This week, Nokia quietly packed up its cubicle in Redmond, bid its American coworkers at Microsoft farewell, and left America.
Microsoft has sent Nokia back across the pond, closer to its birth place, to lend its stature to international phones, probably of the lower-end variety. But don’t cry, Nokia is just spending its golden years closer to family and familiar languages. You can still visit Nokia when you travel abroad.
But if you’re anything like us, you could also just go out to your garage, find a box of stuff from the late 90s or early aughts that you never threw away, and visit your old pal right now. Remember the glorious era that started in 1996 with the first candybar phone with buttons and Snake? When it seemed like all your friends had the same exact phone–though yours was clearly cooler becuase it had the “cow print” faceplate? Sure, not everyone had a cell phone, and some who did were rebels with Motoroloa flips that sported superlong antennas, but Nokia, for a moment in time, was everywhere.
Let’s travel back to those simpler days for a moment. Here are some of our editors’ favorite Nokia-related memories.
When I was 16, I got my second mobile phone, a Nokia 5190. (My first was a Motorola Microtac). Being a budding designer, I loved the mid-century style and ability to change the covers.
I was living in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, and I was basically cut off socially from the rest of the world. I had become long-distance friends with a handful of kids I had met at summer camps around the state, and the best way to stay in touch was with an unlimited long-distance mobile plan. One night I was parked at a Sonic Drive-In in my cherry red ’66 Mustang, chatting with one of those distant crushes while I waited on my food to be delivered. I looked up to see a rookie car-hop fumbling towards me on roller skates, which used to be part of their nostalgic schtick. Right as she approached my car, she slipped and fell like Bambi on ice. Cheeseburger. Tots. Cherry limeade. They all went flying into the air as she went crashing down, and somehow landed flat UNDER my car. I tried to hold it together, but couldn’t help but burst into laughter—the car-hop just laid there laughing hysterically too—as I hung up abruptly on my crush while she was professing that she “liked me back”.
Years went by before I reconnected with the girl on the other end of the call, and I imagine that was the car-hop’s first and last night skating for Sonic, because I never saw her there again. Sigh—summer nights.
—Dylan Boelte, Senior Art Director
When I turned 21, back in 19[redacted], I was a college dropout working as an errand boy on the set of a now-canceled TV show. But I had gotten my shit together, and I was on my way back to college that next autumn. My parents were proud of me, and so, on the eve of my legality, my mother told me to dress nicely and put me in a cab.
A few minutes later we arrived at the 21 Club, a tony drinking spot in midtown Manhattan where grownups go to make capital-D Deals and get wasted on the company dime. The maître d made me wear one of their rent-a-jackets because I wasn’t dressed *quite* well-enough, so there I sat: swimming in a musty 44-long, sipping a martini like a power-broker. But that wasn’t the real surprise.
Back in these days, college dropouts didn’t have cellphones—they were the province of businessmen and rich people. The rest of us had pagers—I got mine free from Mountain Dew—or just wrote letters I guess. So when my stepfather handed me a brand-new Nokia 6160 (OK, now you know how old I am), I was drunk with joy.
The phone came with me to college, and I used it for the next two years. I probably dropped it a hundred times—once into a swimming pool. It was fine. I soared to incredible high scores playing Snake. The 6160 saved my ass in New Orleans once, and a couple times I blew through my paltry allotment of minutes so badly that I didn’t have enough money to cover the overage. (Thanks, Mom!) I never sent a single text on the thing, it couldn’t load a webpage, and I never once spoke the word app into it. But it had true multi-day battery life, could take a fall like Lee Majors, and calls sounded great on it. Three things I definitely can’t say about my iPhone 6.
—Joe Brown, Deputy Editor of WIRED
‘Can You Text?’
I got my first cellphone, a Nokia brick, at 15 after often-changing dance rehearsal times and a lack of a car necessitated last-minute calls with my parents. A friend and I eventually exchanged numbers in between classes and she asked a life-changing question: “Can you text?” “What’s texting?” I replied, confused. She T9ed me a message. From then on, high school chemistry was transformed from a coma inducing hour and a half to a gossipy text-based social hour. Unfortunately, I had no concept of cell phone bills, or text messaging charges. I think I racked up an extra $20 or $50 onto that month’s phone bill. After my dad explained the billing situation, I had to put an end to my texting habit (at least until we added text messaging to our family plan).
—Christina Bonnington, Staff Writer, Gadget Lab
I had one of those Nokia ones that everyone had; you could change to faceplates and play snake. I accidentally left it on the back of my car after my lifeguarding shift one night and drove away. Then it rained for about 4 hours straight. I went back the next morning to look for it and found it in three separate pieces lying in a puddle. I took it home, laid it out on the counter to dry out and then put it back together. It worked perfectly fine! No rice or AppleCare necessary. They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.
—Katie Davies, Editorial Business Manager
Shortly after being laid off from The San Francisco Chronicle (no hard feelings guys; I got the better end of that deal, thanks!) in 2007, I went into a T-Mobile store because losing my job meant losing my company-issued phone. After filling out the paperwork, the clerk said, “It’ll take a minute to wrap this up if you’d like to select a phone.”
