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It’s difficult to imagine our lives without smartphones. A low battery alert on my Nokia Lumia 800 is enough to get me in a state of panic.

While we have become inseparable from our phones, the phones themselves have been responsible, at least in part, for replacing things that were also once considered essential.

So, here, in no particularly order, are things from my childhood that are now (largely) redundant because of smartphones and the communications revolution.


As a child, it was incredible that so much of the world’s knowledge could be stored on a couple of dozen books. Now, we take it for granted that all the world’s knowledge is easily accessible in the palm of your hand.

A full set of encyclopaedias could take up a whole bookcase, they were not cheap and were often sold on a subscription basis, volume by volume.

How many families started their collection full of good intentions, but then stopped after a few volumes as the cost-to-usage ratio became exorbitant?

Pen pals

In my early teens I had a pen pal in the USA called Marilyn. We didn’t have much in common other than we both enjoyed receiving letters from the other side of the world. 

I imagined that she lived an impossibly glamorous life because a) she lived in the USA and b) she was called Marilyn.

It’s not just the physical act of writing a letter with a pen on paper that has been lost. The concept of fostering a friendship with one person in a foreign land has been superseded by the ability to simultaneously connect with millions of people all over the world.


The calculator was once a staple of every pupil’s schoolbag.

For most kids now, a calculator is just a basic function on their phone and not a particularly exciting one at that.

Sadly, the art of inputting a series of numbers and creating a ‘funny’ word when you turn the display upside down has been lost forever.

Cassette tapes

Anyone born after the mid-90s will probably not even know what a cassette tape looks like, or used one. It was how we used to listen to music. One tape was typically 60 or 90 minutes long.

A choice needed to be made before embarking upon every long trip: Which cassettes do I take with me? How many tapes should I take?

Rest assured that you would pine for the tapes that you had left behind.

Atlases and Maps

This should be self-evident to anyone who has ever used Nokia Maps or Nokia Drive.

Men are famously reluctant to ask a stranger for directions when they are lost. Now, the only thing they need to be worried about is the battery draining on their smartphone.

Plus, you don’t need to fold it away afterwards.

Address books

The ability to store hundreds of phone numbers in your phone has been profound.

Who can actually recall any phone numbers anymore? Who actually knows their own phone number?

Public phone boxes

Public phone box

A rather obvious choice perhaps, and phone boxes do still exist but they are no longer the lifeline that they used to be.

Phone boxes were inherently seedy places. One would often be making a perfectly innocent phone call while face-to-face with business cards featuring pictures of semi-naked women.

It is a measure of the smart phone’s triumph that they have not only beaten phone boxes to the verge of extinction but for many people fixed phone lines in the house are also obsolete.


This is not strictly true but it seems to me that their function has changed.

Postcards are traditionally bought on holiday so that you could send them to friends and family. Often, you would arrive home before the postcards had been received.

Now, you can immediately post photos and updates of your trip on social media, and you buy postcards for yourself as a holiday keepsake.


No doubt there is still a market for stand-alone cameras and high-end equipment. But the camera phone has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Anyone, anywhere can take a photo and then share it with the entire world in a matter of seconds.

Polaroids used to take instant photos. Now, our phones do.

The desktop computer

Too soon? Possibly. But I wouldn’t swap my Nokia Lumia 800 for the Commodore 64…

This is not a definitive list by any means. What else do you think has been pushed to the brink of extinction by the smartphone? Is there anything you miss?

image creditandrewmalone and RachelH_