27 Things Babies Born in 2021 Will Never Know

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Chances are, if you don’t feel old now, one day you will — probably when some kid gives you a blank look in response to a cultural reference you’ve made.

Here is a look at things that could trigger that response from someone born in 2021.

1. Paying with plastic

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With the rise of mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay, babies born in 2021 may never learn the concept of paying for something with a piece of plastic, let alone paper cash.

Instead, they may just wave a smartphone at a store payment terminal. The share of users making at least one such payment is projected to rise to 33.6% by 2023, when the babies of 2021 will turn 2. Just imagine when they’re old enough to apply for credit.

2. Paying for two phone lines

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Some people still pay for both a landline at home plus a cellphone. Landlines are less and less common while the use of mobile phones has skyrocketed.

You can try to explain to today’s kids that the emoji icon (an old handset) is more or less what a phone looked like back when phones were tethered to walls by wires. But kids probably won’t understand why you’d plug a phone into a wall.

3. Hailing a taxi

Woman flagging a taxi in New York.
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Remember when we’d stand on the sidewalk and wave at oncoming traffic in the hope someone in a yellow cab would pull over? And then you’d spend the ride watching the taxi’s meter climb to a ridiculous fee before the ride ended.

As ride-share services like Uber and Lyft have grown, it’s increasingly common to hail a ride with a few taps of a smartphone screen where you can see the cost and pay and tip the driver with no cash exchanged.

4. Using Western Union for money transfers

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Western Union is no longer in the business of exchanging telegrams, although it and competitors like MoneyGram offer money transfer services.

Today’s youths, though, are more likely to transfer funds with a few taps of a smartphone screens, with payment apps like Venmo and Zelle.

5. Subscribing to print media

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Trees used to die for you so you could read the newspaper. Books, magazines and catalogs, too, were and still are printed on paper that lets you to read at leisure without charging a battery.

But if babies born in 2021 pay for media at all, it seems likely they’ll use a digital-only subscription.

6. Playing CDs

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The babies of 2021 will be missing the delicious satisfaction of holding a new, unwrapped music CD purchased on a trip to the mall. They also won’t know the frustration of trying to tear off the cellophane wrapper.

They won’t miss paying upward of $10 for a single album, though. Maybe they’ll pay that much per month to subscribe to a streaming music service giving them unlimited access to their favorite tunes.

7. The ‘pound sign’

scyther5 / Shutterstock.com
scyther5 / Shutterstock.com

Kids may never know that what’s now called a “hashtag” was used to indicate pounds, a measure of weight (as in 5# for “5 pounds”). Sometimes it was used to indicate a number (as in a #2 pencil).

Youths of the future may not know the history of this symbol, but they’ll probably still give the key a workout. The lowly # symbol found new life thanks to Twitter in 2007 when Chris Messina, a software developer and Twitter user, proposed using the symbol for organizing topics and identifying groups in tweets.

“He chose the # symbol because it was an easy keyboard character to reach on his 2007 Nokia feature phone and other techies were already using it in other internet chat systems,” writes CNB.

8. Shopping in stores

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Today’s babies may never know why you’d want to leave the house to buy things you need or want.

With clothes, books, meals, toys, appliances, tools and groceries dropped on their doorsteps, they’ll find it hard to imagine a world without drone deliveries of just about everything.

9. Enjoying privacy and anonymity

Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

Photos of today’s kids are posted on Facebook before they lose that new-baby smell. From then on, it’s likely that most everything they do, eat and think will be broadcast on the internet — by family and then by themselves. It will probably remain there virtually forever for anyone to see.

Will they learn to use caution before posting? It remains to be seen.

10. Calling on a pay phone

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Pay phones and phone booths are dinosaurs. The few left are on borrowed time.

New York City decided to remove the last phone booths in the city in the spring of 2020. PayPhoneBox, which tries to document the remaining phone booths around the world, shows 61 currently remaining in the United States and just two in Canada.

11. Getting directions

Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

In the predigital age, you needed to know how to get where you were going before you left the house.

If that failed, you needed a map in the car or a clerk at a gas station to tell you which road to take.

It’s not just directions that have disappeared. Getting lost is old, too. There’s just no excuse anymore for failing to find your way — except maybe when your phone dies or the GPS goes on the blink.

12. Writing checks

Devrim PINAR / Shutterstock.com
Devrim PINAR / Shutterstock.com

Back in the day, it would have been unimaginable that, someday, you’d wave your phone at a store terminal to pay for a purchase.

Instead, people wrote down the amount they owed on a piece of paper issued by their bank. It was called a check.

They signed it and gave it to the person or store to whom they owed money. The recipient brought the check or mailed it to a bank, exchanging it for paper currency or depositing the amount in an account.

13. Ordering plain old coffee

Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

There used to be few options for coffee: black, cream or sugar. Or cream and sugar.

Now, it can take almost as long to order a skinny, half-caf, grande mochaccino with whip as it does to drink it.

14. Buying incandescent lightbulbs

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Kids born this year will know only the glow of an LED, or light-emitting diode, which uses a fraction of the electricity of incandescent lightbulbs and may not be replaced by a new form of lighting before they go to college.

15. Hanging out unsupervised

Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com
Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com

Not long ago, when two young children went to a playground without an escort, a national debate began over the concept of “free-range” kids.

Unlike constantly hovering “helicopter” parents, free-range parents, Good Housekeeping says,

“… might allow things like playing outside alone or going to and from school without a chaperone, and let kids solve their own problems as they arise.”

