Blast from the Past: Vintage Technologies That We No Longer Use

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February 17, 2010

Most of the technologies that we have used in the past have been eclipsed by the remarkable technology that we use today.

Advances in their design have occurred in tandem with the advances in technology in this digital era, with many large products being redesigned and miniaturized into amazingly small sizes.

While we may laugh at the fact that anyone ever found this technology to be cutting-edge, we can't discount its place in history as a forerunner for all of the technology that wouldn't exist today without its dinosaur ancestry.

Here is a quick look through history at vintage technologies that we no longer use.

1. "Super 8/8mm" Handheld Video Cameras

Kodak invented the Super 8/8mm film format in 1965. Soon after, handheld film cameras flooded the market and the living rooms of people everywhere were filled with families watching the hi-jinks at Freddie's sixth birthday party.

2. Betamax

Betamax was developed by Sony in 1975, a year before the ultimately more popular VHS format was invented as a response to Sony's attempt to control the format of the industry.

3. VHS Format

Invented by JVC, VHS was the predominant video format by the 1980's, despite what some argued was the technical superiority of the Betamax format.

4. Laser Disc Players

Initially marketed as "Discovision", laser discs were the format choice of tech enthusiasts who had the money to put together a collection until the DVD format came out.

5. Phonograph

The phonograph, or gramophone, was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and was on the mass market by the turn of the century. The gramophone was replaced by the considerably less bulky record player in the latter half of the twentieth century.

6. Turntables

Record players are still in use in DJ booths, recording studios, and radio stations all over the world.

7. HAM Radio

An estimated six million people are still involved with this hobby that began at the start of the 20th century. HAM radio operators communicate with each other over short wave radio. HAM radios have been featured in many popular movies, including The Shining and Contact.

8. Reel to Reel

The first tape recorders were reel to reel and were the preferred technology for professional sound designers until digital formats rendered them obsolete.

9. Cassette Tape Recorders

These devices were considerably less bulky then their reel to reel ancestors, and were used mostly for transcription.

10. Transistor Radios

Transistor radios typically only picked up on the AM band and were a ubiquitous sight in schools and businesses in the seventies.

11. Cassette Tapes

The compact cassette was originally developed for transcription purposes, and its users quickly realized that they could use it to record music and make "mixed tapes".

12. Boom Boxes

Associated with hip hop, break-dancing, and other aspects of eighties culture, the boom box was introduced in the late 1970's as portable, all-in-one music devices. Earlier models took huge quantities of batteries and were very heavy.

13. Telegraph

The telegraph was the precursor to telex and fax machines. Used by shipping operators and for military uses, the telegraph required a skilled operator to transmit and receive messages.

14. Telex Machines

These machines used radio and/or microwaves to transmit information over the airwaves. Variations of them are still in use today for communications by the hearing impaired.

15. Wang Calculators

No, we didn't pick that just for the headline. In the seventies, Wang manufactured mini-computers that were a cut above your standard accounting computer, with exciting features like a FORTRAN IV compiler.

16. Analog Telephones

While exactly who invented the phone is a topic of debate, the first patent was awarded to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. They have evolved from rotary dial models to smart phones that we can use today to surf the internet.

17. PDA's

Considered one of the biggest tech flops of all time, the Apple Newton was sold at a huge price point compared to other Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) that were on the market. Personal digital assistants were electronic timekeepers for the times when you couldn't fit a computer in your pocket. The Newton's development laid the groundwork for Apple's hugely successful iPod and iPhone. Who's laughing now?

18. Portable Televisions

Portable televisions, such as Sony's Watchman, were an idea that came a little before the ability of the media to catch up to it. With a limited selection of channels, they never really caught on.

19. Walkman

The Walkman was invented for the co-chairman of Sony, Akio Morita, who wanted to be able to listen to his favorite operas on plane trips. It was initially marketed as the Soundabout in North America, but the "Walkman" name was used for the product up until the present day.

