The most unbelievable things about life before smartphones

An essay about life pre-iPhone addiction, why you're wrong about Salt Bae, an Indian butter chicken Instant Pot adventure, and a new Hell & Wellness pod discussing Marie Kondo.

This is the Rubesletter from Matt Ruby, comedianwriter, and the creator of Vooza. Sign up to get it in your inbox weekly.

I was not alerted

I used to get lost all the time. I’d ask for directions, look for landmarks, fold maps, carry a guidebook, and keep an atlas in the glove compartment. I never knew when the next train was coming. I waited around a lot.

I memorized phone numbers, jotted things down in notebooks, had conversations with taxi drivers, talked to random people at bars, wrote checks, went to the bank, and daydreamed. I was grossly inefficient and terribly bored. I rarely got what I wanted and, when I did, I had to wait at least 8-10 days for it to be delivered. I was not archived, nor was I searchable; things I said just disappeared forever.

I had no idea how many steps I'd walked or stairs I’d climbed. My desk’s height did not adjust; I just sat in a chair and took it. I tolerated unstapled stomachs, breasts which subjugated themselves to gravity, and butts that were incapable of functioning as shelves. I had no influence and never disrupted anything. Strangers did not wish me a happy birthday or “Like” me. My personal brand was invisible.

I operated on hunches, browsed bookstores, and fearlessly entered restaurants on a whim, with no knowledge of the party of eight who’d travelled all the way from Connecticut to dine there and who, despite their reservations for 8:45pm, were not seated until 9:30pm and then had to endure a server who was extremely rude, unprofessional, and “tattooed up on his neck.”

I did not eat gummy bears, worms, or any other gummy species. I never charged my weed, microdosed, or took pills to help me focus. Only doctors took my temperature and masks were for parties. My life lacked motivational quotes, nutrition tips, and workout advice. My wellness ran dry.

I did not take photos of myself, was not filtered, and had no idea what I looked like as a bunny rabbit, puppy, or unicorn. I had to buy film, load it in a camera, carry it around, find something worth shooting, get the film developed, and then pick up the prints. I only had 36 shots so each one mattered; I was constantly forced to ask myself, “Do I actually want a photo of this?” Also, my genitals went unphotographed.

There was no surveillance of the streets. Crimes occurred and there was no footage to review. Planes crashed and we only saw the wreckage. There were no body cams and only spies could install hidden cameras. I trusted the nanny. We all did. It must have been a field day for nannies.

I was rejected to my face and broken up with in person. I was not polyamorous and, truth be told, was gleeful if just one woman agreed to be in a relationship with me. In order to go on a date, I had to approach a woman, talk to her, get her number, call her, talk to her again, and ask her out. It was Kafkaesque. Once plans were made, I showed up without any further contact to check whether we were, in fact, “still on for tonight,” "running late,” “at the bar,” “in the back,” or “here.” It’s a miracle we ever found each other.

News was not breaking and I was not alerted. Being elite was a good thing and being a Nazi frowned upon. Scientists were trusted and conspiracy theories were for tinfoil kooks. The only content users generated was letters to the editor. 

I consumed news once a day by reading a paper that stained my hands. I stumbled upon random articles I would never have selected based on the headline. The ads I saw were untargeted shotgun blasts. Quizzes were just for students and I did not know which ice cream flavor matched my personality, who should play my BFF in a movie of my life, or which Disney prince I should have a threesome with. I rarely got to feel outraged by the words of people I’d never met. For that, I had to rely on family.

I made mixtapes and went to record stores. I put five discs in a CD changer and they were my soundtrack for months at a time. At concerts, musicians did not use computers, singers missed notes, and drummers hit skins with sticks. Things went wrong and we meekly accepted these mistakes as part of our off-key lives.

I read books with dog-eared pages, highlighted passages, and untrustworthy narrators. I’d read authors without knowing if they were allies or enemies. I lacked certitude.

The only bingeing I did involved alcohol. I’d wait an entire week to watch the next episode. I listened to whatever was on the radio, rarely watched documentaries, and knew very little about serial killers. My crime was not true and my play was not auto.

My speakers were big and my TV was small. Hardly anything was portable and my hardware was never updated. My elevator and taxi rides were devoid of television screens. I read cereal boxes while eating breakfast and shampoo bottles while sitting on the toilet. I never talked to my watch, my phone did not correct me, and acquaintances never asked me to finance their independent film or back surgery. My refrigerator and toaster were incapable of communicating with each other. The war was cold.

Also, I was the default. No one called me toxic or problematic. Things weren’t fluid and there was no spectrum. I assumed the police were telling the truth. I was unaware of how frequently powerful men answered the door wearing nothing but a towel. There were a lot of questions I never had to ask. 

Complaining was frowned upon; I was told to walk it off. Therapy was for people with real problems and things stayed unsurfaced. I didn’t think about wage gaps, redlining, gerrymandering, or the intricacies of romantic encounters. There were a lot of questions I never had to answer.

Were those the good old days? It’s tough to say; we didn’t rate things back then. Stars weren’t doled out and our feedback was not appreciated. Mostly, we sat in silence. We didn’t have infinite scroll. We reached the end of the page and then it was done.

Update: This essay went viral thanks to a link on Hacker News. Welcome to all the new readers and I encourage you to sign up for more of the Rubesletter. You’ll get my jokes, videos, and essays in your inbox weekly. And please consider sharing it too. Thanks!



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Things You Are Wrong About #8: Salt Bae

Finally, a ponytailed chef with pecs and sunglasses who commits health code violations tableside! Yup, he pours salt off his hairy forearm and elbow right onto your meal. Hell yeah, true disruption.

