Four revolutionary technologies that are now obsolete

walkman

(Nicolás Olivares, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Katharine Rooney, Senior Writer, Formative Content


Japan’s last pager has emitted its final beep.

Tokyo Telemessage, the country’s only remaining pager provider, shut down its radio signals this week, following decades of dwindling subscribers.

Pagers first went on sale in Japan in the 1960s and were known as pokeberu, or “pocket bells”. They were a popular way of contacting someone on the go. Callers could send a short message by dialling a pager number from a landline.

 

The device was initially used to reach salespeople who were out on the road, but later became a status symbol, clipped to the belts of city workers to demonstrate industriousness.

By the end of the 1980s, there were 60 million pager users worldwide. But within a decade, its popularity was rapidly overtaken by the mobile phone. In the UK, 86% of kids over six-years-old in the UK are now unable to identify a pager.

 86% of children in the UK are unable to identify a pager, and 67% don’t recognize a floppy disk.
Image: Statista

Here are three other inventions that have gone the way of the dodo.

1) The portable cassette player

The Sony Walkman revolutionized music when it was introduced in 1979. Rather than carrying around a full-sized tape recorder, people were able to plug in lightweight headphones, pop in a cassette and listen to their favourite music on the go. By 1992, Sony had sold 100 million units. As a mark of its cultural influence, the word “Walkman” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The original machine weighed just under half a kilogramme and later came in solar-powered and water-resistant models. Its chunky shape is a long way from the palm-of-your-hand, lightweight devices we are used to today. But in popularizing technology to be used on the move, it paved the way for innovations such as the iPod and the smartphone.

The original Sony Walkman is now a museum exhibit, but it revolutionized the way we listen to music.
Image: Yoshikazu Takada

2) The floppy disk

In the mid-1990s, more than 5 billion floppy disks were sold around the world every year. Today, there’s a whole generation that may never even have seen one.

First produced by IBM in the 1970s, floppy disks were key to the growth of the software industry. Instead of personal computer owners having to write their own software applications for computing tasks like word processing, programs could be loaded on to the disks and sold to consumers. Users could also save their work on to disks, so that documents could be transferred between computers.

Floppy disks haven’t been produced since 2011, but their legacy remains in the form of downloadable software and internet-shareable files.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

3) The video cassette recorder

Now that most television channels have catch-up services, there’s little need to pre-record your favourite shows. But that’s just what people used to do with video cassette recorders (VCRs). Through a combination of handy magnetic video tapes and programming that took an entire manual to understand, no one ever had to miss an episode.

The last VCRs rolled off the production line in 2016, changing not only viewing habits, but the future of movie rental chains like Blockbuster. Video cassettes were superseded by DVD, online rental firms rose to prominence and then streaming services transformed the industry forever.

In the 1990s, there were 9,000 Blockbuster stores around the world. There is now just one, in the American city of Bend, Oregon, where nostalgic patrons continue to take in films the old-fashioned way.

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