Which of these dead technologies do you remember growing up with?
If you lived during the 90s, then a lot of items on this list are a not-so-distant memory. That might mean a twinge of nostalgia, or it might mean a surge of anger you haven’t felt in years. Read on for a look into the gadget graveyard of the 90s!
1. Floppy Disks
If you don’t know what a floppy disk is, then you’re part of a rapidly growing demographic of kids who didn’t experience Oregon Trail when they were in grade school computer rooms. Even the most advanced of these obsolete storage disks could only grasp a measly 1.44 megabytes of data, and they were an important tool only before there was a computer in most U.S. homes.
It takes 1024 of those megabytes to make a gigabyte, and the most recent batch of overpriced iPhones can store hundreds of gigabytes of apps, games, and music. Other devices measure storage in terabytes, or 1024 gigabytes. How long before people forget when we lived in a silly age during which we could actually run out of storage?
Floppy disk drives started to die out in the late 90s, although many computers still included them throughout the early 2000s simply because they were dirt cheap. Floppy disks themselves were invented in the mid-1970s. Their actual use in later decades was relegated to transfer between storage options–unless we’re talking about nuclear codes. The U.S. government only started to update the tech systems for nuclear coordination in late 2017, but rest assured that most of our tactical nuclear arsenal is still dependent on the long-dead technology. Sleep well, my child.
Thankfully, you can still enjoy Oregon Trail on Classic Reload.
2. Game Boy
Anyone who owned one of these bundles of electronic crack has fond memories indeed. We set aside the fact that the system had no internal lightning and the batteries needed to be recharged every day because the games were just that darn fun. The Game Boy released in Japan and North America in 1989, and then in Europe in 1990. The huge success of this handheld ensured that second-rate competitors would pop up every few years, and next generation editions would too. Most were failures.
If there was only a single Game Boy shared between two siblings, it was an instrument to foment death and destruction (or just a maddening tug of war) on a grand scale. If each sibling had his (or her) own, however–well, then it was a catalyst of a Golden Age for peace, prosperity, and stability in every household. Mothers everywhere rejoiced. While children threw away a greater and greater number of brain cells and traditional values (like sharing), there was serenity. That was what mattered most.
The handheld had awesome longevity as well. It survived the entirety of the 90s, suffering discontinuation only in the early 2000s. To date the Game Boy has sold 118 million units. Wowzers.
While the Game Boy and its classic selection of games is long gone, it might not stay that way for long. Over the last two years, Nintendo resurrected both the NES and SNES by way of “classic” miniature editions that include digitized versions of some of each system’s best games. There’s a lot of speculation over which system will receive the next such treatment. It could be the Game Boy, the N64, or even the GameCube. A Game Boy-related trademark was introduced late last year, which has a lot of fans talking. The 30-year anniversary is next year, so what better time to release the classic edition of the handheld?
3. Virtual Reality, Round One
Virtual reality and augmented reality are flip sides of the same coin. The former takes us into an altogether different world via a small screen directly in front of our eyes, while the latter projects an image over the reality we already know (sometimes using another screen, such as with Pokemon Go). The two concepts are finally coming into their own, but for virtual reality this is round two. Round one fizzled out in the 90s. It was an epic failure from start to finish.
The history of virtual reality dates back all the way to the 50s and 60s. The most impressive display from this time period was the Sensorama, a contraption which placed the viewer inside a machine that provided the seeds of greatness. It used a person’s sense of sight, sound, touch, and even smell to create an immersive experience for several films.
Headsets and goggles didn’t really appear until the 90s, and they never caught up to the level of hype preceding them. While the dream was exciting, the technology wasn’t there yet. Sega released a headset in 1991, then the VR-1 motion simulator arcade attraction in 1994. That same year, Apple released QuickTime VR. None of these inventions really provided a truly immersive VR experience, and so the idea of virtual reality sort of died by the end of the 90s.
The Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset and Playstation VR provide a glimmer of hope for those who would like to see the dream realized. We might just get there.
They were small devices capable of wireless communication. Like many technologies, pagers (or beepers) were invented long before mainstream use. The first ones were developed in the 50s and 60s, but the consumer didn’t really catch on until the 80s.
They declined in the 90s, and then died out almost completely in the early 2000s. Most people probably had no need of one, but they were used by emergency services personnel and other niche industries for a long time. Some still do.
You’ll have seen them often enough on shows like E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy. Think of the pager as a small precursor to the obnoxious Bluetooth earpiece that some businessmen still wear today, and thank the gods that they’re mostly obsolete. We couldn’t be happier to see this one disappear.
5. AOL Online and Dial-up Modems
They’re not the same technology, but we paired AOL with Dial-up because we hate them both. Chances are if you hear one mentioned, you immediately think of the other. The phrase “You’ve got mail!” might elicit no more than an eye roll, but all the other sounds probably make your ears bleed. If you were a kid in the 90s, you grew up listening to your friends making fun of anyone who used the much-hated AOL, or America Online.
Unless it was AIM, the free-to-use instant messenger. We all loved that.
