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- As technology advances, things that were once innovative and groundbreaking are becoming obsolete.
- In the past 20 years along, VHS tapes, one-hour photo labs, and phone booths are some of the things that have almost completely disappeared.
- Here are nine things that have become obsolete in the past 20 years.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Technology is always hurtling forward.
A little over a century ago, entire industries related to horse-drawn transportation disappeared overnight with the advent of the automobile. More recently, advances in music recording technology have helped us transition from records to cassettes, CDs, and finally MP3s and digital streaming.
While you might not be consciously aware of the feverish pace of change today, it’s easy to look back on dozens of technologies that are now completely obsolete thanks to the march of progress.
Read on to see nine things that have become utterly obsolete in the last 20 years, from VCRs to PDAs, and much more.
One-hour photo labs used to occupy street corners and malls — now there are fewer than 200 still standing in America.
Smartphone cameras have made photography a mundane activity.
But for decades, taking pictures with a camera meant choosing photographic movements carefully, since rolls of film held a finite number of shots and required taking the film to be processed and printed.
As technology improved in the late 1970s, week-long photo processing services often performed by specialty camera shops gave way to one-hour photo labs. These labs popped up in department stores, grocery stores, camera shops, and even stand-alone huts with pricey street-corner real estate.
At their peak in 1993, there were7,600 one-hour labs in the US, andanother 14,700 so-called mini-labsinside chain stores like Kmart. If you didn’t live through the 1980s and 1990s, it’s hard to visualize just how common these stores were.
Of course, it’s no surprise what happened to one-hour photo labs, and photo developers in general. As digital cameras and smartphones hit the market, the need for photo developers disappeared virtually overnight.
In 2015,Bloomberg reportedthat no other US business had declined as much in the preceding 15 years as one-hour photo labs, and by that year, there were just 190 stores still operating anywhere in the country.
For two decades, every computer came with a floppy disk drive to load programs.
The floppy disk’s history is inextricably tied to the growth of the personal computer.
It was called a “floppy” drive because the data disc was enclosed in a flexible sheath, but the name stuck even for the far more rigid 3.5-inch version which quickly became standard equipment on PCs for the next two decades.
Until the rise of CDs, floppy disks were the standard medium for how software was packaged, sold, and installed. It wasn’t unusual, for example, to get a box with a dozen floppy disks to install a large program (Microsoft Office 97 came on 55 floppy disks). Eventually, not only did software become too large, but even a single user file — like an MP3 song file — couldn’t fit on a floppy,which held just 1.44MB.
Despite how universal the floppy was, there was enormous interest in replacing it for standard file transfers. In the mid-1990s, many consumers owned storage drives like theIomega Zip drive, which read interchangeable 100MB cartridges, for example, and around 2000,USB flash drivesfinally offered a simple, affordable, and high-capacity solution that’s still routinely used today.
1998 was the beginning of the end for the venerable floppy. Apple unveiled the iMac G3,the first personal computer without a floppy, and PC makers slowly followed suit over the next few years. Floppies hung on for a number of years, but Sony — the last floppy disk maker on earth —stopped manufacturing disks in March of 2011.
Even though floppy disks are now totally obsolete, they live on as the “save” icon on many computer programs — even if young peoplehave no idea what it is.
Personal Digital Assistants were the precursor to smartphones.
Personal Digital Assistants, known as PDAs, took the world by storm in the 1990s.
It’s not hard to see why — they were proto-smartphones, able to give people their first taste of pocket-sized mobile computing. PDAs stored contact information, ran apps, played games, and some could do more media-savvy tasks like play music and video and access the internet.PayPal actually got its start on PDAsas an app that let Palm Pilot users exchange money.
The ’90s were a busy decade for tech companies trying to invent the perfect handheld device, but many will agree that Apple kickstarted the PDA movement in 1993 with itsNewton MessagePad, which recognized plain-English handwriting. But the devices most people actually bought were thePalm Pilot(which emerged in 1996) andMicrosoft’s Pocket PC, both of which became, if just for a few years, essential business tools.
Of course, it’s not hard to see why they faded away. PDAs were Jurassic-era smartphones, and they could only exist as long as no one took the inherent features of a PDA and added the ability to make phone calls. When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, it seamlessly integrated into everyday life in a way PDAs never could. Palm stopped making pure PDAs by 2007, butlaunched an unsuccessful smartphone called the Palm Pre in 2009.
For decades, teachers used overhead projectors to beam their lessons onto screens.
The overhead projector was a permanent fixture in schools and officesfor almost 50 years.
The projection system displayed images on a wall or screen by shining a bright lamp up through a transparency and into a mirror that diverted the light by 90 degrees forward.
Overhead projectors were simple devices, but required the document be transparent. For almost any student from the ’60s through the ’90s, teachers writing on a transparency sheet projecting onto the wall would be a familiar sight.
In the 2000s, overhead projectors began to be displaced by a number of newer technologies. Schools began to adoptinteractive white boardswhich let teachers project digital documents like PowerPoint presentations and other more engaging content.
