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7 Innovative Technologies That Disappeared in the Digital Age

Let’s look to the past for some of the most brilliant technologies ever created!

Technology seems to be moving forward at an accelerated pace. As it advances, things that were once innovative and groundbreaking are becoming obsolete.

A little over a century ago, industries banking on horse-drawn transportation disappeared overnight with the invention of the automobile.

And in more recent years, advances in the music industry have helped us transition from records to cassettes, CDs, and finally, to MP3s and digital streaming.

Since we’re on the subject, have you noticed that in the past 20 years alone, VHS tapes, one-hour photo shops, and phone booths have almost wholly disappeared?

Regardless, even though you might not be consciously aware of the feverish pace of change, it’s easy to look back on lots of technologies that are now entirely obsolete thanks to the progress of AI.

Continue reading to see if you remember these 7 innovative technologies you once couldn’t live without!

Photo by Shaiith at Shutterstock

Audio Players and Media Storage

CDs, portable CD players, and DVDs are basically long gone. But so are 1/4-inch cassette tapes. Remember trying to get to your favorite song on side B, but you’d have to play the ENTIRE side A first?

We COULD also go back to Walkmans or vinyl records, but then again, DJs still use vinyl, so maybe those aren’t all that obsolete. And, of course, the old-fashioned record has been dead and buried for quite some time.

If we think about technologies today, an entire industry devoted to record stores and videocassette/DVD rentals has fallen apart as older media storage formats have become obsolete. Does anyone else miss those Blockbuster nights?

Road Maps

Road maps were a MUST in all American cars for decades. By the mid-1960s, at least 200 million of them had been sold. But in the late 1980s, GPS devices helped many drivers reach their final destination without consulting a paper map.

However, even those started losing value in the late 1990s, when sites like MapQuest let drivers print out turn-by-turn directions.

Eventually, cars started being designed with built-in GPS, and today, those technologies aren’t essential anymore either, thanks to smartphones with GPS and map apps. Nowadays, state tourism departments are printing far fewer maps, if any at all.

In fact, by 2012, Pennsylvania was only printing a quarter of the 3 million maps it did ten years earlier, and Washington state stopped altogether. And while Rand McNally DOES still sell maps, good luck finding someone who has one in their car!

Does anyone else find this one a tad bittersweet?

One-Hour Photo

Let’s be honest…Smartphones are one of the primary technologies that have pretty much put the photography world out of business.

For many years, taking pictures with a camera meant choosing movements carefully since rolls of film held a limited number of shots and required taking the film to be processed and printed.

As technology improved in the late 70s, you didn’t have to take your film to specialty camera shops and wait an entire week to see your photos. One-hour photo labs started popping up everywhere and made our lives easier.

These labs popped up in department stores, grocery stores, camera shops, and even stand-alone huts with pricey street-corner real estate.

In fact, at their peak in 1993, there were over 7,600 one-hour labs in our country and another 14,700 so-called mini-labs inside chain stores like Walgreens or Kmart. If you didn’t grow up in the 80s and 90s, it’s hard to visualize just how common these little stores were.

Of course, it isn’t surprising to see what happened to one-hour photo labs and photo developers in general. The need for photo-developing shops disappeared practically overnight when newer technologies like digital cameras and smartphones hit the market.

Photo by Gevorg Simonyan at Shutterstock

Phone Booths

Random Question: Can you remember the last time you saw a phone booth on the corner of a street? Don’t forget that there was a time not that long ago when finding one of these useful technologies was about as easy as walking down any street in your neighborhood.

Interestingly, there was an unintentionally good reason phone booths became so popular, to begin with. Back in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that people had a right to privacy in phone booths.

Therefore they immediately became a haven for criminals who conducted their business on the streets. Regardless of why they were used, there were over a million phone booths installed in our country by 1960, and by 1999, there were close to 2 million.

Nowadays, there are only about 100,000 pay phones in the US. That’s only slightly more than what existed in 1902. Recent reports say that several cities have spent the last few decades slowly working to remove pay phones or at least try to zone them out of existence.

This is all in an effort to reduce crime.

Fun Fact: By the time the movie “Phone Booth” starring Colin Farrell was made in 2003, the movie’s producers said that the last phone booth in Manhattan was removed while the movie was in production.

The Landline Phone

The corded telephone dates back to the late 1800s, and landline phones were essential technologies for many people across America for many years. But despite this, mobile phones have slowly rendered this brilliant invention obsolete.

With wi-fi use in the US currently at 89%, it’s no surprise that many people are using their mobile phones or internet voice services as their main way to get in contact with others.

And when we think about the fact that about a fifth of American households were wireless-only as of June 2009, it’s not hard to conclude that the landline is on its way out.

According to AARP, as of June 2020, only 2.3 percent of all households in America had only one non-cellular landline.

Floppy Disks

This is one of those technologies whose history is completely tied to the growth of the personal computer. While an eight-inch version of the floppy was invented in 1967, the first IBM PC came with a 5.25-inch floppy in 1981.

It held 360 kilobytes of data, about one-third of a megabyte. It was known as a “floppy” drive because the disc was inside a flexible sheath. But the name stuck even when the far more rigid 3.5-inch version came out, which became standard equipment on PCs for the next 20 years.

Until the invention of CDs, floppies were the standard for how software was packaged, sold, and installed. The later generations won’t remember this, but Microsoft Office 97 came on 55 floppy disks!

Obviously, there was significant interest in replacing it for standard file transfers. At the beginning of the 2000s, USB flash drives finally offered an easy, affordable, and high-capacity solution that’s still typically used today.

In 1998 Apple released the iMac G3, the first personal computer without a floppy, and other manufacturers slowly followed suit over the next years. Floppies hung on for several years, but Sony, the last floppy disk maker, stopped manufacturing them in March 2011.

Even though floppy disks are now obsolete, they live on as the “save” icon on many computer programs, even if your grandkids have no idea what it is!

Photo by ilmarinfoto at Shutterstock

Fax Machines

Static… dial tone… repeat a couple of times… ah, the good old days! Not really. This is one of those types of technologies we’re glad to have become obsolete! Definitely won’t miss that process. In the 1980s and 90s, the fax machine was standard in many businesses.

Even some households had them. Back then, it was a remarkably efficient way to copy documents in one location and send to print them out in another. However, it was ultimately replaced by the convenience of email.

With the arrival of the e-fax, and considering how annoying regular faxing could be, we wouldn’t dream of judging those who see fit to take a bat to their old fax machines!

Are there any types of old technologies you miss? Please feel free to leave us a comment below to share your thoughts with us!

And if you’re a big history fan, we’ve got many articles we think you’ll love. We highly recommend you check out: 6 of the World’s Most Brutal Amusement Park Accidents


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