Things Young People Might Not Know Used to Exist

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Rotary Telephones

When I was a kid, the telephone at my house looked something like this:

To dial a number, you had to stick your finger into a hole and rotate all the way around to the right.  The numbers 1 and 2 were a lot faster to dial than 8 and 9.  That's why New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have area codes 212, 213, and 312.  Faster numbers were given to larger cities.

Renting Your Telephone

Before AT&T's monopoly was broken up in 1984, most people rented their landline phone from the telephone company.  Incredibly, some elderly people are still renting their phones from AT&T, and have paid thousands of dollars in phone rental fees over their lifetimes.

*69

In the United States and Canada, if you wanted to know the number of the last person who called you, you could dial *69 or 1169 on your phone.  This would cost extra on your phone bill.

Apparently, this feature still exists on some landlines.

Party Lines

In the mid-20th century, you had to pay extra for a private telephone line.  Many people had "party lines" which were shared by multiple households.  Each household had its own ring pattern so you'd know when to pick up the phone.  It was also possible, but highly frowned upon, to eavesdrop on conversations from other households.

My mom remembers when her family switched from a 4-party line to a 2-party line in the 1950s.

Calling Collect

Before cell phones, you sometimes had to make a call from a payphone.  If you didn't have any change, you could call collect, which meant the recipient of the call would pay the cost.  You would have a brief opportunity to say your name so that the person you were calling could decide to accept the call or not.

Cheap teenagers could use this to leave a free message.  For example, you could say, really quick, "heymomcomepickmeup", and avoid having to pay at all.

Calling to Get the Time

Back before everyone had a cellphone, you wouldn't necessarily know the exact time.  Fortunately there was a number you could call that would tell you "The time at the tone" every 10 seconds.  The U.S. Naval Observatory still offered this service as recently as 2015, but when I called this evening there was no answer. 😥

The Phone Book

Phone customers used to receive a free physical book that had the private telephone numbers of everyone who lived in your geographical area, although you could pay extra to have an unlisted number.

Video Rewinders

When you rented a video tape from Blockbuster, you had to rewind it before returning it or pay an extra fee.  This took a long time and could wear out your VCR so people bought special machines to rewind their video tapes more effectively.

Gum in Baseball Cards

No one buys baseball cards anymore.  Even if they do, there is definitely not any gum inside.  But when the Topps company introduced baseball cards in 1951, the gum was the main attraction.  Topps only made baseball cards to help sell the gum. Over time, the gum became smaller and the baseball cards larger until, by my childhood in the 1980s, there were 15 cards in a pack and one stick of stale, terrible-tasting gum, which we only chewed out of a sense of obligation.  Of the 15 cards, one would be permanently stained by the stick of gum, which seriously reduced its collector value.  Topps finally phased out the gum in 1992.

Cars Without Power Steering

You might not know it, but cars in the past were a lot harder to steer.  You really had to crank the wheel to get the wheels to turn, especially at low speeds.  On the plus side, parking was a great upper body workout. 

Power steering was first introduced in 1951, and over time more and more cars included it as a standard feature.  Today, there is apparently only one mass-produced car which doesn't have power steering: the Alfa Romeo 4C.

Pneumatic Tubes at Banks

These probably still exist, but it's been ages since I've seen one in action.  It used to be common for banks to have drive-throughs where you'd talk with a teller via an intercom.  It was possible to put checks or cash (but not too many coins!) into a little capsule, which would be whisked underground via a pneumatic tube into the bank.  Then the capsule would come back with your receipt.  As a kid, I thought this was just about the greatest thing ever and imagined a world where everything and everyone would be transported via tubes.  Yes, I realize this is a common fantasy.

Apparently, pneumatic tubes were also used for mail delivery in several cities, including New York, in the the first half of the 20th century.

Pin Boys

Back before the introduction of the automatic pinsetter in the 1950s there were people employed at bowling alleys to reset the pins after a bowler had knocked them down.

