Why “Jurassic Tech” is Making a Comeback

Want to guess someone’s age? Just ask them what kind of phone they used growing up, and you can usually pinpoint the answer within a few years.

Maybe you remember sharing a phone line with your family or even your neighbors, staying up late chatting on a party line. Maybe you grew up using a rotary phone, twisting a cord around your finger while you chatted, or you had a giant wireless landline and could roam about the house freely (as long as you didn’t wander too far).

Many of those old gadgets you may remember growing up with (rotary phones, cassette tapes, pagers) are obsolete today, but still live on as symbols, such as the “save” icon in Microsoft Word, which is modeled after a floppy disk.

But not all them are gone for good. Fashion is cyclical, and that includes technology. Some of those “prehistoric” gadgets are making surprising comebacks today.

You might have a hard time remembering the last time you saw a rotary phone, for instance, but vintage phones are still popular in some circles, whether they’re rewiring it to work with today’s technology, or finding plenty of other ways to bring it back to life. Those old cassette tapes have their uses, too, from crafting retro wallets to making furniture.

Upcycling aside, many of these gadgets are still in use for their intended purpose in some niches. You don’t see anyone walking around with pagers, anymore, for example — except for doctors. And you might be surprised to find out that over half of all Americans still have a VCR in their homes.

Point is, many of these outdated gadgets are still valuable to the right people. If you search your attic, you never know what uses you’ll discover for the old gadgets you find up there — or how much someone might pay you to take it off your hands.

Why

Why “Jurassic Tech” is Making a Comeback

What happened to those “obsolete” devices, and what replaced them?

Rotary-Dial Phone

What was it?

  • First seen in homes in 1919.
  • The dial allowed customers to make calls without an operator.
  • The wheel of the dial created pulses which correspond to the numbers being called.

What made it obsolete?

The touch-tone telephone, which was introduced in 1963.

  • First model included 10 push buttons.
  • A later model featured the * and # keys for a total of 12 buttons.

Still used today?

Rotary phones will no longer work with today’s technology, but there are some creative things that can be done with them:

  • With the right tools it can be turned into an input device and control other electronics.
  • People seem to enjoy seeing how kids react to rotary phones.
    • A YouTube video of their reactions had more than 7 million views in October 2014.

Portable Cassette Player

What was it?

Cassette refers to a tape with recorded music on it.

Philips created the technology in 1963.

  • It was created for secretaries and journalists.

The Sony Walkman TPS-L2 was introduced in 1979.

  • 14-ounce portable cassette player that came with headphones and a leather case.
  • Featured another earphone jack for two listeners.
  • Ran on two AA batteries.

Other tech companies followed Sony, creating their own version of the Walkman.

What made it obsolete?

Compact discs (CDs) were introduced in 1982.

Still used today?

People are creatively upcycling their old cassette tapes and players.

  • Making pencil holders, furniture and unique pieces of art out of tapes and wallets or protective cases out of the player.

Pager

What was it?

  • Radio frequency (RF) device that received messages.
  • In 1994 there were 61 million pagers being used.
  • Also known as a beeper.

What made it obsolete?

Sales of pagers peaked in 1998, but were quickly taken over by cell phones.

Still used today?

Around $7 million was spent on new pagers in the US in 2012 (around 10,000 pagers).

  • Doctors and hospitals often use them as they are more reliable during an emergency.

VCR

What was it?

A Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) records and plays back audio and video.

  • Consumers used it to record TV shows, mainly for home use, and watch them later.

The first VCR was created in 1956 and cost $50,000!

  • The Sony CV-2000 finally made VCRs popular and affordable in 1965.
    • The cost was still high at $1,000 but as technology improved and competition increased they became more available and less expensive.

What made it obsolete?

First outsold by DVD players in 2002.

Still used today?

As of January 2014, 58% of Americans still have a VCR in their home.

  • Likely that they keep them around to watch their favorite home videos from the 80s.

Floppy Disk

What was it?

The floppy disk drive (FDD) was invented in 1967 but popularized in the 90s.

A data storage device ranging in size from 3.5 inches to 8 inches.

  • The size decreased as technology improved.

What made it obsolete?

Floppy disks did not have enough space to hold just one song or one photo by today’s standards.

CDs and USB drives helped make the floppy disks obsolete.

  • USBs could store 1000 times more than a floppy disk.

Still used today?

It was reported in 2013 that a federal agency was still using floppy disks.

US nuclear missile silos, which were built in the 60s and 70s, still uses 8-in floppy disks.

  • They still use them mainly for security reasons.
  • It is used as part of the missile launch command.

Sources

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