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Uber premier: This sedan in 1912 had an extra seat at the back designed to hold a child.

How people survived without smartphones 115 years ago

No Fortnite or FaceTime

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

In a little more than a decade, the smartphone has evolved from a digital novelty reserved for gadget geeks to an indispensable technology for the masses.

Today, we take for granted the ability to look up information instantly, snap a picture whenever we want, or hail a cab at anytime of the day with the tap of a button.

None of these were possible 115 years ago -- when the South China Morning Post was first established in Hong Kong. (Abacus is a unit of the SCMP, which turns 115 today. Happy birthday!)

So what was the 1903 equivalent to all the things we take for granted on our smartphones?

Take a photo

Handheld cameras existed back in 1903. But to the dismay of Instagrammers, pictures took an entire day to develop. (Also, there were no filters. That sepia look? That’s just… a photo.)

A black-and-white photo of a pier at Hong Kong’s Central district, dated 1900.

Look up information

When people needed to find facts and data, they didn’t tap away on a magical device in their pockets. They had to go to a building. A building full of books! They’re called libraries. When was the last time you used one?

The city hall was home to Hong Kong’s first public library. (Picture: Tim Ko)

Summon an Uber

The preferred way of getting around Hong Kong in 1903: Sedan chairs carried by coolies. Five star service, but maybe not as fast as a Tesla.

Uber premier: This sedan in 1912 had an extra seat at the back designed to hold a child.

Video calls

Apple’s FaceTime only introduced group calls this year. Yet 115 years ago, people were already able to sit together to chat face to face. Even better, there was no limit to the number of people in a group chat!

A charity meeting in 1903 discussing the welfare of girls stolen for sale in Hong Kong.

Mobile games

More popular than Fortnite or Candy Crush, mahjong ruled the Chinese-speaking world. It may not be scientifically engineered to keep you hooked like some mobile games, but no smartphone can replicate that clack-clack of tiles...
Gaming on the go: A mahjong set from the early 1900s. Batteries not needed.

China’s newest trend is old selfies

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.