22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

We live in an era of accelerating technological change, and with it, accelerated rates of obsolescence. Here are 22 antiquated technologies that are actually quite young -- and which people thought would be around for much longer than they were.

1. Folding Maps

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

The advent of GPS has all but killed the humble printed map. Just make sure you have one of these handy for after the apocalypse. Image: Paper Pastries.

2. Dial-up Modems

Remember this sound?

3. Cigarettes

Thanks to e-cigarettes, the conventional cigarette is, for all intents and purposes, obsolete. Because -- let's face it -- it only ever served as a nicotine delivery device.

"Culturally speaking, I think it will be the most disruptive technology of the next five years," says Jayar LaFontaine, a Foresight Strategist at Idea Couture. "Traditional tobacco companies, Valley start ups, pharmaceuticals -- everyone is looking to vapour technologies. As Frank Underwood once said in House of Cards, 'It's addiction without the consequences.'"

4. Print Media

Though paper and printing technology are over 1,000 years old, the mass production of printed books dates back to the nineteenth century. And the printed newspapers and magazines of that "modern" era are now passe. With the Internet at our fingertips, we no longer have any use for phone books, print catalogues, and encyclopedias, either.

The death of print media like newspapers goes beyond affecting how you read about today's events. Classified ads, long a method for people to connect up or advertise items for sale, have died out with newspapers.

5. All Sorts of Data Storage Media

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

Many formats that were once ubiquitous have now gone the way of the dodo, such as floppy disks (including 20cm, 5 1/4-inch, and 3 1/2-inch), zip disks, and jaz disks. A strong case can be made that CDs and even DVDs are also done. Image: Wikimedia commons.

6. All Sorts of Graphical and Video Media Storage

We once ridiculed the demise of Sony's Betamax video cassette format, but VHS has also gone to dead format heaven, as have clunky laser disks. Other deceased formats include analogue slides (along with slide projectors and hand-held slide viewers) and analogue film (including photo developing, film splicing, disposable film cameras -- and Kodak, for that matter -- photo albums, and flash cubes).

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

As graphic designer Benjamin Moogk told me, "It took some time for CMOS sensors to exceed the ability of chemical film, but we're here. Digital was convenient for a long time, but was limited in dynamic range. Clipping in the highlights and shadows was common. I remember the first Hot Docs where digital movies outnumbered those shot on 16mm. Just look at how the iPhone is killing the point and shoot market for cameras." Image: Roman Samokhin/Shutterstock.

7. All Sorts of Audio Players and Media Storage

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

As noted, CDs (including portable CD players) and DVDs are basically dead, but so are 1/4 inch cassette tapes (strangely, my 16-year-old son thinks these are cool, but he's struggling to understand why he can only listen to Side B when he's reached the end of Side A), walkmans, vinyl records (except as novelty items and for DJs... ok, maybe vinyl is not so obsolete). The DAT (digital audio tape) is also done. And, of course, the old-fashioned record is dead and buried.

This situation has affected a lot more than the items you use to record media. An entire industry devoted to record stores and videocassette/DVD rentals has fallen apart as older media storage formats have become obsolete.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

8. Various Computer Ports

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has certainly lived up to its name, eliminating ports for such external devices as printers, mice, and keyboards (e.g. RS-232 & PS/2 ports).

Related: Future condoms | Retrofuturistic rotary cell phones

9. Pulse Telephone Networks and Rotary Phones

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

This telecommunications signalling technology was first made irrelevant in 1963 following Bell's dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) technology, and then later with the introduction of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Image: BrAt82/Shutterstock.

10. Landlines

Fixed home phones that use a solid medium telephone line, such as a metal wire or fibre optic cable, are still used by over a billion subscribers. But both you and I know it ain't meant to last.

11. Answering Machines

Pretty standard in all mobile phones now.

12. Cathode Ray Tube Televisions

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

The introduction of plasma and LED screens finally put an end to these ridiculously deep television sets. But they're not completely useless.