Taping Songs on the Radio

Buying tapes was expensive, but you could get music for free by waiting for the song you wanted to come on the radio and then taping it.  You could also record over the same tape multiple times, but it would get worse every time you recorded over it. 

A common irritation: tangled and broken tape
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Level 53
Jun 3, 2021
i think i should be confused about these
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Level 28
Jun 3, 2021
Some of them I already know... about the rotary telephones, they used to be extremely common in Brazil. They still are a little bit popular. My granny’s house has one. I really wanted to understand how it works lol

About “69” thing, a Belo Horizonte man (hahahahaha!) invented BINA, who allow you know who is calling for you, without 69.

As I’m not American, was nice to learn some of them! I think the chew gum one is really nice! Good blog, as always.

Ethaboo, before QM ban you and Chen, or at least for you stop having quizmasterbanningmeophobia, as me, I think you should put his blog at first place on BG lol

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Level 53
Jun 3, 2021
stop scaring me, im trying to get rid of my quizmasterbanningmeophobia
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Level 28
Jun 3, 2021
But you aren’t the only who has quizmasterbanningmeophobia!!
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Level 28
Jun 4, 2021
Oh, and the telephone book is mega common in Brazil
+7
Level 51
Jun 3, 2021
I remember the phone book. Legend says there was a kid at my school who could find anyone's number within 15 seconds.
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Level 61
Jun 4, 2021
I had a guy in my class, who could find any verse of the Bible in 10 seconds. You would say something like "Luke 2,1" and would open the book, maybe flip a few pages and there it was.
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
One of my first jobs was delivering phone books. I think I got 25 cents per book so it was actually not bad money, especially when delivering stacks of them to apartment complexes, but they were gigantic and heavy. Today, I think we still do get a significantly smaller (mostly private companies that I think might have to pay to be included) version delivered to my parents' house.

Something else that younger people today might not know existed: dialing phone numbers from memory. I probably had 40 or 50 different phone numbers memorized when I was younger, for friends, family members, work, school, the movie theater, some restaurants that offered delivery or take-out, and some other places. I still remember some of them that I haven't used in 30 years. When the Casio Databank digital calculator watch debuted in the 1980s those were a must-have. Made remembering numbers a lot easier.

Of course before that you had switchboard operators who would manually connect calls.

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Level 66
Jun 5, 2021
Same! I still take great pride in knowing the house phone numbers of all my childhood friends. If I knew you before age 14, I've still got your number in my head.
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Level 82
Jun 5, 2021
Your memory sounds vastly superior to my own. I can remember the phone number of the house we live at when I was in 1st grade as well as the one we moved to after that, I can remember my elementary school friend Chris's number because it was pretty simple (830-2222), I can remember the main number of the hospital where my parents both worked (and eventually I'd work for a few years, too), and.... I think that's it.
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Level 53
Jun 3, 2021
in the Pneumatic Tubes and Banks section, the HTML link didn't work.
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Level ∞
Jun 3, 2021
Fixed
+1
Level 74
Jun 3, 2021
This was actually quite fascinating.
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Level 60
Jun 3, 2021
Have heard of the car steering on multiple occasions. This is pretty cool
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Level 67
Jun 3, 2021
I had no idea they still make cars without power steering. Why is that?
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Level ∞
Jun 4, 2021
You have better feel of the road apparently. Also less weight. Worth noting that the Alfa Romeo 4C is an expensive sports car.
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Level 50
Jun 9, 2021
My brother-in-law had a Ford Taurus without power steering when he married my sister in 2003. He grew up on a farm. Evidently, power steering was considered extravagant and unnecessary then.
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Level 50
Jun 4, 2021
The fact that most of these are related to phones just go to show how far that technology has progressed in the last century or so. Wow.

I’m also just barely old enough to remember when phone books were a thing, and I definitely remember rewinding a few tapes at some point in time.

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Level 73
Jun 4, 2021
My family in rural Kansas was on a party line up until the early 90s, although I was too young to remember it.
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Level 72
Jun 5, 2021
I had friends in rural Nevada who were on party lines in the early 90s as well.
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Level 40
Jun 4, 2021
Wow, really interesting
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Level 62
Jun 4, 2021
Very fun to read!