20. Discman

Two years after the mass production of the Compact Disc, Sony released its portable player for it. While they were popular with audiophiles, who appreciated the quality of recording, earlier Discmans would skip and didn't allow for the popular "mix tapes" until it became possible for computers to "burn" CD's.

21. Pagers

Pagers were commonly used from the seventies to the nineties, when widespread adoption of cell phones rendered them obsolete for mass market use. They are still used by emergency responders as they are not subject to network outages or similar disruptions in communication.

22. LED Watch

The watch pictured is the Pulsar, the first LED watch. The watch's designer was inspired by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, having worked on the timepiece props for the movie.

23. TV Watch

While the concept of this watch was attractive, it faced the same lack of channel availability issues as the Watchman.

24. Seiko Wrist Computer

The smartphone of 1984: this took the idea of the "computer watch" to a whole new level. Think this is too much? Consider the nuclear watch, whose invention was rumoured in this Time magazine article. Be very glad that never happened.

25. Calculator Watches

The eighties saw watches infused with more gizmos than ever before. The most ubiquitous watch in geek culture was the calculator watch. Since most of us now have computers attached to our hips, it is no longer necessary. Unless you're Dwight Schrute.

26. CRT Monitor

Just when you thought you were done with vacuum tubes in your computers, they put them in your monitors in the form of cathode ray tubes (CRT).

27. Massive Mainframes

While mainframes still exist, they generally don't take up entire rooms or store information on magnetic tape.

28. Typewriters

While some writers still swear by them, most writers remember when they swore at them and have happily moved on.

29. Dial-Up Modems

The dial-up modem was used everywhere until cable internet and DSL became available to the masses. While they are still in widespread use, everyone who has one wants to upgrade.

30. Zip Drive

This short-lived technology was the bridge between 3.5" Floppy Disc and CD storage.

31. Slide Projectors

These were classroom and office standbys for years, and were replaced by digital projectors and smartboards.

32. 8" Floppy Disc

If you wanted to save one or two word processing documents, you could do it on these. Their smaller relatives are still in widespread use.

33. 3.5" Floppy Disc

The 3.5" Floppy took over from its bulkier cousin with larger storage and a less destructible design. It had largely been replaced by the late nineties by CD's, DVD's, USB drives and other more convenient computer storage methods.

34. Polaroid Cameras

While these cameras were largely replaced by digital cameras, the trademark has recently been purchased and the buyers are trying to breathe new life into the brand by hiring Lady Gaga as a spokesperson.

35. Home Movie Projectors

Super 8 home movies and educational films were shown on these simple projectors. While they are still used in some schools, they have been largely replaced by digital projectors and the fact that you can now burn most home movies to a DVD.

36. Vinyl Records

Vinyl was the dominant music format for the 20th Century. From your grandmother's old 78's to the single 45 format, vinyl was perfected over the years to be as acoustically correct and cheap to press as possible. While they are still in use by DJ's and radio stations, records have for the most part been relegated to the garage sale heap.

37. CRT Television

The first widespread use of television was in Germany beginning in 1929, and the German Olympic Games of 1936 were the first to be broadcast on television. Televisions remained out of the reach of the middle class until the 1950's, when their ownership boomed globally and television shows became more popular. Cathode ray tubes gave way to the technologies that we use for television now, making sets less bulky and furniture-like.

38. Tape Drives

Remember when backing up the computer meant changing the tape in the tape drive and letting it back up overnight? We're so glad those days are gone too. The clunky old tape drives of the past didn't store a lot of data and it would often take multiple tapes to back up important data. Old-school programmers started out as "tape-apes" doing backups as junior programmers.

39. 8 Track

Stereo 8 was more commonly known as the eight track tape. It was the portable format of choice for a brief period in the 70's before cassette tapes took over.

Disclaimer: This is not a complete list. Among others, we have purposely omitted featuring vintage computers, game consoles and others as some of these would merit their own post and we may cover them in future posts.

Compiled exclusively for WDD by Angela West.

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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