13. Dedicated MP3 Players

Like so many items on this list, it's not so much that these technologies have become obsolete as they have evolved or become integrated within other technologies. The MP3 player, which is now standard on any mobile device, is a prime example.

14. Dedicated Wristwatches

Yes, wristwatches still exist today, but their ability to tell time is now secondary to their primary functions, like GPS and biometrics.

15. Public Pay Phones

Can't find one? I'm sure the person next to you has a mobile phone.

16. Phones That Allow Neck Cradling

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

Old phones were awesome because you could actually cradle them in the crook of your neck, leaving both of your hands free -- and you didn't have to put the person you're talking to on annoying speaker phone.

17. Typewriters

Absolutely, totally dead, dead, dead.

18. Analogue Radio Transmissions

Radio as we not isn't going anywhere just yet in Australia, but will likely more fully switch to digital radio transmissions and face competition with streaming audio and podcasts.

19. NTSC Broadcasting for Television

22 Obsolete Technologies That People Thought Would Last Forever

And thank goodness for that. Long live high-definition television! Today, most countries have switched to newer digital television standards.

20. Pagers

They were also called beepers, but they're now referred to as relics of the past.

21. Traditional Design Tools

Thanks to CAD/CAM (Computer aided design and computer aided machining), desktop computer design applications, and robotic manufacturing, we can now say goodbye to ink, brushes, gouache, rule pens, drafting tables, and rub-down letters.

22. Dot Matrix Printers

Can't say I miss these -- particularly when they jammed.

Please add any I missed to comments!



    Agree with everything except wristwatches. I will always wear my analog wristwatch.

      Yep, I'm with you - I intend to stick with my mechanical wristwatches.
      I still see way more traditional wristwatches than iwatches/ fitbits/ etc. but I would not be surprised if they do eventually become the norm.

        Yes I just got the moto 360 2nd and my biggest beef is the battery life which means I can only see the display for 2-3 seconds before it goes to a low power mode.
        I'm not big on the fitness stuff I just wanted the changeable watchfaces but I might revert back to my physical watch soon.

      +1. My analogue watch will outlive any current smartwatch for years to come.

        Yeah yeah....that's what they said with VHS too :)

          VHS' filled a void that was superceded by alternatives.

          Analogue timepieces serve a fundamentally simple purpose; keeping time.
          For a lot of people, that's all it needs to do, and has for centuries.

          There's also the element of sentimental value. Smartwatches (to me) have limited longevity and don't have the same qualities.

          This might not appeal to some, but it does to others.

          Granted, whether it's fate is sealed with the advent of Smartwatches remains to be seen.

          If traditional watches are no more, I'm likely to ditch wearing a timepiece altogether...

          Last edited 26/04/16 4:59 pm

      +1. Smartwatches are nonsense and if I bother to wear my fitness band (which has < 2 day battery life and a proprietary charger so most of the time the thing's dead) then I'd wear it in addition to my vastly nicer looking and better fitting analog watch.

      I thought that way too.....then came : "they thought the horse and CART would last forever too":)

        To me, the primary purpose of wristwatches is to denote status. Hence Rolex, Omega, Longines and Cartier. These waches say "I drive a S class", even if you don't. My watch is a Rado - perhaps a "I drive a 3" message. A smartwatch gives you a status of "I drive a Toyota Camry".

    we only got rid of our rotary phone last year, poor thing finally died.

    I wouldnt say vinyl is dead yet its actually making a resurgence at the moment

    Disagree with...


    Here's why.

    Maps: GPS is great and all. Except when it fails. Occam's Razor exists for a reason. The more complex you build a solution, the more parts it relies on to work, the greater it's ability to fail. The battery can run down. The device itself can be physically damaged in a fall. There are too many ways for it to fail. Hence, paper maps. Granted, their application is limited but it is not yet obsolete. In particular, I'm thinking of outdoor orienteering and until such time as the sort of military grade communications system the US is trialling for navigation becomes a public thing, maps will still have their place.