Given my age, most of these oldies reminds me my childhood (I'm French so no Baseball Cards dans mon pays).

Good memories of these days: taping songs on the radio was very funny do to. I miss my old walkman too...

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Level 70
Jun 4, 2021
This blog is very interesting!

In the UK, you can call 1471 to find out the last person who called you. I also remember Yellow Pages, which were sort of like the phone book for businesses, but I think they stopped them here.

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Level 68
Jun 4, 2021
I'm not sure they were stopped, I received a yellow pages when I was at university just last year.
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Level 52
Jun 4, 2021
Apparently the yellow pages stopped in 2019, as a brit as well,1471 still gets use quite a lot from me, especially at work if I miss a call.
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Level 75
Jun 4, 2021
My parents neither had a telephone, nor a TV, nor a car until early adulthood which makes them sound ancient in the West but they're not very old. I distinctly remember rotary phones, video rewinders and the phone book (we still have yellow pages in Germany, interesting that they are called the same as in the UK).
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
Did they grow up in East Germany?
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
I remember in 2004 on my first trip through Eastern Europe most places I went it was still very challenging trying to find an Internet connection almost anywhere. ATMs and point-of-sale terminals that could take Western credit cards were also somewhat rare, in places. But they did have telephones.
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Level 75
Jun 4, 2021
They grew up in Poland and left in 1989. I must self-correct my above comment: they did have their first TV as children already, which means late 60s, maybe early 70s. Although they were officially denied their TV as ethnic Germans and only got it through party relatives who ordered it for themselves and then acted as secret intermediaries.

Internet speed and reliability is notoriously bad all over Germany. In this context we often quote Merkel who a few years back unironically said that “the Internet is virgin territory”. From what I understand the country was actually at the forefront in 1981, when there were plans to develop fiber glass extensively. But that was shelved by the next government and copper cables, some of them 100 years old, were deemed sufficient ever since.

As for credit cards, that might be a cultural thing. Cash is still king in Germany. We have trust issues with that money we can’t hold in our hands. I think even our Eastern neighbours are far ahead.

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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
during the same trip referenced above I once paid for gas after getting lost in Romania with an IOU.
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Level 60
Jun 4, 2021
My father had neither electricity nor water supply while growing up in Bihar,India.
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Level 54
Jun 4, 2021
About 69 one, you can still get name of person if someone by giving number by paying in Pakistan, But although there are also apps showing that. And another thing, I have digital diary which was of my father
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Level 55
Jun 4, 2021
QM is on a roll with these blogs!
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
Wow, my memory is poor. Why do I remember *69 not giving you the number, but actually calling the person back?
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
You would get an automated message telling you what the last incoming call number was, and then a prompt offering to dial it back if you wanted it to.
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Level 50
Jun 4, 2021
I always thought that *69 was used to hide your number. Anytime we prank-called people, someone was always saying, "If you put *69 before their number, it will come up as an anonymous caller." That's interesting.
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Level 50
Jun 4, 2021
I just realized that what I was thinking about is actually *67. Either way, we probably weren't slick.
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Level 52
Jun 4, 2021
I also feel offended that I recognize / remember a chunk of these at the old old age of 22.

I have 100% done a reverse call to get a hold of my mum when I was out in town before I could drive. We also had a VCR and rented tapes to rewind.

And as for the "Pin Boys" I used to do that as a summer job for the skittle leagues!

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Level 66
Jun 4, 2021
Please tell me I'm not the only one that finds it funny that the number they chose was "69" :')

Also, pneumatic tubes are definitely still a thing, at least where I live. The bank my family goes to uses them all the time.

