telephone is working and ready for you to dial the number.

The next bit it tricky so read carefully. Put your finger in the corresponding finger hole to the number you want to dial and rotate the dial in a clockwise direction until it won’t go any further. Now release your finger and the dial will return to its original position. Note: Do not just stick your finger in the finger hole and press. Nothing will happen. If you make a mistake and dial a wrong number, put the receiver back and start again.

3. Dealing with parents

Once you have dialled the number, the phone in the home of your girl/boyfriend will begin to ring. Now, unless you have arranged to call at a specific time and he/she is sitting by the telephone in their house waiting for your call, chances are you will have to speak to his/her parent or other family member first. This can be intimidating. Your heart may sink when the stern voice answers with an abrupt hello that tells you that your call is not appreciated, and in fact, down right irritating. You may also start to feel at at this point that you are considered to be below standard as a mate for their precious child. This kind of telephone interaction does not get any better over time. So just get used to it. Be prepared to be grilled over who you are and what you are doing calling at this inconvenient hour of the morning/afternoon/evening every time you call. But eventually this agony will end and your boy/girlfriend will be called to the phone.

4. The wait

There will now be a short break while the parent places the receiver down on the table (hopefully not back on the telephone) and shouts around the house and up the stairs. But your boy/girlfriend will not be able to hear their name being called because they are dancing around their bedroom and singing along to the latest vinyl single by Wham! (No CDs or ipods either back then folks. 😮 ) The volume will be turned up full blast on what we called a ‘record player’. So while you wait, take this opportunity to review what you want to say on the telephone to your boy/girlfriend  as all the stress of making this call has made you forget why you called in the first place.

5. Making the arrangement and points to consider

Your boy/girlfriend will eventually turn down the music and run down the stairs to pick up the receiver (see number 2 above for details). You may feel some relief or joy to hear their voice, but remember – privacy is not guaranteed on the home landline. So be prepared for giggly siblings, their friends, or other family members listening in to your conversation. With this in mind make your arrangements briefly. But be specific. This may seem simple, but remember: Once the arrangement has been made, it is set in stone. You will HAVE TO meet at the designated time and place. You CANNOT change anything once it is decided – unless you call again before the date and go through this whole ordeal once more. (Believe me, you don’t want to do that.) And this is the most important thing to remember about life without the smart phone = you cannot call/text 20 minutes before the meeting time to say you will be late. Your girl/boyfriend will not be near their home telephone to answer your call as they will already be on the bus going to meet you.

When the arrangements are made, say your goodbyes and place the receiver back down. Operation-Make-a-Date is complete.  All you need to do now is remember where and when you are supposed to be meeting. And make sure you are not LATE for the date. In order to arrive on time for a date it is recommended to leave the house a bit earlier than you think is necessary. Because arriving late for your date may see an early end to this romantic relationship. I hope this information was helpful. And good luck.



4 thoughts on “Student Question: What was it like in the olden days without a smartphone?

  • January 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    fantastic description. :) you forgot the bit in #2 where you reinsert the quarter until you dial the correct number… that always took me 3 attempts and often a few quarters. yes. there were quarter/ public-rotary-phones. hpmh

    • February 7, 2013 at 8:15 am

      And taking a stack of coins to the public phone box and still running out of money just at the most important part of the conversation was fun too!

  • January 28, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I too remember those days before smartphones! Perhaps that’s why the vintage telephone ringtone that comes with my smartphone is perfectly fine with me.

    For fun, I downloaded an app with rotary dial images. Looking at them brings up all kinds of nostalgia! To use it, you put your ringer in the “holes” and move your finger as if moving the dial. There are nice clicking sound effects for the dial movement as well.

    Too bad I can’t use it to call people: I don’t know any telephone numbers anymore.

    • February 7, 2013 at 8:18 am

      I don’t know any telephone numbers anymore either. I don’t even know my own number!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: