The early 1900s were the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, so people did travel by railroad, or by the sea, but it was mostly the well-to-do who did such traveling. Horse and buggies were used to go to town and get around in the town and cities. People generally lived within a small circle of friends and neighbors and relatives.
In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the first mass-produced vehicle, the Model T. In 1920 women received the right to vote in the United States. From 1920-1923 Prohibition was made law. Such changes as these greatly affected American Society.
The majority of people didn't travel unless it was absolutely necessary. Many would be born, live and die in the same town having never ventured any farther out than that. As a result, exposure to different cultures was limited to big cities near the big ports of any country; and, most of the country were farmers for the longest time of American history! Socializing was limited to the surrounding geographical areas of one's home. This prompts me to wonder when the word "tourist" was first used because that would certainly signify a changing point in any specific culture or society.
It is my understanding that before the Industrial Revolution, which introduced "technology" (and certainly not what we know today), that life was much simpler, and also more difficult—particularly for women. Rugs were swept with a broom, and also hung outside on a clothes line and beaten to remove dirt. Clothes were washed by hand and hung on a clothes line to dry. A wringer was an advancement of sorts that took excess moisture out of laundered clothes so they would dry easier. The ice box was just that: a wooden box lined with metal (tin?), which housed a block of ice, bought frequently from ice wagons that drove through neighborhoods, to chill the contents and keep them from spoiling. The ice box was not electrical, and was an improvement over keeping things in a root cellar, under ground level, where it was cooler—but the refrigerator would not be invented for some time yet to come...for there was also no electricity. Houses were heated by coal, and illuminated by gas. Outhouses were used until the advancement of indoor plumbing.
Many of the above posts are excellent. Young people today cannot envision life without TV, computers and iPhones, but there were many important technological advancements at the turn of the century as well. The automobile, refrigeration and the telephone are just a few. People who seeked culture went to see live productions (plays, musicals, opera, orchestras) or even the new-fangled silent movies. People sat around the fireplace (or the new-fangled electric lamp) and read books at night, or they sat on the porch and wondered about what was beyond the stars above.
People lived as they live now - using whatever resources and equipment they had available at that time and location to complete the daily activities that were necessary to live.
Music came from a piano or another instrument played by a person in the parlor of the house, but it was still available. People talked with each other in person or used pen and paper and the mail to communicate, but they weren't completely isolated from others. Many more people were involved with working with agriculture and the raising of crops or livestock, but there were stores to buy food items and markets to sell produce and options for finding nourishment.
The early 1900's were very different from today, but there was a vital and active cultural and social society then, just as now.
I agree that this really depends on where the person lived. My two grandmothers, for instance, led very different lives. One grandmother lived on a farm in a rural area. They didn't drive to the store for food, they picked it from the garden, buttered meat from the animals, or traded with neighbors for what they didn't have. The boys worked on the railroad in the off-season and they thought the switch house was major technology. Life was about running the farm. The children played with each other or worked on useful projects as entertainment.
My other grandmother lived in a larger city. They had more of a refrigerator than an ice box and they had better access to electric lighting. Nana had more modern equipment like curling irons or electric clothing irons. She and her sisters rode the trolley to school or to the market (although they still had a small garden to supplement their meals). Technology was developing rapidly during this time period. Many of the things we take for granted today were modern marvels to them.
I believe people socialized far more in person. Many organizations thrived during this period, for example the Elks, the Knights of Columbus, and the Masons. People also socialized through their churches and temples far more, and, as one response pointed out, families spent time together, playing board games, listening to the radio, singing songs, and playing cards. I would guess that this was true in many areas through the 1950's. While I embrace all that our age has to offer, I do think that the emphasis today on on-line socialization, in spite of having expanded our social opportunities, has harmed our ability to socialize in person and to play nicely with others.
This depends on where you were in the United States. My grandfather, for example, was born on a homestead in Idaho in 1911. For his family, life involved not having running water or automobiles. His family used horses to pull plows and to get to town. They did not have electricity and so they read or played cards or sang songs for recreation at home in the evenings. It was a completely different world than what we now live in. Of course, this was a very rural area and a person living in New York City would have had a much different experience.
Many people actually describe the first decade 20th century as seeing major advances in technology. This period saw the advent of electric light, the automobile, motion pictures, the telephone, and countless other advances. So people did then as they are trying to do today- make sense out of the many ways in which their lives were changing due to technological advances.