For most people, obsolete technology is a lot like an empty beer can. Sure, we had a lot of fun emptying it, but once it’s served its purpose, we don’t think twice about chucking it in the recycling box and moving on to the next one. But for some folks, saying goodbye to their favorite gadgets isn’t so easy when the next generation of technology comes along. Here are ten obsolete examples that enthusiasts refuse to let go of.
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Why are there still such a thing as telegrams? In the time it takes to send one you could have an entire e-mail conversation, book the hotel room for your next vacation, download the first season of Charles in Charge, and still have time left over to level up your Blood Elf rogue. When you absolutely have to get a message to someone, there are a million better ways to do it. But in 2010, it’s still possible to send one. Although the main telegram companies like Western Union stopped offering the service years ago, several smaller companies still do, regardless of how antiquated the service may seem. Luckily, no one has ever discussed discontinuing strippergrams. The Internet may be the premier communication service of our generation, but some things are just better in person.
9. Laser Disc Players
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One of the great ‘also-ran’ technologies, Laser Disc (LD) Players had two major strikes against them. First, they were about the size of a medium pizza and were awkward to store and use. Second, and most seriously, they cost way, way too much. Even though they had superior visual and audio quality to VCRs and offered special features years before DVDs were even invented, the expensive and clunky LDs never caught on except for with rich cinephiles. As VHS put a chokehold on the home video market, LDs faded from public notice. But like everything else on this list, the superfans didn’t let go. To this day there are LD enthusiasts who trade an ever dwindling supply of movies (many from Japan and Hong Kong where the LD was more popular) and try to convince themselves that the picture and sound on a $99 DVD player isn’t as good as their aging systems. While it is true that a few films that have never been released on DVD are available on LD and some special features have never appeared anywhere else, it’s still a lot of work for very little return. Especially considering we’re about ten years away from getting movies beamed directly into our skulls.
8. Rotary phones
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A lot of people hang on to old tech because they genuinely feel it is a superior product compared to the replacement. But no one in the world is still using a rotary phone because it’s the best. For those of you under the age of 50, rotary phones worked just like regular ones, except they had a huge dial (hence ‘dial a number’) instead of a keypad to enter the numbers. This was fine if the number you were calling had a lot of ones or twos in it, but if it was all nines and zeros, you’d start to find excuses not to call somebody back. Well, other than that you’re a jerk who can’t be bothered returning phone calls. Today, rotary phones are almost entirely kept by hipsters for their retro fashion look. Besides the hassle in dialling them, rotary phones also used a different kind of signal, meaning that you can’t use them for automated call services. You can’t even redial! Nevertheless, there are still some people who hang on to them as a symbol of how cool the past was. Good luck using one to be the 77th caller and win Aerosmith tickets, though.
7. CB Radios
No one knows if it was mass hysteria, something in the water supply, or just the general lameness of the decade overall, but for some reason, trucking and truckers were really popular in the 1970s. All across the country, people idolized dudes who sat on their behinds hauling cargo across the country. The most enduring part of the legend was the CB radio. Truckers used them to communicate with other truckers. They shared traffic info, their favorite short cuts, and which truckstops had the best hookers. Once normal citizens got their hands on them, CB radios were primarily used by guys in their basements asking each other where they were. Since there are now approximately seven billion other ways for people to communicate, CBs have largely returned to their trucker origins. But some hobbyists have kept the dream alive and calls of “what’s your 20?” can still be heard across the airwaves. If only there was somebody other than that weird guy who lives down the street to hear them.
6. CRT (not flat screen) TVs
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As anyone who’s ever had to carry a non flatscreen TV down a flight of stairs will tell you, flatscreen TV’s are a substantial improvement on the old school Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) models. Despite the fact that high end CRT TVs have pretty good pictures, they are heavy, bulky, and far less easy to move around than a flatscreen. Even still, this, and the large amounts of radiation they emit and that the tubes are extremely dangerous to dispose of, there are some people who swear by them. Retro gamers especially love them because the older console games don’t look that great on new widescreen TVs. Retro gaming message boards are full of people looking for just the right CRT TV to hook their Atari and SNES up to. Now, before you go running to put your old clunker on eBay, remember that even though there are people who prefer CRT TVs, there are also a zillion of them collecting dust in garages around the world.
