Technology is brilliant, but only when you realise how far it’s come.
The baby boomers (the generation born in the 1950s) marvelled at the advent of colour TV and video recorders and CD-based technology – all things my generation took for granted.
Meanwhile, my own children can’t imagine life without broadband, YouTube or tablet computers.
But this story about a dad filming his children struggling with cassette tapes was enough to get us thinking about how today’s kids would react to all the antiquated gadgets and gizmos we used to have when we were their age.
So dust off your mixtapes. This is going to be one heck of a nostalgia trip…
Remember when MiniDisc was going to be the Next Best Thing? Miniature CDs with better sound quality? It didn’t matter that the commercial releases were so scant – not when you could RECORD YOUR OWN.
Yeah, those MP3s. Flash in the pan. They’ll never take off.
Hang on, how can I launch my apps from this? It’s just a black screen. Where are the icons?
We’re so used to WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) interfaces on our desktop display it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t standard, but back in the 1990s many of us were still favouring a plain text-based interface to launch our software – and some of us haven’t changed.
Sure, you couldn’t look at pictures of cats (unless they were in ASCII) but at least you could play Doom without it crashing. These things are important, dammit.
3. Vintage mobiles
I suppose you’d still call them mobile, even if they weighed as much as a bag of sugar and you had to carry them round in a briefcase. They were lumbering, pretentious and there was usually no signal, but hey, at least it proved you were rich.
You couldn’t even play Snake, at least until 1998, when Nokia introduced it for the 6110 (although the one everybody remembers was on the classic 3310).
Of course, mobiles got considerably smaller in the late 1990s, before gradually ballooning again into the chunky smartphones we use today. Still, at least there’s no more danger of poking out your eye with the aerial.
Hey, kids. You know that store in your local shopping centre? Carphone Warehouse? Did you ever wonder how it got its name?
Like pagers and PDAs, carphones are pretty much redundant now that so many people have mobiles – but once upon a time they were a necessity if you were on the road a lot. And if your dad had one, you could sit in the front and pretend you were Batman. (Never did this. Honest.)
Like those Game and Watch things everyone had, only minus the fun.
Tamagotchi were digital pets that you had to regularly ‘feed’ and ‘exercise’ by pressing the buttons on the pocket-sized, keychain-friendly device. If you didn’t press the buttons, you killed them.
This was supposed to teach us about responsibility; all it really taught us was that Tamagotchi really wasn’t worth our time.
Yes, yes, audiophiles we know it sounds better. But most of us don’t have a Bose, which means that the average ear really can’t tell the difference between a vinyl record and a decently remastered CD.
Which instead leaves you with the pops and crackles from those huge, unwieldy, easily-damaged things that you can only play by PHYSICALLY MARKING THE PLASTIC SURFACE WITH A PIECE OF METAL.
At the risk of a backlash, here’s an inconvenient truth: records are rubbish. You can’t even skip tracks without getting up from the sofa, which needn’t be a problem unless you’re listening to The White Album and you get to Revolution 9.
Vinyl’s very handy if you’re facing a zombie infestation, of course, as Simon Pegg proved in abundance.
7. Zip drives
Zip drives were great. Chunky disks that could hold 100 MEGABYTES OF DATA!
You may scoff, but we didn’t always have broadband – and even today they’re not entirely obsolete. The retro gaming community still favours them for data transfer, and musicians love them.
At the time, of course, Zip disks were a natural successor to the floppy disk, which children and young adults all over the world see every time they click the ‘save’ icon, even though many of them have no idea what it’s actually supposed to be.
Things you remember about VHS: adjusting the tracking so the picture was legible, rewinding the tapes before you took them back to Blockbuster, wedging a crumpled piece of paper into the write-protect tab so you could use a tape again, discovering the previous programme overran, meaning you missed the last ten minutes of the one you tried to record.
Things you’d rather forget: VideoPlus+. Seriously, what was that about?
(Betamax was better, of course, but how many of your friends actually had one?)
I went to university with a guy who had a pager and no one could quite figure out why he had it. They’re handy if you’re a doctor who’s required on the other side of a hospital at a moment’s notice. Not so much if you’re studying a liberal arts degree. What’s more, you couldn’t even reply to your messages, unless you bought an expensive two-way model.
Believe it or not, Vodafone’s pager service was still running until May this year, when the company announced plans to discontinue the service and its 1000-strong customer base.
Actually, kids would love these. Text messages, but you don’t have to text back? Paradise.
10. Film cameras
WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T SEE THE PICTURE STRAIGHT AWAY? WHAT MADNESS IS THIS?!?