While there are certainly still overhead projectors in use in some schools, the market for these devices has evaporated. 3M, a company that made projectors for more than 50 years,stopped manufacturing them in 2015.
Thanks to VCRs, every home had movies on VHS tapes you had to rewind.
Imagine being able to watch a movie at home, whenever you wanted. Or see an episode of “Mork and Mindy” that you missed because you got home too late.
It was hard to imagine this any time before about 1977, butthat’s when the VHS video recorder debuted. (The platform defeated Sony’s Betamax largely because it wasless expensive and tapes could store two hours rather than one.)
VHS was a staple of home entertainment through the ’80s and well into the ’90s. VCRs enabled time-shifting, or recording a broadcast show to watch later. And they also gave birth to video rental stores, which in 1988,numbered in the tens of thousandsin the US. Picking up a movie to rent on Friday night was America’s pastime.
VCRs didn’t become obsolete overnight, but died slowly. Videophiles embraced the LaserDisc format, andby 1998, there were 2 million LaserDisc households. DVD playersentered the market in 1997, followed byboth HD DVD and Blu-ray.
In 1998, the VCR industry tried its hand at high definition withHD VHS. ButNetflix’s first streaming plandelivered perhaps the fatal blow to analog movie tapes in 2007. Funai, the last company on earth making VCRs,stopped production in 2016.
Classified ads kept print newspapers in business for more than a century — but Craigslist made quick work of them.
Perhaps the oldest thing on this list to die, classified ads made newspapers profitable for most of a century.
Thefirst modern classified sectionwas published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger shortly after the end of the Civil War. By some accounts, as the 20th century progressed, non-personal classifieds accounted for as much as40% of newspaper revenue. It was the go-to resource for people to buy and sell household items, find used cars, and look for employment.
By the mid-1990s, though, the internet was siphoning classified business away from newspapers. Conventional wisdom is that one site in particular — Craigslist — single-handedly killed newspaper classified ads, since the site was easy to use and most ads were free. In 2006, theEconomist wrote thatCraigslist founder “Craig Newmark … has probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers’ income.”
In 2010, Poynter reported thatclassified ad revenue was down 70% in the previous 10 years.
Once upon a time, most people carried paper road maps in their cars.
Road maps were a staple of American cars for decades.
After theconstruction of the interstate highway system, it became popular for companies like Rand McNally tocreate road maps for oil companies, who typically gave maps away at gas stations. By the mid-1960s, at least200 million such road maps had been given away.
Predictably, GPS navigation has severely constrained road map sales — they’re simply not essential anymore. Road maps started to lose their value in the late 1990s, when sites like MapQuest let users create turn-by-turn directions and print them on their home printer.
Eventually, cars started being designed with built-in GPS, and today, even that innovation isn’t essential, thanks to smartphones with GPS and map apps.
Nowadays, state tourism departments are printing far fewer maps, if any at all. In 2012, Pennsylvania was only printinga quarter of the 3 million maps it dida decade earlier, and Washington state stopped entirely. And while Rand McNally continues to sell maps, good luck finding someone you know who has one in their car.
MP3 players were basically iPhones that couldn’t make phone calls.
Like PDAs, MP3 players are a technology that had a brief, shining moment in the spotlight. The very first model,MPMan F10, hit retail in 1998, and the entire category wasdeclared essentially dead by 2012, thanks to the rise of the smartphone.
There was perhaps no better signal that MP3s were actually obsolete than the fact that by 2014 Apple had discontinued most iPods, the product line that virtually defined the MP3 player.Even Steve Jobs understood this was happening— he once called the iPhone “the best iPod we’ve ever made.”
But while they were around, MP3 players were a revelation for people who wanted music on the go. They were better than portable cassette players because they had no moving parts, and were often smaller.
But at the start, MP3 players were clumsy devices. They generally required you to copy a limited amount of music onto the device via a cable or to copy tracks to a memory card, and then insert it into the player. Later devices could sync with the desktop computer, but often still lacked memory — theRio PMP300, a popular player from 1998, shipped with 32MB. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, a refined take on the concept of the portable music player, and became the most popular player on the market.
In the end, MP3 players disappeared for the same reason that so many things have become obsolete — it was completely subsumed by smartphones.
And just 20 years ago there were 2 million phone booths standing in the US.
There was a time not that long ago when finding a phone booth was about as easy as walking down any city street. But by the time the Colin Farrell movie “Phone Booth” was made in 2003, the film’s producers said that thelast phone booth in Manhattan had been removedwhile the movie was being filmed in the city.
There was an unintended reason phone booths became so popular in the first place.
In 1967, the US Supreme Court ruled thatpeople had a Fourth Amendment right to privacy at phone booths, and so they quickly became a haven for criminals to conduct business on the streets. Regardless of why they were used, phone booths were ubiquitous — there were more than amillion phone booths in the US by 1960, and by 1999,there were 2 million.
While it’s no mystery why pay phones are less popular today than they were a few decades ago — everyone carries a phone in their pocket — there were public policy factors at work as well. As reported in the Atlantic, a number of cities spent the last few decadesquietly working to remove pay phonesor zone them out of existence in efforts to reduce crime.