By Michele Herenstein

I was on the LIRR last week, squashed into a seat, and the only view I had was of four people across the aisle, all on their cell phones. I found it a bit unsettling, yet unsurprising, so I decided to take a picture of them. So I did — two times. Not one of them looked up or even realized I took their picture. They were all immersed in their cell phones, some of them talking on their phones, others playing games.

This got me to thinking: What did we do before the days of cell phones? I used to take the LIRR all the time, and I did not have a cell phone. Was I bored? Did I read? Did I start a conversation with the person next to me?

Ann-Marie Alcántara wrote “What Life Was Like Before Cell Phones” (, March 2, 2017):

  1. “Waiting by the door for your friend when she said she would pick you up at a certain time.”
  2. “Checking the answering machine to see if anyone left any messages while you were out.”
  3. “Begging your parents for a second phone line so you could talk for hours to your friends.”
  4. “Taking photos on disposable cameras and getting super excited to develop them.”
  5. “Only making long-distance calls after 5 p.m. or on Sunday nights because of reduced rates.”
  6. “Dealing with immense boredom when you had to wait anywhere, especially at the doctor’s office.”
  7. “Actually having to commit to plans because you couldn’t last-minute flake over a text.”
  8. “Hailing cabs.”
  9. “Using a newspaper to figure out movie times or picking one when you got there.”
  10. “Having serious FOMO when you were on family vacation because you had no idea what your friends were doing.”

I’m a mail lover. My favorite thing is to send cards or to receive cards. My best friend and I do this with each other consistently. Before cell phones, there was mail, telegrams, and landline telephones. I miss sending cards. And I don’t mean email cards!

According to “How Did People Communicate Before Cellphones?” (, “Human beings have always had a way of communicating throughout history. Below are some of the ways that were used to communicate before the invention of cellphones.

Smoke signals: Communicating with people from a distant land would take place through smoke signals that could be understood by both the senders and receivers.

Messengers: There is also a period in history when a messenger on horse or on foot would be sent from one region to another with messages.

Letters: Writing letters on paper by the use of pencils or pens was a common practice just before mass production of phones.

Telegrams: The telegram was a machine used to type messages in one location and then sent to a different location. It could only send a limited amount of words in a given period of time.

Landline phones: Before the invention of cell phones, human beings would use landlines to communicate. Now used less frequently, these are essentially telephones that are connected through wires and are situated in definite locations.”

“Martin ‘Marty’ Cooper is an American engineer. He is a pioneer in the wireless communications industry, especially in radio spectrum management, with eleven patents in the field. While at Motorola in the 1970s, Cooper invented the first handheld cellular mobile phone in 1973 and led the team that developed it and brought it to market in 1983. He is considered the ‘father of the cell phone’ and is also cited as the first person in history to make a handheld cellular phone call in public.” (Wikipedia)

Without cell phones life goes on. There always has been magazines, books, music, chatting in person or on the phone (landline) with family and friends, visiting people more often, and so much more.

Some cell phones now have a feature that tells the user how much time they’ve used the phone each week. Reading this makes me feel like I’m wasting my brain. However, I often play word/mind games that I hope will strengthen my brain.

I often speak to my friend on the phone early in the morning on the train. Speaking to her makes me smile for the rest of the day. This is a terrific start of the day. So cell phones have positive value if used for the right reasons.

Before cell phones, we’d remember phone numbers of family and friends. Now, I barely use my landline and often forget it given that I give out my cell number. On my cell is a list of favorites. I don’t need to look up numbers; I just press the name and it dials. Pretty cool. But it increases the possibility of memory loss down the line.

If I happen to need a phone number, I take my iPad and search that way. In a minute or less I have any doctor’s or friend’s number, or even a store’s number with the store’s hours, etc. My iPad is often as helpful as my iPhone.

One of the most annoying things about cell phones are the people who can’t put them down. Ever! I could be talking to someone and she/he is typing during our conversation. It is incredibly rude. Can’t a person put down their phone so they can have a conversation in person?

There should be a “rule” to put your cell in a basket before entering a home. Maybe these phones should be given to underprivileged families that are too poor to own any phone at all. It’s not that I’m against cell phones; I’m against people who seem sincerely addicted to them and won’t even put their phone down when talking to you in person.

Today’s generation ages me. They only know technology that I still struggle with. Kids today and generations to come will have no clue what it means to not have computers, cell phones, and other tech devices.

I love articles and manuscripts; but to write longhand, I don’t know how much I’d get down on paper.

Today, everyone pretty much knows where other people are through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texting, messaging, and so much more. There’s no sense of privacy. I love my privacy but I also like to share. It’s a mixed bag.

Whether we like cell phones or not, it seems obvious that they’re here to stay. We have the option of how much we want to use it.

With all the information above and using your mind, you should be able to make a good decision that’s best for you. No one will judge you, because there are too many people on both sides.

I’m open so if you want to reach me, there’s Facebook, text, and email. If you still can’t reach me, it’s likely I don’t want to be bothered. I’m not being rude  — just honest.

I do like getting feedback on my articles, so go ahead and write to me. But NOT when you’re talking to another person. Never then.

Pesach is a good time for cell phones — husbands calling their wives seven times a day. “Honey, where are the non-matzah crackers? Yes for Pesach…What did you think?”

Pesach — phones in the basket!

Chag sameach! Happy Pesach!

Michele Herenstein can be reached at


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