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Before the invention of personal music players with headphones, Boomboxes were what you used if you wanted to listen to some tunes outside of the house. They quickly became associated with hip hop culture, and the image of the urban teenager carrying a giant ghetto blaster on his shoulder was a fixture of 80s music videos and movies. Once the Walkman came along, people slowly but surely gave up their boomboxes and kept their music to themselves. Companies still sold them, but mostly to young people who couldn’t afford real stereos in their crummy apartments. But despite the availability of music and video players that can fit into one hand, boomboxes are still around. Besides the standard CD deck, they also have connection for mp3 players and usb flash drives, Bluetooth capability, and some even play DVDs. Fortunately, none of these bells and whistles have been able to restore the boombox to its former glory.
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It’s been at least 30 years since typewriters were considered anything but charming antiques. A few old school writers like Harlan Ellison and Cormac McCarthy still use typewriters, but for the most part almost everybody uses the far easier computer for writing. Well, believe it or not, there are still a few people who can’t give up the clackety clack of the manual typewriter. And it isn’t just crusty old writers on paper filled desks using them. You can still buy new and reconditioned typewriters from some office supply companies and amazingly, there exists a small, but vibrant community of bloggers who use them. Called “typecasting,” it involves people writing their blogs on typewriters, scanning the pages, and uploading them to the Internet. That’s a lot of work just to share your thoughts on last night’s episode of Top Chef.
3. Polaroid Cameras
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With the advent of digital cameras, instant cameras like the Polaroid looked like dead men walking. The advantage of being able to see your picture right away that Polaroids enjoyed for so long was done just as easily with digital models. They may not print copies right away, but these days most people just send their pictures to each other digitally. Polaroid’s announcement in 2008 that it would discontinue film production seemed to sound the death of the instant camera. No more would kids be able to watch those thick white pictures develop before their eyes. But something odd happened after the announcement. Some people actually were upset that they weren’t going to be able to whip out their clunky old Polaroids to take pictures of their drunk aunts at Thanksgiving anymore. Polaroid conceded and last year announced the return of the classic instant camera. When reached for comment, the digital cameras of the world just snickered.
2. 8 tracks, Vinyl, Cassettes, and Others
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Few kinds of technology turn over faster than audio equipment. You start buying albums on whatever format is the norm and just when you’ve amassed a halfway decent collection of music, they go and release a new format that is, of course, way better than they crappy one you have now. Even if it stinks, you’re still going to have to adopt it because in a couple of years that’s all that the stores will have. The music and electronic companies call it progress, but for consumers, it seems an awful lot like a scam to get you to buy The White Album every couple of years. Understandably, some audiophiles opt out of the cycle and stick with whatever they’ve got. Whether it’s old reel to reel tape recorders, 8 tracks, vinyl records, or cassettes, they swear their format is the one that delivers the best quality out there. Some formats, like vinyl, can actually make a strong case for being superior to anything that’s come out since. But 8 tracks? Those things sucked when they were brand new.
1. Atari 2600
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All technology moves pretty fast these days, but gaming gear moves really fast. Every year, hundreds of games come out trying to push the envelop and console makers are always trying to be one step ahead of their competitors with better graphics, gameplay, and sound. But for a small, and dedicated group of video game fans, nothing beats the early 80s glory of the Atari 2600. Today, more than 30 years after its original debut, there are still a group of gamers who refuse to give up their joysticks. There are even programmers who make new games for the system and people who custom design new cases for the console. But for most fans, the original is all they need. Whether they’re playing on vintage consoles, PC emulators, or one of the many clones of the system, they all share a love of the simple beauty of Yars Revenge, Pitfall, and Missile Command and all the other classic games that made Atari great. But they all hate E.T. the Extraterrestrial. That game was a piece of s**t.