The premise of AOL wasn’t entirely rotten. The business model allowed consumers an early gateway to the Internet, allowing them to send email and instant messages while browsing the web. Unfortunately you paid for the portal into this fun new electronic den of debauchery. When other providers started to divide those services and provide them for free, they also divided and conquered AOL’s hold over the market. The rise of broadband Internet then sent AOL into a hole from which it was destined never to return.
The advent of Facebook was the final blow. It was addictive and easy to use, and eventually most people even left AIM in order to use what would eventually turn into Facebook Messenger. Other free email services like Gmail only advanced the tide swallowing America Online. AOL still exists, but in name only. It’s been free to use for years, but who would?
6. Film Cameras
Film is yet another dodo storage device. For every physical storage medium, a digital alternative was created. This transition led to a number of dead technologies that were once popular, which is why most of us have less crap lying around our homes. Then again…we’re a materialistic society, and we like to spend money on old, obsolete garbage. The DVD, Blu-Ray, CDs, etc., are still around because we love to own stuff. There might be other reasons, but none of them are pragmatic.
The idea to store film digitally was conceived in 1961 by Eugene F. Lally, a guy who worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (or JPL) at the time. The consumer didn’t have the opportunity to buy an actual digital camera until 1975. The gap between that and mainstream adoption was vast, and consumers didn’t line up to buy the more advanced digital cameras until the mid-90s. The use of film cameras declined quickly, but not as fast as the digital camera, the functionality of which was assimilated by smartphones.
7. CD Players
Are you noticing a trend? If you grew up in the 90s, you owned a CD player. No one needs CDs anymore, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find them at any retail establishment with an electronics section. Digital versions are always available, but once again–we love to collect useless crap. We still have an irrational trust for those things we can touch with our own fingers.
CDs first became available to buy in 1982, before they became a popular medium in the mid-to-late 90s while audio cassettes were still widely in use. In the early 2000s, that popularity was diminished–but not by much. Even with digital alternatives, CDs are still beloved by collectors. They make up about a third of music sales, an impressive figure to say the least.
Remember those annoying graphing calculators that you needed in school? Each one costed a small fortune, but you couldn’t pass without one. Pocket-sized calculators were first sold in the 1970s. By the time the 80s rolled around, the simplest devices were cheap enough that most people could make the purchase on their own.
Schools slowly adopted the calculator as a required tool for young minds. Mental math and paper-based calculations are still common, but most kids struggle with the new reality. Why write stuff down or allocate precious brain cells for “thinking” when computers can do all the work?
Calculators provided a whopping 41 percent of computed information in 1986. Just over two decades later, and that number stood at .05 percent. It’s been another decade on top of that, and now almost all of us own smartphones.
Telephones were slow to evolve during the early 1900s, when landlines were first introduced for public consumption. Remember those old rotary phones that your grandparents used? They took an eternity to dial, and if you screwed up you had to start from the beginning.
Mobile phones didn’t get introduced until the 70s, and it took another couple decades before they became truly widespread. When smartphones went mainstream, landlines became obsolete. It goes beyond just not needing them anymore. We don’t even use phones to make calls these days. We can send a quick text to get the job done more efficiently When we need to make a call, we can do it via Facebook or Skype.
If you’ve read about Google Duplex, then you’ll understand the increasingly complicated reality of our future with technology. Duplex can make phone calls on your behalf, understanding a shocking level of nuance in each conversation. More importantly, Duplex can achieve this with lifelike voice. If you don’t know that you’re talking to a computer, then you probably won’t notice.
The real shock is how quickly these nine technologies were dispatched. Here’s another fun fact: that tiny little smartphone in your pocket can perform nearly every task once performed by the dead technologies on this list. It can make calls, play music, take pictures, play games, do math, store a number of different file types, and connect to the Internet no matter where you are. That’s only a short list of what you can do with your phone–and it’s really amazing to think about what they might let us do in another decade.
Other Noteworthy Gadgets and Trinkets that declined in the 90s:
- Maps (the paper kind, ugh)
- Answering machines
- The last rotary phones all but vanished from your grandparents’ homes
- Tube televisions
- Wristwatches that served a utilitarian purpose
- NTSC TV broadcasting
- Handheld video cameras
- Slide projectors
- Tiger handheld games
- PDAs (Palm Pilots and the like)
- Zip drives
- Phone booths
- Fax machines (although some businesses still have them)
- Dot-matrix printers
- Phonebooks (still in use, but you’ve probably noticed they’re a lot more miniature these days)
- Gamegear (couldn’t quite compete with the Game Boy. Too late to the game? Too little battery life? Who knows.)
Everything A 90s Kid Would Remember:
- Y2K (not a tangible thing, but too comical a memory not to list)
- Boy bands
- Personal ads
- Crystal Pepsi and Zima
- Tech Decks
- Crazy Bones
- Snap Bands
- light up shoes
- pump shoes
- Pokemon cards
- Mighty Max
- Captain Planet
- Duck Tales
- Inspector Gadget
- Boy Meets World
- Saved by the Bell
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- Clarissa Explains It All
- Beanie Babies
- Pokemon Red and Blue (i.e. the best generation of Pokemon games)
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