Not long ago, just after Christmas actually, I heard a little tidbit on the radio that the last manufacturer of VHS tapes had sent out its last shipment. The VHS is officially dead. It has been going the way of the dodo for many years now but has managed to hold on to those last breathes. This popped back into my head the other day and has since had me thinking about technologies that have gone obsolete since I was born. And have to say there are quite a few of them.
VHS / Betamax
Like the HD / Blue Ray video format battle that is being waged today, in the 80s the fight was between VHS and Betamax. They were both videocassette tape formats that had the same basics but what it came down to was marketing.
Both formats came out around the same time, Beta was introduced in 1975 and VHS 1976, but many argue that Beta was the better technology. It had better picture, sound, and the tapes lasted longer. But what really killed it was the fact that it was more expensive and because of the fast growth in popularity of the VHS both Beta players and cassettes were hard to find.
Betamax did stay relevant until about the mid eighties and VHS had officially won the war but they were still being produced outside of North America until as recent as 2002. Eventually both formats lost out to the DVD.
Typewriters had been around for over a hundred years before they became obsolete. It had a number of progressions since the last incarnation of one in the late 80’s.
It started off as a Writing Machine created by an English inventor Henry Mill who had his idea patented in 1714. It was more than 100 years later when the next incarnation was patented in the States in 1829. It was called a typographer machine. It was a cumbersome and often unreliable. It wasn’t until 1867 when we were first introduced to what we would recognize as a typewriter. It was developed and patented by Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel Soule. Thomas Edison built the first electric typewriter in 1872. But it still wasn’t until the 1950’s that typewriters became common place. In 1978 an electronic typewriter appeared on the scene that had memory and could store text. From then on memory grew and programs were added to typewriters.
I actually own a typewriter. It is one of those later ones with memory, spell check and can erase. It runs on Word Perfect. I like having it but it sucks cuz I can’t use it. I don’t have any ribbons for it and I can’t find the power cord. Sad face.
8-Track / Cassette Tapes
These are 2 technologies that were basically the same thing presented in slightly different manner. 8-track and cassettes were cartridges mad or either metal or plastic that encased either 1 or 2 spools for magnetic tape to be wound around.
8-Track was an endless loop system that had 8 parallel soundtracks hence 8-track. They were popular from about 1965 to the early 80s. This is what ushered in the start of the portable music obsession. Even though 8-track was mostly in cars it allowed people to take the music they wanted to listen to with them.
The cassette tape showed up not too long after in the mid-70s and stayed around until the late 90s. Cassette is actually a French word meaning “little box”. It was pretty much the same as the 8-track except that there were 2 spools and the tape had 2 pairs of tracks (either in mono or stereo) and one was played depending on the direction the tape was being played. This allowed for longer play times. This killed the 8-track.
And in the late 80’s came the compact disc better known as the CD. It came along and killed the cassette.
Yeah I have cassettes too. Including 2 Kris Kross ones, they are copies of the same thing but whatever, a Paula Abdul, the first Ninja Turtles Movie soundtrack, and some mix tapes I put together and the stupid DJ was always ruining everything.
Walkmans / Discmans
Portable music devices have changed drastically over the years. They have gotten smaller, lighter, and can hold more music. Walkman is actually a Sony trademarked term the generic term for the device is personal stereo. Personal stereos were first developed to support cassette tapes. They weren’t too heavy but they were bulky devices that used up a lot of battery power quickly.
With the downfall of the cassette due to the rise of the CD, walkmans needed to be adapted. Soon came the CD Walkman aka the Discman. These devices were bigger that the walkman but were thinner and lighter and CDs also held more music.
But soon came another change in the music format world, the advent of the MP3. Even though many Discmans have been produced that support MP3 discs their sales have declined drastically due to the creation of the MP3 player. These devices have become so small and easy to manage that people simply prefer using them. There is no fumbling with tapes or discs and they can hold hundreds and even thousands of songs as well has videos.
I know, technically, the Discman isn’t obsolete but it is close.
Car phones showed up in the regular populous in the late 70’s to the early 90’s on the cusp of the cell phone era. They were the first introduction to the mobile phone. They could fit in your car, plug into your lighter socket, and you were good to go. Some versions were even installed in the car like another component. They were a great convenience to people who were seldom in one spot.
The problem with the phones is that they weren’t very good. Because this mobile technology was new there weren’t a lot of towers or satellites to support the systems so there were great expanses where there was no signal and you still had to use a pay phone. The other thing is that it only worked in the car while it was running. And the reception wasn’t very clear either. But soon came the cell phone. The portable device you could take anywhere which quickly surpassed the car phone in quality and sales.
That was just a few of the things that have become obsolete since I have been born. It is strange to think that there are more things like the dot-matrix printers, text-based adventure games, Polaroid cameras, Atari, video discs, cell animation. The list probably goes on. I suddenly feel really old.