I love this because my favorite thing is having people dip their forearm and elbow in my food right before serving it to me. The only bummer is he has to wear gloves now so you’re deprived of his hand flavor. The Department of Health is such a buzzkill. Damn deep state!

See, the key to being a good chef is killing it on Instagram. You don’t want a chef who spends all his time in the kitchen when he could be spending the entire meal service taking photos with people who don’t understand food but want Instagram Likes.

Plus, he wears dark sunglasses while indoors. Because you want a chef who can’t really see that well while he’s cooking your meat…⠀

Salt Bae: “This filet is burnt!” ⠀
Sous Chef: “Uh, no, chef. It’s not. We haven’t even started cooking it yet.” ⠀
Salt Bae: “[Takes off sunglasses] Oh, right. Well, start cooking it then. Why yes, I do have time to pose for a photo. [Puts on sunglasses]”

But what about the health code violations? Pfft, they just show he’s a bad boy. Get filthy, Bae. Rules are for suckers. Did I mention dinner for three at his restaurant costs $521? What a bargain! I mean just look at those reviews. (Actually, don’t.)

Now just gonna tuck my napkin in and YES, I just got one of Bae’s forearm hairs on my plate. I knew this was gonna be my lucky night. Once that pesky health inspector takes off, I hope Bae shaves his pubes right in the au jus. No wonder this guy’s a viral sensation. (E. Coli is a virus, right?) Viva the Rico Suave of steak!

Cooking with Ruby: Instant Pot Indian Butter Chicken

Speaking of cooking, here’s a video of me making Indian Butter Chicken in my Instant Pot while telling jokes (and hoping I don’t blow the whole place up). Watch and see if I make something delicious or get arrested by the FBI. Warning: The mortar and pestle may make you horny.


Yeah, the vaccine is finally here! However, I’m a bit weirded out that it’s the “Pfizer/BioNTech” vaccine because, well, BioNTech? Um, I'm no conspiracy kook but that totally sounds like it'd be the evil corporation in a Robocop reboot.

Also, it’s interesting here in NYC because indoor dining is closed while gyms remain open. On the plus side, that means it’s the perfect time to open up a fine dining gym! “Crunch by Thomas Keller. Tonight's special: Butternut Squats.” Hey VCs, are you listening?

It’s also gonna be an interesting time ahead for comedians:
1. Comedy clubs = closed
2. Nursing homes = first to get the vaccine
3. Comics gonna start doing nursing home tours in 2021

Related: I think we should refer to senior groupies as soupies.

Podcast: Marie Kondo and nonviolent communication

Hell & Wellness:Ep 5 // Nonviolent Communication, Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, & Marie Kondo

I Marie Kondo’d my whole apartment; She’s a bit insane, but I’ve now got everything rolled up and standing vertically in my drawers and I gotta admit, it’s nice. Also, my therapist told me to read this book about nonviolent communication. Apparently, when I say what’s on my mind, I’m some sort of verbal arsonist and following this book’s suggestions can help.

You’ve got to sneak your NVC into conversations though. Otherwise, you wind up saying, “I want to practice nonviolent communication with you.” And that can be rather off-putting since it implies you’re actually thinking, “I really want to communicate violently with you right now, but I just read this book so…” Phew, talking is tricky! Listen to this episode of H&W to learn all about it.

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1) Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds by James Clear. "The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially."

2) Jeff Wright does a hilarious job of personifying tech companies/social networks in his quickie vids. Here’s Quibi getting shut down and Fleet or Story?

3) Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, on manliness, sportsmanship, and politics: “I want to be clear: the Supreme Court is not the deep state. The case had no merit and was dispatched 9-0. There was no win here. Complaining and bellyaching is not a manly trait, it’s actually sad. Real men accept a loss with grace.”

4) We Asked People to Sum Up Their Worst Dates in Six Words (Vice):
"She wrote a zine about microaggressions." -Allie, 27
Oh no.
"Didn't know what a meme was" -Eve, 23
"Broke and bitter stand-up comic." -Alix, 33
Wait a minute.

5) Idiot compassion is a term that’s new to me (because I’m a bit of an idiot). “Wise compassion, action that is inherently skillful, sees the whole situation and aims to bring release from suffering; its opposite is known as blind or idiot compassion, which does not take into account the whole situation and so, while appearing compassionate, is inherently unskillful and may actually increase suffering. For instance, idiot compassion occurs when we support or condone neurosis, such as giving a slice of cake to an obese friend. Yes, they may be begging you, but realistically you know that it will do them no good.”

Bonus: What TikTok Taught One Stand-Up Comic. Great to see my pal Carmen Lynch going viral and explaining what she’s learned along the way: “Captions in black draw more eyeballs for her than red ones. And hashtagging doesn’t always benefit her. Also, TikTok is quicker to censor than Instagram or the other platforms." Related: I’ve really been enjoying not learning TikTok. Do I need to learn TikTok? Sigh.

That’s it. Thanks so much for reading. And again, please consider subscribing or telling a friend. Love ya.


P.S. ICYMI: Last week’s Rubesletter discussed conspirituality (when cuckoo meets woo woo).

The end credits

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About Matt Ruby: I’m a standup comedian, the creator of Vooza, and co-host of the Hell & Wellness podcast.

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About the Rubesletter: Musings from a standup comedian and startup veteran. Topics include comedy, tech, politics, wellness, pop culture, and more. Sign up to get a weekly fix in your inbox.

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My latest standup special is free on YouTube. And you can stream my standup albums “Feels Like Matt Ruby” and “Hot Flashes” too.