Well, it’s official: time flies. Microsoft recently announced the end of the much loved Windows XP, their most popular operating system to date created all the way back in 2001. This basically makes it a dinosaur; 13 regular years is like 50 in technology years, with perennial upgrades making anything over a few years old now obsolete. But some items have endured past their apparent sell-by date. Remember beepers? They’re still used by hospital staff today – although, apparently, the antiquated tech devices are proving costly. The internet erupted a few years ago with bloggers mourning the sad death of the typewriter (via articles written on their keyboards…) when Huffington Post erroneously reported that the last typewriting company on earth closed it doors. In fact, Swintec still manufactures typewriters today. Although made overseas, they’re shipped to New Jersey where the company distributes them regularly to prisons. Swintec’s transparent typewriters allow inmates to write letters while ensuring contraband isn’t being hidden. Even the old school 135 film is still being offered in high-end professional cameras by Nikon and Canon for the photography buffs, and 35mm film is attempting to stay relevant in the celluloid world – though this one may soon see the end of its days in the near future. Other old-timey gadgets like rotary phones, transistor radios and Polaroid cameras have seen savvy new updates in the high tech world. These once forgotten gadgets have narrowly escaped extinction due in large part to their kitsch-factor. Sometimes, what is old can be cool again and sometimes… well, it can’t. The following are 10 old-school inventions that were once enormously important in the tech world which, although they paved the way for the tech we know and love today, sadly didn’t have the staying power to escape the scrap yard.
10. 8-track – 60s
Ah, rollin’ down the highway in the folks’ station wagon, wearing bell bottoms and listening to Led Zeppelin on the 8-track. Those were the days, and kids back then were probably as thrilled with the technology as we are today with wireless phone adapters for road trip tunes. Way back, before iTunes, before CDs, before even cassette tapes, was the monolithic tablet known as the 8-track. First invented by Ford for high-end cars in the mid-60s, it didn’t take long for the manufacturer to start incorporating them in all cars. The cutting edge gadget had a short heyday though, and by the late 70s cassette tapes had taken over. The last of the 8-tracks died out in the 80s.
9. Cassette Tapes & Ghettoblasters – 60s & 70s
The next major wave in sound technology came around in the late 60s with the development of the audio cassette, a small, magnetic sound-recording device that remained the way to listen to music throughout the 80s and much of the 90s. Although it had the annoying habit of forcing the user to manually fast forward or rewind a song, which could lead to a string of tangled ribbon and hours of careful winding with a pencil end, the cassette was also a great way to make compilations of all your favourite hairbrush-microphone songs. Mixtapes ruled many high school relationships and while the cassette tape was discontinued in the mid-2000s by major music labels, the “mixtape” still lives on in the digital world of playlists today.
Meanwhile, the boombox, also known as a ghettoblaster, was a hefty music device that became synonymous with 80s culture. While they dominated every street corner in North America, where kids in fluorescent tracksuits were break dancing and generally being radical, the 90s saw a downturn in the popularity of ghettoblasters. The arrival of the walkman had much to do with it; as more portable listening devices entered the scene it became harder to justify carrying around a suitcase-sized music machine. While the only place to get retro ghettoblasters today seems to be EBay, Sony is manufacturing their futuristic blue-tooth counterparts.
8. VHS/Beta & VCR: 70s
There once was a time – long, long ago – when video rental stores existed on every block. In those shops, when you wanted to rent a movie, you had to indicate whether you needed “Beta” or “VHS.” When the VCR came along in the mid-70s people’s minds were blown by the sudden ability to have a home theater system. With the choice of VHS or Beta movies throughout the 70s, Beta eventually lost steam and grew obsolete in favour of the much more effective and popular VHS video, as VCRs dropped in price from thousands of dollars to a few hundred by the late 80s. But by the 90s, the VHS was barely hanging on when its rival, the DVD player, made its cultural debut. As of 2008, JVC, the last manufacturer of VCRs, stopped production. This was about the time when Gen-Xers were beginning to feel old, and most of us were throwing away our Blockbusters membership cards in favour of a Netflix account.
