Classic trends resurface all the time, including tech devices. Even though some Gen-Zers and Millennials are eager to learn what older generations have used, outdated mechanics often block a lot of them.
Here are 15 gadgets and devices with various uses that tend to confuse the youngest. It’s always fun to give them classic tech and watch them try to figure out what they are, not to mention how they work.
Old Tech for telecommunications
1. Corded and rotary telephones
Thanks to wireless technology, corded lines, invented in the 1940s, are now obsolete. Someone unfamiliar with the device would have a hard time staying in one place and not getting tangled in their cord.
A rotary phone is an even greater challenge. How to spin the wheel? Which comes first, dial or pick up the handset? These questions and more arise when young people tackle this classic telecommunications puzzle.
Old cell phones arrived much later than landlines, yet they amaze Gen-Zers just as much. Consider the chunky models that started it all and the cute flip phones that preceded smartphones.
It’s not just their design that baffles young technicians, but also their minimal functionality. All you could with old phones was make calls, take bad photos, or play little games like Snake and Tetris.
As technology evolved, other tools were added like Internet access, Bluetooth, and media players. But, of course, their capabilities pale in comparison to modern smartphones, except for their battery life.
3. Fax machine
A common way of sending documents to each other was by fax. The fax is not completely extinct today, thanks to innovations like free online fax serviceswhich typically involve a phone line and technology that scans and exchanges documents as bitmaps.
You put a page of text or images into the machine, which turns the content into code and sends it to the phone number of another machine so it can print a copy.
It’s a convenient method, but not as quick or efficient as other tools today, giving youngsters a shock when they encounter fax machines, especially very old models.
4. Analog modem
The Internet began with modems that depended on a single telephone line and reached a maximum of 56 Kbps. It took a while to surf the web and you couldn’t call someone at the same time, a tricky situation before mobile devices came into the picture.
As dial-up modems, they were also noisy when connecting to the Internet. Today’s fiber optic machines are an understated luxury, making anything less a nightmare for people accustomed to 76 Mbps speeds.
Old Tech for entertainment
5. Floppy disks
Long before USB drives, we used floppy disks to store data and transfer it from one computer to another. PCs would have a built-in or separate reader with a slim slot to accept and read them.
The floppy disks involved a magnetic disk inside a flat plastic square, a shape you may recognize today as the to safeguard icon on most software. The device got smaller over the years, reaching its final 3½-inch form in the 90s.
6. VHS and VCR
Analog magnetic tape was also used to record the video, the standard format being home video system (VHS), courtesy of JVC. In short, the technology has revolutionized movies, television and home entertainment, its rivalry with the less user-friendly Betamax format only furthering its status.
Basically, you had a tape the size of an average book that had a movie in it, for example. You inserted it into a video cassette player or recorder (VCR) connected to your television, which then displayed its contents. You can even record TV programs onto VHS.
7. DVD and Player
The late 90s introduced us to the digital versatile disc (DVD), a new format for storing data using optical discs. They were produced to contain different types of content, but mainly to mass distribute movies and other visual entertainment to the public.
You would have a DVD player hooked up to your TV or even built into your computer, specifically designed to play these discs. You would just have to insert them and play their videos.
8. Tape Cassette and Walkman
The joys of recording mixtapes and the connection between a tape and a pencil are lost on younger generations. Also known as the Compact Cassette, this was a revolutionary use of magnetic tape to record and play audio.
Digital audio cassettes (DAT) were also developed by Sony to replace analog cassettes. You can use both types with a boombox and portable devices, the most well-known brand being Walkman.
9. CD and disk drive
The compact disc (CD) took over from the cassette tape as the best way to listen to audio, from music to audiobooks. Then the developers extended the technology to hold dedicated data including files and media like videos and photos. Minidiscs have also become fashionable.
In terms of audio entertainment, CDs can be played on devices similar to cassette tapes. In fact, boomboxes were quickly designed to accommodate both, while the Discman became the go-to portable gadget for listening to CDs on the go.
Old technology for games
If there’s one industry that loves its classics, it’s video games. The Atari 2600, the grandfather of consoles, arrived in the early 80s. It had 128 bytes of RAM when using gamepads or paddles and ROM cartridges from titles such as Pac-Man and Fight.
Atari produced various models of the console and found huge success in the gaming community. It was also with Atari that Activision became the very first third-party video game developer.
11. Game Boy
Another branded device you may have heard of but never encountered is the Gameboy, perhaps the most beloved handheld technology in gaming history.
Nintendo released it in 1989, a rectangular machine with a green screen, buttons, long battery life, and 8-bit games in cartridges. Simply put, the Nintendo Switch wouldn’t exist today without the Gameboy, but modern gamers find this latest experience odd.
12. Nintendo Entertainment System
The creators of Gameboy also developed consoles from the late 80s that paved the way for modern systems. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the first to house two rectangular controllers and 8-bit titles in cartridges, from Super Mario Bros. to The Legend of Zelda.
The company’s next most successful console was the Nintendo 64 (N64), released in 1996 and competing with Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. The design of these gaming devices evolved as optical discs began to replace cartridges.
Old Tech for other tasks
13. Polaroid Instant Camera
Today you can have a high quality camera in your smartphone unless you are a photographer and need proper equipment which is quite easy to get on a decent budget.
So it’s no surprise that instant cameras have lost their appeal. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Polaroid company pioneered this handy camera that developed images shortly after taking them.
The most effective models like the SX-70 and the Spectra arrived in the late 1900s and used integrated systems, meaning they automatically adjusted their settings for each environment and produced a developed photo.
14. Overhead projector
This technology was the norm for presentations, whether in the classroom or in the office. Today, you’ll find compact devices that project video from your phone, USB drive, or other sources.
The original projectors, however, were bigger and more complicated. The process started with a sheet or slide of transparent film containing text, for example. Some machines also used slides in trays, so you could cycle through them faster.
The film clashed against the backlit glass plate of the projector, while a mirror and lens above reflected the illuminated words and projected them onto a white surface.
15. Daisy Wheel and Dot Matrix Printer
The history of printing is long, leading to today’s laser and inkjet technology. A daisy wheel printer, popular in the 70s, involved an actual wheel of glyphs in the form of letters, numbers and symbols. These hit a ribbon of ink on a page or vice versa to print the desired glyph.
The next step was dot-matrix printing, which was faster and cheaper than daisy-chaining. This system was also impact-based, but used columns of wires and pins instead of glyphs to strike the ribbon of ink against the page and form a matrix of dots that made up the desired content.
Continue to explore old technologies and their uses
Few products can keep up with advances in technology. That’s why it’s so fascinating to look back and see where certain devices came from, not to mention the many ways human innovation has improved work, entertainment, and everyday life.
It makes you appreciate resurrected classics even more, as well as unique ways to use old gadgets.