    Cigarettes: E-Cigs are sure disruptive. They're disruptive like hoverboards. You look like a douche using one, they have a tendency to catch on fire and the health risks are always present. On top of that, Big Tobacco is not going to let their cash cow die a quiet death. E-Cigs might seem like a redundancy but they are simply another, slightly more expensive way to consume the same product. It's an upgrade but not a replacement.

    Watches: The reasoning for this is a little off beat but again, goes back to the same reasoning for maps. Watches can be mechanically simple or mechanically complex but can be built to be more robust than a phone while still fulfilling it's original purpose. On top of that, their are environments and professions where having a phone or any device storing a lithium-ion battery on your person is a no-go. So, watches still have their place. Again, not obsolete, just slightly more niche.

    I still love magazines, books and newspapers. Ebooks, and other print media will never completely replace them, although I equally love my digital media.

    I meant to say: Ebooks, and other 'digital' media.....

    Traditional watches are no more dead than necklaces, bracelets, rings or other jewellery. People wear them because they like them, not because they need them. And in 5 years time, your Omega will still be worth thousands when your Apple watch is in the scrap heap.

    Not many would recall the *Slide Rule*. logarithms, trig, calculus etc. Every piece of engineering on this planet (prior to the 60's) buildings, bridges, ships, planes, trains and automobiles were designed using it. - before Computer Aided Design (Cad) came about.The only device ever used prior to the invention of the mechanical and then the humble electronic scientific calculator we all had a school. I am showing my age.

      I had a circular slide rule given to me by my uncle once, but I never got a handle on using it except for basic multiplication.

      I remember the fuss when digital calculators were finally made a standard requirement in school (they even had a recommended model - the Casio FX-82) and the fuss about how kids would forget basic arithmetic skills. It's an argument that ignores the fact that the minutes you spend multiplying two N-digit numbers can actually be used for something productive (such as real maths, which is mostly symbol manipulation) instead.

      There are a few old Heinlein stories where the importance of "slipstick" skills are hailed; apparently no good engineer is complete without a high-quality slide rule.

      Yay, someone remembers slide rules but even worse was log tables.

      Also old programming languages. I'm not sure how much the old Fortran is used these days...

      I think the mathematical concepts are timeless and I sometimes use logs to keep my eye in.

    The facsimile machine needs to be added to your list - they're pretty much obsolete.
    Mind you, just two weeks ago a Real Estate company I purchased a property through wanted me to fax them a document. A work mate told me it was to do with a signature via fax being recognised as a legal document, but not one sent via email -- not sure if that is correct, but sounds plausible. Fortunately work had a system to fax via an online app.

      That is correct. Which is ludicrous, you can scan a fax, paste in a signature sample or clone letters and numbers with microsoft paint, set the colour depth back to black/white only, clean up any scraggy pixels then reprint it and fax it back. Fax needs to die.

      RS232 should be off the list, it is still alive and well in process control systems. There's a reason toughbooks come with serial ports, and a reason companies are willing to pay so much to buy toughbooks.

      Pagers are still heavily used in hospitals in Australia and a few industrial applications too, and mostly unencrypted so anyone in the carpark with a radio scanner and a PC can look at all sorts of information. They have their place, nothing beats them for notifying a whole team at once for urgent problems. It's too risky to depend on an outside mobile network.

      Landlines should be off the list, you will always have a cable to your house, it might be glass, but it's still a landline. It's just impossible to move entirely to radio and increasingly so with increased data demands.

      Satellite TV will be on the list soon, it's a huge bandwidth consumer and satellites are eye wateringly expensive, that bandwidth is better used for remote internet services. Tv will move to the on-demand streamed model like netflix. (refer to recent article for the value for money of foxtel)

      I thought this was a tech site? Writers seem to be a little out of touch with technology.