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Level 74
Jun 5, 2021
I own a business and the nearby bank branch we has a five lane drive through which - especially during the lockdowns during the past year in NJ - were very, very busy and the pneumatic tubes and old-school push-to-send system works just fine. One lane has a combo ATM and pneumatic tube option. Some things just really don't need to be "fixed" and this is one of them. I still prefer going inside anyway.
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Level 76
Jun 4, 2021
Sports cards are actually a booming business right now, just no bubblegum.

Lots of drive thru pharmacies use pneumatic tubing as well as banks still.

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Level 74
Jun 4, 2021
Am I the only one who rolls their eyes whenever someone says that young people might not know what something (an example is a record player) is?
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Level 74
Jun 5, 2021
I believe 2020 saw the first year since 1986 (or 1987) that vinyl record sales topped CD sales. Not that either is anywhere near peak levels, given all the streaming options, but there is something uniquely satisfying about a well designed album cover, complete with liner notes and a special album sleeve.
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Level 74
Jun 7, 2021
Fascinating. I did not know that anyone even bought records.
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Level 60
Jun 4, 2021
These things remind me how old I am. When I got married I had a dial phone. I used to tape songs from the radio, later on realizing what bad quality that gives. We still have phone books here in Georgia, but they get thinner by the year. My bank still has a tube. When I first came to the States I had no idea what it was. We do not have drive through banks in Europe.
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Level 70
Jun 4, 2021
I used a pneumatic tube at the bank yesterday. They are still quite common around here.
+3
Level ∞
Jun 4, 2021
Lucky you! Those things are so fun.
+2
Level 70
Jun 4, 2021
Check out this quiz
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Level 30
Jun 4, 2021
your not supposed to um...advertise, but thats a good quiz!!!
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Level 54
Jun 4, 2021
Interestring!
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Level 72
Jun 4, 2021
Wow, now I feel really old. I remember all off these and more.

In the UK we still have the "speaking clock" (dial 123), it costs 50p for each call.

We also had "Dial a disc" (dial 16) to get a song from that weeks chart played over the phone. Service ended in 1991 I think.

There was also Dial a Recipe, Cricketline(for the latest scores), and Weatherline.

My first car in 1981 didnt have power steering, AC, electric windows or a radio. How did we manage ?

I also deliver to a grain mill occasionally that still uses vacuum tubes to send paperwork to and from the offices and lab, so the driver doesnt have to leave the cab.

