All of our electronic gadgets get smaller, faster and more powerful. Along the way, older versions start to sprout gray hairs. When that happens, they either continue to hone their capabilities with a technical comb over or they fall uselessly out of favor, dropping from retail stores and into history.
Inertia and human nature are funny things, though. Often, devices that find mass market penetration linger in our homes, cars and pockets, simply because we're too lazy or too cheap to invest in newer and better alternatives.
In other cases, the older stuff provides nostalgia or may even outperform supposedly superior descendents. For example, vinyl records aren't as user-friendly or portable as their MP3 counterparts. But proponents argue for vinyl's warmer sound, groovy tactile feedback and artistic allure.
Most devices aren't so fortunate, especially when it comes to pocket-sized electronics. A whole slew of products are falling victim following the advent of fully capable smartphones. When one little phone/computer can do hundreds of tasks pretty well, it suddenly seems ridiculous to carry around a camera, camcorder, tape recorder, MP3 player, paper maps and dozens of other objects that a smartphone could reasonably stand in for.
Like no-smoking signs on airplanes, though, there's a still long list of tech that marks the businesses and people still using them as socially outdated and technologically tone deaf. Keep reading to see our top 10 technologies that just won't die, even though they probably should.
For centuries, paper maps guided our ancestors across the continents and seas, ensuring safer travels, economic booms and depressing family vacations. Yes, traditional maps have many virtues. But even Christopher Columbus couldn't get his to fold properly.
Since 2003, or about the time GPS units and smartphones began their march across the globe, paper map sales have been slumping [source: Rodriguez]. Washington State even stopped printing its state maps altogether at one point (although this was mostly due to budget problems).
It's tough for paper to compete with a gadget that provides turn-by-turn instructions on the fly. Of course, if a solar flare knocks out GPS satellite service and cell towers for months and the apocalypse begins, you may wish you'd held onto that old, worn out, badly folded paper map.
Alarm clocks, the ringing, exasperating bane of night owls everywhere, are going the way of the pterodactyl and T-rex. They've been wiped out by the smartphone swarm.
Why, exactly, would a person shell out $10 to $20 for a device that a smartphone duplicates so easily? Many smartphones even have speakers that can compete in sound quality compared to an average clock radio. Furthermore, your smartphone doesn't have light-up face that stares at you all night long, stoking insomnia.
Your smartphone doesn't start blinking when the power goes out. And your smartphone doesn't need a 9-volt battery backup. If you're in the business of manufacturing these clocks, best to bail, soon, before extinction is official.
CD-ROMs are slow. Direct cable connections are hard to set up. USB flash drives, though, are speedy, rewritable and nearly instantly recognizable between all sorts of devices. And now that they're ubiquitous, they are also becoming irrelevant.
Flash drives deliver enormous convenience. They store many megabytes or gigabytes of data for a few minutes or for many months. File transfer speeds are fast. These capabilities come in a chunk of plastic small enough to dangle from your keychain.
There's just one problem. Now you can access numerous free cloud-storage services such as DropBox. Instead of dealing with a physical (and easily lost) object like a USB drive, you can just snag your files from the web anywhere you have Internet access.
Flash drives were a wonderful thing. Their short stay atop the technological mountain flashed by far too fast.
The ever-present optical disc, whether it stores music, movies or computer software, like a reanimated corpse from our worst nightmares ... refuses to die. Sure, optical discs can store gigabytes of data. Whoopee.
They're also easily destroyed. Have butterfingers? Drop that $20 Bob Dylan disc, even once, and it may never play, play, play, play properly again without skipping and stuttering.
They're slow. Insert a disc into your computer or game console drive. Wait. Wait some more. Make coffee. Perhaps by then the disc will be ready for you to actually use it.
iPods and other digital music players helped drive a stake into CD music players. Flash media and the cloud are helping push out computer CD-ROM drives, too. These days, a CD drive is an add-on accessory and not a computing necessity. Streaming availability of all those shows and movies we used to buy in physical form is chipping away at the DVD and Blu-ray market.
Goodbye discs. And good riddance.
It all seems so quaint now. There was a time when incorporating note taking, voice memos and calendars into one handheld device seemed cutting edge and innovative. These wonderful devices were called PDAs (personal digital assistants), and they were The Next Big Thing.
And for a short while, they were. Now, in the common vernacular PDA stands for something else (public display of affection) ... and the digital devices themselves? They need to go away, pronto.
The exception here may be warehouses, hospitals and similar businesses where workers need a way to track inventory, collect data or manage products. In this case, PDAs serve as more affordable, limited purpose tools without all the unnecessary bells and whistles of smartphones or tablets.
Still, we'll never miss the stylus. And in another 10 years, we'll probably figure out where we lost it.