      Last edited 30/03/16 11:32 am

        100% agree with you.. Landlines aren't going anywhere, particularly without a reasonable substitute. Hell, I can't even get decent 3G at home, let alone 4G. Landlines are essential.

        If you're getting rid of landlines I can understand you'd bundle in answering machines too, but you'll find many cordless landline phones that still contain an answering machine. Not obsolete yet, and nobody thought they'd last forever.

        I still use serial ports at least once a week when I get called out to a problematic router and need to console in. Little-used, sure... obsolete? Not yet. Nowhere near. Not until every new router has a USB console port, and every old router has been replaced. I've tried the USB->Serial options and they just don't hold up as well as you want them to.

        Couldn't agree more with Satellite TV, either.. that's being quickly replaced by streaming services that don't require satellites.

      Japan will probably end up being one of the last bastions for fax. You can still buy brand new fax machines here!

      Email an lawyer. They may get their secretary to read them once a week.

    What makes these particular technologies ones people thought would last?

    Folding maps are not dead. You would be a fool to go serious bushwalking without a map backup. Having said that I have done many trips without a paper map but that is just a consequence of the destruction of our environment, A road was always in a least one cardinal direction if I got a bit lost.

    For the most part I can agree with this. But there are a few things I would like to think will be with us for a long time to come.

    Are the frame rates different around the world for DTV ?

    Hospitals still tend to use pagers, because they use a different network to mobile phones. Often, hospitals will run their own paging network, so if there's an outage in the telephone network, they can still use the paging network.

    Just about everything on this list still exists and is in use. Fail giz.

    Tearing the strips off the sides of the paper used for dot matrix printers was half the fun !

      dot matrix printers are still in use by stores who want to print duplicate receipts

    Thanks to e-cigarettes, the conventional cigarette is, for all intents and purposes, obsolete.Something that is consumed almost 6 trillion times a year - and rising - is obsolete?

    I think people are confusing obsolete with popularity.

    Mini discs- anybody want a couple? Ah, miss my pager, looked so important when it went off at the pub. "'Scuse me, I'm needed" (yes I was -am?- a wanker). My partner still uses a pager at work (hospital) occasionally.

    Coax ethernet. (and 10Mb ethernet in general). Ethernet hubs (now universally replaced by switches and/or wifi.) Character terminals. (While I realise there is some relevance there for the blind, I believe the actual "display" is braille now and if there's a visual display then it's bitmapped.)

    RF modulators. Printer/plotters. Vector-based graphical displays (as in the old Vectrex.)

    Video CD. Goodness that was a bad format. It was pushed as better than VHS... except it frequently wasn't.

    Printed encyclopedias. I boxed up my printed Britannica this week, as I've barely used it in the 18 years or so since I first bought it. (The first edition of Britannica released digitally cost over a thousand dollars.)

    IDE hard drives. Joystick/MIDI ports on PCs. (What do musicians use to interface with PCs now? USB-based MIDI connectors?)

    Phone books.

    Maps are still widely used and won't be disappearing any time soon. Aviation and Military still use them when the GPS is not operational.

    Cigarettes won't be going anytime soon, that's how the government kill its people and steal their money.

    For everything else, I don't see them lasting at all.

    We looked at silver halide photographs and the copies in books and newspapers for over a hundred years, I suppose JPGs can be read 50 years from now but what about magnetic media?
    What will JPGs be stored on for future generations? The cloud? Problem is clouds and servers go broke or change hands, If Fred Bloggs the photographer who died a couple of years ago has a massive archive of modern buildings how will that be accessed by people in 2050 who want to know what was in this street at the turn of the century?

    Typewriters? I Plan on using mine to type on aluminium foil scrolls in the next dark age.

    Pay for play arcade games, hard drives, lithium batteries, cash, s-video/ scart, etc.

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