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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
Among the hundreds of other reasons to be pissed off at atrocious customer service of various companies (this one seems to be a particularly popular way to infuriate customers of large banking or credit card companies)- one of my favorites is when they force you, though some insane ineptitude on their part (for example, shutting off my credit card for the 200th time for "suspicious activity" which was usually me buying a plane ticket from one place to another place for a trip neither originating nor terminating in the USA, after I had told them the previous 199 times I live permanently overseas and having them say they would make a note of it in the system), to waste time and money calling their dumb CSRs to fix whatever problem they caused, and when you bring up the fact that this call is costing a lot since you are overseas could they please speed up reading through their asinine script, and they will (un)helpfully point out that you can call them collect from overseas...
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
... to which I'll point out that I'm using a mobile phone which cannot make collect calls because I'm not calling them from the g-d stone age where landlines and pay phones were still a thing and add wtf is wrong with the awful company anyway that they can't update their protocols to be current with the cutting edge technology of 1998, that I ought to be able to just take care of this through the website via online chat (they'll counter, stupidly, that this is not secure and they require customers to call directly about these issues, as if every Filipina call center CSR they've employed has memorized the sound of my voice and so if they talk to me on the phone there's no way to fake that. Kind of like the bleeding edge technology for transaction security that credit cards use called "scribble on a piece of paper nobody ever looks at that could be a signature.").
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
At that point they'll say they need some additional information and ask if they can send me paper forms through snail mail to my home address where I don't live so I can fill them out and mail them back. And if using obsolete 1840s technology like postage stamps is inconvenient for me then I also have the option of using obsolete 1980s technology and I could fax the information to them instead. At which point I'll completely lose it and perhaps break my phone.
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Level 72
Jun 4, 2021
I had to call my credit card company today because they shut off my card. I had the audacity to use it to buy breakfast at an outlet I have used the same card at many times over the last year. So why was this time suspicious ? The call centre guy's reply was...."I dunno, computer picked it up "
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Level 50
Jun 9, 2021
LOL
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Level 30
Jun 4, 2021
Its so interesting how when the quizmaster makes a new blog, it gets posted on the front page and so many new Jetpunkers that are never on the RUB show up!
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Level 61
Jun 4, 2021
Plus the levers you rotate in old cars to open the windows (and apparently my country's taxis)
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Level 72
Jun 4, 2021
They're called winders in the UK, pronounced wine-der which when in certain areas window is pronounced winder, they are called winder winders !
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Level 74
Jun 5, 2021
Southern US pronunciation LOL. Where you open a winder (short i), while you eat a mater (tomato, long a) and hope a nader (a tornado, not the litigious lawyer/election spoiler) does not blow away your trailer (single wide house).
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Level 82
Jun 4, 2021
Also the pneumatic tubes at banks and even some pharmacies are definitely still a thing. Maybe not in Seattle, but there are several around here.
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Level 74
Jun 4, 2021
I feel this post. Other things I could add: 1. Having to get up and walk across the room to change the tv channel. 2. Collecting S&H Green Stamps at the grocery store to redeem them for random stuff at the special S&H store. 3. Getting huge catalogs in the mail from Sears, JCPenney, etc. These things were hundreds of pages, and they had tons of toys, which was very cool as a kid. It was kind of like a hard copy version of Amazon.
+2
Level ∞
Jun 5, 2021
As a kid, I loved getting the Christmas catalog from Sears which had dozens of pages of toys to ogle.
+2
Level 62
Jun 4, 2021
I loved the tubes at the bank! If I yelled really loud, the teller would hear a kid in the car and send a lollipop back!
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Level 58
Jun 4, 2021
The drive up at my bank uses the tubes, and I let my granddaughter push the buttons.

My wife still uses the phone book. I delivered phone books around 1984 and made good money doing it for about three days.

In San Francisco, you dialed p-o-p-c-o-r-n for the time.

The phone in the picture looks modern to me. Ours was steel and black with no curly cord.

My brother's first car was a Mercury (1955 or so) with standard steering.l

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Level 66
Jun 5, 2021
A friend pointed out to me (I'm born in 1985) that we may be the last generation ever to know what it was like to grow up without the internet. My family got AOL when I was about ten. It was the most exciting thing ever to send instant messages and look up sports scores on those primitive websites. I know every generation has technological advancements, but it's hard to conceive of a more dramatic shift than what has happened since AOL became commonplace. Of course, in thirty years, people will tell stories about being the last generation that had to drive cars at sea level. You would have to sit at these lights for ages! Sometimes the cars didn't move at all!
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Level 82
Jun 5, 2021
I doubt that flying cars will ever really be a thing. They've been promising those since the 1950s.

But I can see there being future generations that have a hard time understanding what it must have been like trying to remember things with just the wetware between our ears without the aid of a mind-machine interface, or who think it's so odd how old people seem to feel that taking pictures of them in any context would be invasive as we've all got cameras built-in to our eyeballs, or who laugh at the antiquated way that we used to choose leaders by letting all of the stupidest people in the country vote for their favorite candidate, whenever we've come up with a better system for doing that. Also when things like seasonal allergies, cancer, color-blindness, dyslexia and down's syndrome get phased out through genetic engineering imagine explaining how infirm we used to be to a kid who never gets sick. Probably comparable to living before/after antibiotics or anesthesia.

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Level 35
Jun 6, 2021
Does anybody remember that 1988 song that went something like this... "Never gonna give you up, Never gonna run around and desert you." ...Gosh I love that song. I think a guy called Aick Rstley sung it. (I actually do lie that song btw) lol
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Level 65
Jun 6, 2021
I'm not sure if I've ever used a bank without pneumatic tubes.
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Level 48
Jun 8, 2021
You know, there was this other idea I had for this blog. You can find it here.