In the United States, around 3 percent of people still use dial-up services to access the Internet. By contrast, nearly 70 percent have high-speed broadband access [source: Kessler]. Their online experiences are, shall we say, profoundly different.
When you're connected via a quality broadband connection, you're able to stream audio and video to multiple HDTVs and your computer at the same time, while you're also surfing on your tablet and smartphone. By contrast, if you're stuck on a dial-up connection, sometimes it takes several seconds for a single web page to load in your browser.
Holding onto dial-up may even cost you potential income. More than one set of researchers has found higher earning potential in households that have broadband Internet access as compared with those that still use whistling, buzzing modem [source: The Garside].
Those people tend to be older, less educated and living in homes with lower than average incomes [source: Pew]. They also may be in areas (like rural hideaways) where access options are extremely limited. Regardless of circumstances, dial-up Internet is a throwback, and not one we want to use again.
There was a time when a belt-clip pager was the equivalent of a Rolex. You were somebody who always had to be connected. You were a doctor or a lawyer (or, less impressively, a drug dealer.) In any case, a pager implied importance. Nowadays, they probably just mean you're out of touch.
And yet, just a couple of years ago, Americans were buying millions of dollars worth of pagers [source: Piltch]. And in some limited situations, pagers might work a bit more reliably than phone systems or Internet access.
That's especially true in health care settings. Smartphone batteries need recharging. Pagers just need new alkalines. Cell reception may be spotty in some facilities where pagers may work more reliably.
Those traits aren't enough to save pagers. Like everyone else, doctors prefer their multifunction smartphones and they don't want to carry multiple gadgets. Soon, pagers will fall by the wayside, forgotten and irrelevant, like a dope dealer convicted of multiple felonies.
"The familiar VHS tape is rapidly going the way of the obsolete 8-track." That dusty snippet is culled directly from a Washington Post article in 2005 [source: Chediak]. And more than a decade later, guess what? The VHS tape? No, it's not quite dead.
Americans continue buying VHS format tapes by the millions. It's difficult to ascertain the exact purpose of these tapes. Perhaps they make good bookends. Maybe the tape is unwound and used for Halloween decorations.
All snarky tones aside, VHS has proved surprisingly resilient in the age of DVD and streaming media, not to mention all sorts of tape formats with superior characteristics. In 2005, nearly 90 percent of Americans owned VHS players. Nowadays, that number is 30 percent lower [source: Garber], but considering the age of VHS, still an impressive sign of this technology's longevity.
You really should let go of VHS. Let streaming media take over the ribbons of tape you're hoarding in your closet. The time has come.
At a time when pocket-sized cameras are peaking in quality, they're also becoming spectacularly unnecessary. Like so many other consumer gadgets, these cameras will fall victim to smartphones, if only for a single reason -- no one wants to carry both a smartphone and a camera.
It's not that smartphones always take great pictures. Most models only do a serviceable job of image making. The simple convenience of the camera-in-your-phone concept, though, is just easier than cramming yet another device into your pockets or purse. That's why in 2010, manufacturers sold about 132 million compact cameras, and three years later, about 50 million fewer [source: Wakabayashi].
There are still plenty of smartphone holdouts, of course, and those people will still enjoy the increasing quality and power of small cameras. For everyone else, though, pocket cameras will fade like Polaroid prints hanging in direct sunlight.
It's like a modern air force versus ancient foots soldiers. There's not really a competition. It's a just a matter of how long until the airborne forces of cellular technology finally stamp out ground-based landline phones for good.
For years, many families carried both services. They'd have cell phones for convenience and then use their traditional landlines as emergency backup (or for Internet service at home). Most younger consumers under the age of 30 don't see the point of paying for both landline and cell service, so nearly 70 percent don't have landlines at all. In an age when at least 90 percent of Americans have cell phones, landline numbers will only continue to dwindle [source: Sparshott].
All technologies change and evolve, even those like land-based telephone service, which has connected humans all over the planet for decades. No matter how important they may have been, they'll all eventually be replaced by something newer and more convenient.
Virtual reality makes it easier — and a little more fun — for sick kids to deal with painful medical procedures. Find out more at HowStuffWorks.
Author's Note: 10 Gadgets That Really Should Be Obsolete By Now
I first accessed the Internet using a 300 baud dial-up modem. Sometimes it took several minutes to connect to a particular online bulletin board. Data transfer was so slow, even for simple text, that I could actually read the lines as they appeared, one by one, on my monochrome computer screen. When I finally got my hands on a 4800 baud modem, my life changed. Suddenly, entire pages of text flashed to my computer at once. I could download thousands of bytes per hour. I am not nostalgic for obsolete technologies. I drop-kick them into the recycling bin and say thanks for speedier, better gadgets at every turn.
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