7. CRT TV & Analogue Cable – 70s
It’s hard to imagine that we used to watch TV before it was digital and came with personal video recorders. How quaint to imagine a time when remote controls didn’t exist, and we couldn’t “just set it to record” if we were going to miss an episode of “The Good Wife” or if we wanted to watch both “Downton Abbey” and “The Bachelor” but they were playing at the same time. Before digital TV, there was CRT TV and analogue cable, a now archaic method of televising images, which usually required 10x the square footage of our flat screens. By the late 2000s, most countries in the world were in the process of shutting down analog broadcasting in favour of digital.
6. Kodak Carousel Projector – 70s
Featured in season one episode of “Mad Men,” as Don Draper attempted to highlight the features of “the wheel,” this tech gadget was discontinued in 2004. It initially became hugely popular in the 70s, as a novel way to view home photographs, with its turntable-style canister for the 35mm slides advancing through each one at a time. Oh, the days of manual living! Slides eventually became largely obsolete with the shift to digital photography. Created by Kodak, the projector also had an “add on” that allowed up to 40 slides to be viewed – forward only – with clip sets to store up to 432 slides for organization.
5. Walkman’s and Discmans 80s
The Walkmans and its successor, the Discman, defined the 80s and 90s by giving us the sudden ability to walk and listen to music at the same time. The story goes that a Sony engineer by the name of Nobutoshi Kihara developed the Walkman in 1978 as a way to listen to his operas during regular, overseas commutes. With super cool foam-and-plastic headsets for earphones, the mini boomboxes spoke to youth around the world. While walkmans enjoyed nearly 30 years of popularity, Sony, which originally trademarked the names of both, ceased their productions, according to their vintage website page, in the mid-2000s. Yes, you’re old.
4. LaserDisc – 90s
A predecessor to the DVD, the LaserDisc appeared on the market in the early 80s and offered high quality image for an exorbitant price. Despite the cost, it grew in popularity – enough to be found in roughly two per cent of homes by the 1990s. A preference for film buffs, LaserDiscs continued to be made all the way up until 2009 at which time Pioneer, the company that purchased a majority of the LaserDisc manufacturer shares, ended production. 9.5 million discs later, the LaserDisc is now one for the gadget-history books.
3. Floppy Disk – 90s
When desktop computers started to hit the scene with their green screens and enormous back-ends, the floppy disk was part and parcel of the user experience. First large and literally floppy and then smaller and sturdier, the original floppy disc was for a long time the only way to back up documents and it established itself as the first real sign of tech-savvy Americans, from the 80s into the 90s. But, as CDs eventually become the norm, the floppy disks’ restrictive storage space and incompatibility with modern computer upgrades eventually saw it fade from the spotlight. In 1998, Apple permanently removed the floppy disk drive option in computers with Dell following in 2003. Now, of course, USB pens are the norm and serve the same purpose much more effectively.
2. Macintosh Classic OS & the Rollerball Mouse – 90s
One of the first hints at the potential for desktop computers to go portable was the Macintosh Classic. Small, though arm-numbingly heavy, the computers were technically portable enough to move around without blowing out a back muscle. With a quaint black and white format and classic games like, “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” it was a popular choice for many who were tech-obsessed in the 90s. It offered Word ’91, and even an underwater fish screensaver. It came with a cutting-edge mouse – cutting-edge at the time, that is. The rollerball mouse was attached by cord to the keyboard, and gave the user a new and innovative – though sometimes sticky – way of moving around the screen’s black-arrow cursor. But as of the last four or five years Apple has announced it no longer supports Classic.
1. Windows 95 & Microsoft Office Assistant – 90s
Let’s all have a moment of silence for Clippy. The little paper-clip helper that, like it or not, popped up on our Windows screen to offer its eager advice whenever we started typing. Clippy was introduced in Windows 97, but after mostly negative feedback and spoof campaigns, Microsoft removed the feature with Office 2007 and its succeeding programmes. Before Clippy though, Microsoft had a hit with Windows 95, a huge marketplace success and the most popular desktop operating system in production during its time. It included early versions of the many functions and features we came to know as mainstays in later Windows versions, including the taskbar. In 2011, Windows announced its end of support for the program and with Windows 8 in 2012 many of the traditional features of ’95, which were fixtures for so long, were removed.
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