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50 old-school tech products

  • Do you know what these 50 old-school tech products were used for?

    The most sophisticated, miraculous, mind-blowing, advanced device you own right now will likely be laughed at by the next generation and may even be unrecognizable to the generation after that. From buggy whips to Blockbuster, entire industries have been built around specific tech products. They thrived and, unless they evolved, they inevitably died. That's because when it comes to technological innovation, the goal line is always moving. As soon as someone develops a groundbreaking new technology, someone else begins working on a way to improve upon or replace it.

    From movies to music, telephones to typewriters, no technology is as it was. Even the original tech product, the humble wheel, has now evolved to include aggressive tread patterns laser-etched into synthetic rubber to allow for multi-season, all-weather performance traction—all of which probably will soon be replaced by something better. 

    Younger generations mock and marvel at the primitive tech their parents used while reveling in the incredible form and function of their own amazing gadgets, only to watch them eventually age into obsolescence just like everything that came before. Technology is now evolving so rapidly that the latest and newest products have painfully short shelf lives, and the 2.0 version of everything you own soon will command your attention and your dollars. Sometimes, however, you have to step back to see how far you've come.

    Here's a look at the technology of years past. These old-school tech products changed industries, improved lives, set trends, connected people, and, like everything that came before or since, died drawn-out deaths as newer and better solutions emerged to take their place. Most of them you've probably heard of and, if you're of a certain age, you may have even used some of them yourself. Either way, the tech products that drive the world we live in today would never have been possible without the now-obsolete relics that came before.

    Read on to see if you know what these 50 old-school tech products were used for. 


    You may also like: Iconic products released the year you were born

  • Typewriters

    In 2011, the world's last typewriter manufacturer closed its doors and stopped producing the big, clunky, heavy machines once and for all. It was the end of an era that was doomed with the arrival of the personal computer. The first typewriter was patented on June 23, 1868, and by 1915, the Underwood Typewriter Co. produced 500 a day. Mark Twain was the first author to submit a manuscript typed on one and Ernest Hemingway's typewriter is preserved at his estate.

  • Carbon paper

    First invented in the 1820s, carbon paper is a thin, tissue-like film that allows people to make multiple identical copies of a document without having to write or type it more than once. In 1998, The New York Times reported that a handful of companies were still producing carbon paper, mostly for export to poor countries that were not yet flush with the laser and ink-jet printers that rendered the technology all but obsolete. "All but obsolete" might have been a fitting term at the time of the report, but 21 years later, carbon paper is little more than a distant memory.

  • Credit card imprinters

    If you have a credit or debit card, chances are good you've recently graduated from swiping a magnetic strip to inserting a security chip. The youngest adults, however, have likely never watched a clerk rack their cards through paper-based imprinters. Believe it or not, credit-card imprinters are still being made and sold, which means some people somewhere are still using a manual press to copy the raised letters and numbers from credit cards onto sales slips.

  • Floppy disks

    Before there was the cloud, there were floppy disks. The portable, flat, media storage items came in several sizes, the most popular being the rigid 3.5-inch disks and the even older—and genuinely floppy—8.5-inch versions. In 2010—a full 12 years after the original G3 iMac first stopped supporting them—Sony announced it was stopping production of floppy disks. By the end of their run, floppy disks, which first debuted in 1981, could hold 1.44 MB of data.

  • Cassette tapes

    Floppy disks are not the most nostalgic incarnation of dated portable media storage. That title would likely go to cassette tapes, thanks to the countless mixtapes that were dubbed onto them. That nostalgia, however, probably would be short-lived for anyone who remembers using a butter knife to manually turn back the wheels when the cassette player snagged the ribbon inside and spun it into a tangled mess. Portable tape player sales peaked at 18 million in 1994 but—due to CDs and, later, digital music—were down to under 500,000 by 2007, and by 2012, sales were in the five figures.

  • Beepers

    Before cell phones rendered them obsolete, doctors, executive, teenagers, and drug dealers used beepers to achieve semi-instant communication. About 3.2 million of the little belt-worn boxes were in use in the early 1980s. By 1994, that number had skyrocketed to 64 million, but the writing was on the wall. The mainstreaming of cell phones in the late 1990s forced Motorola, which long dominated the pager market, to stop making and selling pagers in 2001.

  • Portable media players

    On July 1, 1979, Sony unveiled one of the most iconic and successful tech products in history: the Walkman, which would go on to sell 400 million units if you count the Discman that came later. Although they're cartoonishly clumsy by today's standards, the Walkman was truly groundbreaking—it was the first device to make music both portable and personal. With a Walkman, you no longer had to lug a radio around with you that everyone else could hear. The players would start a revolution leading to MP3 players like the iPod, but in the end, they became just another external device that in the age of smartphones proved to be one device too many.

  • Film cameras

    Kodak invented the first film camera in the 1880s, and in 1913, the first 35mm cameras became available to the public. Generations of amateur photographers used film cameras to take pictures, but they farmed out the hard part to film developing services. Eventually, one-hour photo processing allowed impatient shutterbugs to drop off their film, run some errands, and pick up processed photos on the way home. As the price of digital cameras dropped in the early 2000s, however, film became a relic, and today, high-end cameras with HD video capability are standard features on virtually every smartphone.

  • Tape recorders

    Recording sound and playing it back were two different processes before magnetic tape was invented in Germany and the first modern tape recorders were introduced in the United States after World War II. The little devices kicked off huge changes in not just radio and film, but in business, politics, law enforcement, and virtually every other segment of society. The digital age, however, spelled doom for tape recorders as today's smartphones offer free recording apps that make separate tape recorders feel primitive.

  • Camcorders

    Many people in the United States are now compulsive videographers thanks to smartphones, which put instantly shareable, high-definition video cameras in the pockets of everyone who owns one. Camera & Imaging Products Association analog video cameras dominated the market for home movie aficionados until compact digital video cameras arrived in the late 1990s. Although the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) and mirrorless formats enjoyed a brief moment in the sun in the 2000s and 2010s, smartphones changed the game and sent camcorders the way of the dodo bird—by 2016, a full 98.4% of cameras produced were built into phones, and only 0.8%, 0.5%, and 0.2% were compact, DSLR, and mirrorless, respectively.

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