The goal is to build problem-solving skills, promote creativity and build confidence, among other things, the article says.

16. Buying circus tickets

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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped using elephants in performances in 2016. The company had been criticized, picketed and sued by animal rights groups over the elephants’ treatment.

The following year, the 146-year-old circus made its last performance, ending the traveling spectacle that had thrilled many generations of Americans.

Ticket sales declined after the elephants’ departure and, together with high operating costs, spelled the end of the circus, Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which produced Ringling, told National Public Radio.

17. Worrying about someone who’s late

Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock.com
Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock.com

You get there on time, but your friend is late.

In the past, there was no way to get a message to you that your friend was stuck in traffic or something else had come up. Today’s kids can use a tracking app to watch friends’ progress, from leaving home and driving to a location to parking.

18. Taking quarters to an arcade

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Yes, there was a time when video games were the size of a small closet. What’s more, that hulking device let you play only one game. Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac Man were a few hot titles.

You didn’t play these at home, of course. You went to an arcade — with a pocketful of quarters — to play.

19. Sports before Michael Phelps

Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

Kids born in 2021 will live in a world where there has always been a swimmer with 23 Olympic gold medals, three silver and two bronze.

Phelps won a total of 28 Olympic medals overall — the most Olympic medals in history — before retiring at the 2016 Rio games at age 31.

Today, Phelps has a new focus, destigmatizing depression and mental health treatment. Phelps, who is married and a father, tells ESPN:

“… here’s the reality: I won’t ever be ‘cured.’ This will never go away. It’s something where I’ve had to accept it, learn to deal with it and make it a priority in my life. And yes, that’s a hell of a lot easier said than done.”

20. Memorizing a phone number

Scott Rothstein / Shutterstock.com
Scott Rothstein / Shutterstock.com

We used to memorize the phone numbers of friends, family and workplaces so we wouldn’t have to look them up in a Rolodex every time. (A Rolodex is the card-holding device in the photo above.)

Now, you only need to remember your own number, to give it to someone when you meet them the first time.

Cellphones have replaced an address book or Rolodex. They keep others’ contact information — if not their birthday, anniversary and shoe size — in memory.

21. Not knowing something

Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com
Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

Who was the 19th president? What’s the capital of Latvia?

In years past, if you didn’t know the answer you had to go to the library or perhaps look it up in an encyclopedia (a big book with common knowledge, listed alphabetically by topic). Asking Siri was unheard of. (Rutherford B. Hayes and Riga, by the way.)

22. Using phone books

Bojan Milinkov / Shutterstock.com
Bojan Milinkov / Shutterstock.com

White pages and yellow pages mean nothing anymore. Searching for a phone number on the internet with your smartphone is faster than looking it up in the paper pages of a physical phone book — if you could even find a one.

Talk about speed: Your phone also probably will offer to make the call for you.

23. Learning to spell

Lamai Prasitsuwan / Shutterstock.com
Lamai Prasitsuwan / Shutterstock.com

In days past, if you couldn’t spell a word, you’d search a dictionary until you found it.

Now, you just have to get close enough so the computer’s or cellphone’s spellchecker gets an idea of what you’re searching for.

24. Making prank calls

Man laughing on smartphone
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Caller ID renders this annoying childhood pastime more or less impossible.

Adolescents of years past sometimes amused themselves and their friends by calling up a tavern, bar or mom-and-pop grocery store and asking dumb questions like, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

Often the poor shopkeeper would put down the phone and rustle around the shop looking for the pipe tobacco brand, coming back to say, “Yes.”

The dopey adolescents then hooted into the phone, “Well, you’d better let him out before he suffocates!”

They could hang up the phone knowing that their anonymity was safe, since the furious shopkeeper had no way of knowing who was calling.

25. Using dial-up phone modems

Roger costa morera / Shutterstock.com
Roger costa morera / Shutterstock.com

In the early days of the internet, when landlines were the rule, your computer’s modem required access to a telephone line to connect to the internet.

Those old modems were strange, often-unreliable things, with flashing lights and odd beeps and squeaks.

You can still buy a dial-up modem — on eBay, for instance. Or, hear the once-familiar sound of a dial-up modem connecting in this YouTube recording.

26. Having conversation over dinner

Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com
Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

Today’s babies will know a world where it is socially acceptable to slap your phones on the table at the start of the meal, keeping an eye and ear on it in case something pops up.

They may not imagine a time when family members ignored the ringing landline in another room because dinner with the people in front of them was more important.

If you are unfamiliar with the ancient art form of dinner table conversation and want to revive it, it’s good to know that not everything makes for good table talk. Harsh, upsetting or difficult conversations are best saved for other times. For good digestion and a pleasant meal, stick to safe, easy topics. Food, music and even fashion are a few recommended by The Spruce. Stay away from politics, religion and discussions of gross medical maladies, it says.

27. Watching Tom Petty, Mary Tyler Moore and James Brown perform

Tom Petty
JStone / Shutterstock.com

Kids born in 2021 will never get to see Tom Petty play a concert, Mary Tyler Moore toss her hat or James “The Godfather of Soul” Brown proclaim, “I feel good.”

So many entertainment greats enjoyed by their parents and grandparents are gone. Maybe the reason those greats seemed so special was that, with radio stations playing much the same popular music and a handful of TV networks ruling the airwaves, Americans, for the most part, shared a common entertainment culture.

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