“I’ll take whatever comes with the contract, please,” I replied. The clerk looked at me like I had two heads and had just asked her for a date. “Um, are you sure?” she asked. “No one takes the free phone. It doesn’t even have a camera.”
“Yes,” I replied. I wasn’t about to tell her I was unemployed, but I’m sure she thought I was one cheap SOB.
She crouched behind the counter to root around for what seemed an inordinately long time. She finally emerged holding a somewhat battered, somewhat dusty box, which she handed over with the same look you’d have handling a dirty diaper. It was a Nokia clamshell of some kind, but I don’t recall the model. It was red. I do remember that much about it. It was nothing fancy; its coolest feature was that silly game “snake.” But it did the job, and it was tougher than an organic chem final.
A few months later, shortly after I got a job at WIRED, I was shooting the breeze with Joe Brown, who these days is the deputy editor here at WIRED. After a few minutes, he glanced at the phone on my desk. “Is that your phone?” he asked.
“Yeah. Why?” I replied.
“I hate that phone,” he said. “Every time I see that phone I want to take a baseball bat to it.” He wandered over to the gadget editor’s desk, rummaged through a pile of boxes, and returned with a top-of-the-line Nokia. He tossed it on my desk.
“Here,” he said. “I want you to use this until they want it back. You work at WIRED now. You need a cool phone.”
—Chuck Squatriglia, WIRED.com story editor
My fondest memory is Bob Parks giving me a tutorial on how to pronounce this new phone company “it’s a fast two syllable ‘NOHKYYUH,’ not 3 syllables “NO KEE UH.'”
Peer Pressure and Butts
I was late to the cell phone thing. By the time my wife and I both purchased our first plans on Cingular, it was 2000 and most of our friends already had phones. That was actually our big reason for getting them — social pressure. Of course, she and I got matching Nokia candy bars.
That ubiquitous Nokia 3210 from 15 years ago was not slim, so you had to carry it in your back pocket. That became a deeply ingrained habit. I still carry my (much slimmer, much smarter) phone in the back pocket of my jeans. When I stand up to leave a room, I automatically check that my phone is there, moving my hand over my butt cheek like a tic. Thanks for that, Nokia.
—Michael Calore, Senior Editor of Gadget Lab
It was 1998 and I was a rebel. I’d steal cigarettes and smoke them on the roof in the freezing night, thinking of the boy I loved, imagining us kissing in the snow, and coughing between each drag. It was Idaho, I was 14, and I hadn’t learned the meaning of a cliché yet.
Everything felt possible. Except talking to the boy I loved on the home phone late at night without my mother or brother’s hanging on the line.
But that all changed when my mom gave me her Nokia 5110 so she could get a more adult Motorola that flipped open.
Boom. This was my number. When it rang, it was for me. OK, except when it was for my Mom—she’d actually gotten herself a new number and given me hers, since this was a time before our cell phone numbers came with us everywhere through life, through moves and phases and carriers and jobs and loves.
So it wasn’t always for me, but I remember the best time it was. The first Friday I ever had the phone, the boy I loved called me after school. This was huge. Though we’d talked in groups of people, this was a one-on-one conversation, just me and him.
“There’s a movie later. We’re all going,” he said.
“Cool,” I said.
“Cool, so we’ll go together?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
It was my first date. I remember pushing “END” on the phone call and kind of squealing, which was a decidedly unrebellious thing to do. I needed to work on that, I told myself. But wait, had I pressed the button hard enough? Was he still on the line? The shame. The worry. The relief.
We saw “Shakespeare in Love” with 10 other kids. I loved every single second, until he began mocking it with the other boys from our middle school who totally agreed that Shakespeare was dumb and boring and not funny and not moving.
Later that night he called the Nokia again. I let it ring. I opened my window, climbed out on the roof, and called my best friend. It felt magical, alone under the stars, the rustle of aspen leaves all around, but my friend’s voice clearly saying in my ear, “BOYS are dumb AND stupid AND boring AND not funny.”
—Emily Dreyfuss, News and Opinion Editor
The Real Rebel Among Us
The first phone I ever loved, and maybe the only phone I ever loved, was the Sidekick II. It was the first mobile phone I can remember that put text, the Web, and apps—they were known more formally as “Applications” back then—before voice calling, and that was OK by me. The landscape keyboard was fantastic, the whole thing lit up in a strobey disco vibe when it turned on or rang, and I had a drum machine and an “LED Football” game installed on it. Phones were more user-serviceable in the pre-iPhone days, too: My rubber “S” key ripped off, and I was able to replace it with a wad of paper and some packing tape. I miss you, Sidekick II.
—Tim Moynihan, Staff Writer, Gadget Lab
I can’t remember the specifics of my first Nokia, which was also my first cell phone, obtained in 8th grade (circa 2001). But the cringe-worthy memory of keeping it in a plastic (faux leather?) holster attached to my belt stays with me. For context, that’s also the only period of my life where I owned and wore a visor. Shudder.
—Alex Davies, Senior Editor of Autopia
Of course, even if Nokia’s name isn’t in America, its impact is felt all over Microsoft’s newest phones. So if you’re ever nostalgic for bygones days, just find someone with a Microsoft Lumia and squint your eyes and try to see the old Nokias of yesteryear.