You buy the latest and greatest gadget in the store. By the time you get home, it’s not the latest anymore. A year or two later, it’s almost obsolete. Throughout our modern history, many once popular technologies have quickly become casualties of changing consumer tastes and technological innovations. We can look upon some of these technologies with nostalgia, yet their replacements are more efficient and much less annoying (does anyone miss the screeching tones of dial-up Internet service?) Here are 10 technological innovations that enjoyed a brief run in the public consciousness before the next big thing came along. Rest In Peace.
10. Vinyl Records
In some circles, from hipsters to vintage listeners who liked vinyl when vinyl was big, records remain relevant. But vinyl, which had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, quickly came under threat from two sources: the cassette tape and the compact disc. By 1988, cassette tapes and CDs were the listening formats of choice, according to The Record Collectors Guild, with CDs outpacing records in popularity for the first time.
9. 8-Track Tape Players and Tapes
What goes around comes around. The tape that helped kill the record star soon met its own demise, despite a strong start in the mid-1960s. According to recording technology site Recording History.org, though the 8-track was first developed by the aircraft industry, it blossomed in the auto arena as a way for drivers to bring their favorite tunes with them. By the mid-1970s the more compact, less jam-prone cassette tape had caught up to its audio predecessor, and the 8-track was relegated to the island of misfit technologies.
In the never-ending saga for audio dominance, the compact audiocassette tape got a huge boost in the late 1970s with the debut of the Sony Walkman. Over the next 20 years, 150 million Walkmans (in 300-some varieties) were sold to a music-hungry populace. Though the compact disc was developed around the same time as the Walkman, it wasn’t commercially available until 1982. By the late 1980s, with CD players finally dropping in price, cassette tapes, too, fell out of favor.
7. Citizens Band Radio
We owe the CB craze of the 1970s to the trucking industry. In response to the government lowering speed limits following the oil crisis, truckers used CB radios to warn each other of police — going so far as to develop a “secret language” (cops with speed guns, for example, were “bear traps.”) Hollywood sealed CB radio’s broader appeal by romanticizing the rebellious trucker in movies such as Smokey and the Bandit. By the early 1980s, however, the CB was fading fast in terms of public popularity. Ironically, CB radio may only have its popularity to blame for its downfall — so many users jumped on board during the late 1970s that the channels were often noisy and two-way communication became next to impossible. The CB remains popular with truckers, however.
6. VHS Cassettes
Before the Video Home System tape, there was Beta — the first videocassette format widely available to the average consumer. Initially, it was used by the television news industry (and small market TV stations continue to use it) as an efficient film replacement. During the early 1970s, the video tech wars were on — with JVC debuting VHS to take on Sony’s Betamax. Beta’s fate was sealed as VHS videocassette recorders (some machines cost $1,400 in the early 1970s) began to drop in price. By the late 1970s, the VHS tape reigned, but not for long. In 1995, the first digital video (DVD) format was introduced commercially and by the early 2000s, with prices for digital recorders falling, the videotape stepped aside for the digital revolution.
5. Video Arcades
Before Atari’s Pong, there was the Magnavox Odyssey, which was introduced in 1972 and is widely regarded as the first home video game console. It took a few decades, though, before home consoles dealt arcades the final blow. Many arcade enthusiasts refer to a “golden age” of arcades, which first gained prominence in the late 1970s but thrived in the mid-1980s. You can still find arcades today, usually inside multipurpose entertainment centers but those venues lost their footing in the mid-1990s as higher quality video games were being released for home consoles.
4. Floppy Disks
The roots of the “modern” floppy disk go back to the early 1980s. The earliest such computer disks were oversized and lacked storage space. At the height of its popularity in the late 1990s, more than 2 billion floppy disks were being sold each year. By 2007, only 2 percent of computer retailer PC World’s products boasted built-in floppy drives. But even floppies are getting a new life; a Google search of “recycling floppy disks” yields more than 300,000 results, as unwanted floppies are being transformed into bags, notepads and even CD holders (that is, before CDs, too, become obsolete).
3. Fax Machines
The poor fax machine. First, it was famously crushed with baseball bats and fists in Office Space. Now, it’s gathering dust in the corner of businesses around the world. Faxes were first popularized in Japan, and gained traction worldwide in the mid-to-late 1980s. The machine didn’t reign long, however, as online e-mail-to-fax services were introduced in the 1990s, and as DIY scanning made transmitting documents a breeze.
2. Polaroid Cameras
The company responsible for instant photos saw the writing on the wall at the start of the 21st century. Marketing strategies focused on fending off the mass exodus of consumers flocking to digital cameras. Eventually, the cameras introduced in the late 1940s and popularized in the 1960s were discontinued in 2001. In 2008, Polaroid stopped making instant film altogether. Hold on for an instant, though — that same year, a group of former Polaroid employees, through the Impossible Project, created a new type of instant film and, two years later, Polaroid revived the instant camera with new models to capture the youth market’s interest in retro products.
1. Dial-Up Internet Service
There was a time when we were all “in it together,” enduring shrill connection sounds and, even more problematic, sluggish browsing. That time was around the year 2000, when more than 90 percent of Internet users in the United States used dial-up, according to the Pew Internet. By 2003, the number of dial-up users plummeted to 68 percent, as the switch to high-speed broadband was on. You’d think with statistics like that no one would still be using dial-up, but in 2009, a Pew Internet study found that 7 percent of all Internet users still connected with dial-up. In fact, less than half of all rural Internet users opt for home broadband, in part, due to lack of access.