The forgotten gadgets of the 1980s-90s – Newspaper

The forgotten gadgets of the 1980s-90s – Newspaper

The later part of the 20th century was an incredible time of technological advancement, with gadgets and gizmos that people once thought were only possible in science fiction. It was the decade in which technology developed rapidly and people began to understand the potential of the breakthroughs taking place in science and technology.

The things you use today are the advanced version of the gadgets that were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, today’s USB has a capacity of terabytes (1,000 GB makes 1 TB), while the poor eight-inch floppy disks of the 90s had the storage capacity of about 80 kilobytes (1,000 kb makes 1 MB).

The list of gadgets that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s is endless, some of these have been forgotten and discarded, while others have taken on modern forms. A nostalgic trip down memory lane will take us back to a time when the world was a much simpler place, and learn to embrace the inventions and changes.

Let’s examine some of these devices that were so revolutionary at the time and were an important part of life, but most of which have either become redundant or have taken new forms.

Walkmans: the portable music player

Back then, if you wanted to listen to music, there were cassette players, from handheld Walkman, to the bigger amplifiers with big speakers. There was no concept of Bluetooth or CDs; people would buy cassettes of their favorite singer or music and play them on the player, which rolled the black tape encrypted with data, that is the songs or music, into the cassette player (we won’t go into the science of those black not tires).

The Walkman was the name given to the very first pocket-sized cassette player ever released in the world. It was a device that allowed people to easily carry it with them to listen to music anywhere and anytime.

The Walkman was first introduced in Japan in 1979 and was declared the “product of the decade” by the International Institute for Industrial Advancement. This device also became the first electronic device to receive a Royal Warrant for supply to the British Royal Family.

Incredibly popular, this gadget changed the way people listened to music at the time and it spawned a whole generation of people dubbed “Walkman-heads”.

Tamagotchis: the digital pets of the 90s

The Tamagotchi was a virtual pet created in 1996 by the Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai. It was a pocket-sized electronic key fob toy that required constant care and attention from its owner.

If you fed and paid attention to the virtual creature represented on a small LCD screen via the few buttons on the device, it thrived. But if neglected, it will die—a surprisingly painful early lesson in loss for children and adults. This device is designed to teach children about responsibility and caring for people, pets and even plants.

Tamagotchi was released at the same time that the Internet became a common household item. This device became the very first online interactive toy in the world and sold more than 72 million units.

Game Boy: the portable video game console

Playing games on consoles is common today, but back in those days, kids had their first portable gaming experience on The Game Boy – the world’s first handheld video game console.

Launched in Japan in 1989, Game Boy allowed people to play their favorite video games on the go. It also paved the way for many other portable video game devices. But a year later, the release of the Nintendo DS replaced the Game Boy. So it is not wrong to say that Game Boy introduced millions of people to the world of video games and inspired a whole new generation of gamers.

VHS and VCR players: the home movie players

Nowadays, watching a movie is no longer a big deal as you have access to various local and international streaming services. But in the 90s there were no streaming services, and the only way to watch movies other than going to the theater was to buy a videocassette, just like the audios, and play it on a specific player called VHS (video home theater) and another variation was the VCR, videocassette recorder, which could also record.

As their name suggests, these devices allowed people to play videos on their television sets. The VHS player was introduced in Japan in 1976, while it was introduced in the US in mid-1977.

Pager: the portable communication device

The pager was the name given to the first portable communication device. It allowed people to communicate with each other without the need for wires like those of the telephone.

The pager was introduced in California in 1949, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the device became incredibly popular with the general public around the world. The use of pagers made things easier and people could easily contact each other. This concept was alien, but so attractive that everyone wanted one.

The device was very expensive and was incredibly popular with doctors and people working in the medical profession, enabling them to be in constant contact with their offices. The pager has become the symbol of technological progress.

Discman: the portable CD player

The Discman was the name given to the very first portable CD player to be released. The device is designed to play compact discs in a portable format, just like Walkman. The Discman was also introduced in Japan, but in 1984. It quickly became popular and inspired a generation of people to switch from cassette tapes to CDs. This device was incredibly popular among teenagers and young adults.

Digital dictionary

Knowing the meaning of the words within seconds fascinates everyone. But in the 90s, if you didn’t know the meaning of a word, you had to look it up in the big thick book called dictionary. But as it was the era of technological advancement, the book-form dictionary also saw its digitized facade – electronic dictionary. Although they have been around since the late 1970s, in 1986 George Miller planned the creation of the WordNet electronic dictionary to test psychological theories of semantic memory. Released in 1991, it provided alphabetical and taxonomic access to English definitions.

Over time, electronic dictionaries have evolved to have more and more options suitable for its very wide student user base. However, electronic dictionaries are technically outdated, and are indeed going out of fashion with some due to the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets.

The Internet: dial-up modems

Today, you only know about the devices that provide you WiFi and mobile services that provide you internet data packages. In those days, the dial-up modem was a breakthrough that allowed people to access the Internet and connect with information through their computers.

The dial-up modem was a device that allowed computers to connect to the Internet over telephone lines. Dialing in requires exclusive access to the telephone line; when connected to dial-up internet, the household cannot use the phone to make voice calls.

Soon DSL (Digital Subscriber’s Line) replaced it by achieving speeds more than 100 times that of dial-up through its advanced digital signal technology. DSL also operates at high signal frequencies that allow a household to use the same phone line for voice calls and Internet service.


Cell phones are an integral part of our lives, but not long ago, this device did not exist. In 1973, the first call from a handheld device was made with a brick-shaped phone that weighed about 2.4 pounds. Martin Cooper, a manager at Motorola, picked up the big device — one that only worked for 30 minutes of talk time after a 10-hour charge.

However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that these devices became common household items. The mobile phone enabled people to stay connected through voice calls even when they were away from their home or office. However, these were still the feature phones, with which you could make a call and type a text message, there was nothing like that of a modern smartphone.

Over the past half century, the mobile phone has gone through many transitions, from small to large, from thick to smooth thin body that is easier to carry around. It is a multitasking device that can perform all the tasks you do on a computer.


Ever since the computer came on the scene, people started questioning how to store the data. In 1972, IBM developed the floppy disk drive as a way to provide read-only magnetic storage. The disc was about eight inches; however, this version did not last long.

In the late 80s, wafer technology emerged to create chips and silicon, replacing magneto-optical methods. Then Toshiba pioneered the use of silicone, which allows a company to essentially print electronic servers; this gave way to silicon-based storage methods, or flash memory, as flash memory or USB drives.

In short, floppy disks could only hold small amounts of information, they were notoriously unreliable as data also “faded” on them, bulky and not suitable for proper archival purposes.

So if you think that the devices you use today and the technology you see are the first of their kind, remember that they have come a long way and are actually the result of the development that took place in the later part of the 20th . century when the world really started to embrace technology and changed the way people interact with each other today.

world wide web

In 1990, the first web browser called WorldWideWeb was released. Over the years, the web has had a profound and lasting effect on people’s lives. The web browser, along with the various web protocols, has made it possible for people to access the web from a wide range of different operating systems and devices. This made it so that people without technical training could easily click and browse from one website to the next.

Film camera and digital camera

To take a picture, you don’t need to buy a film and put it in the camera, it only takes a few seconds to take the mobile phone, focus and click. Isn’t it super easy?

But children, a few decades back, were also an art of taking a picture and needed a device of its own. The invention of the camera is over a century old and the device has evolved over time. From a larger one invented by George Eastwood, to the portable ones with Oskar Barnack’s 35mm camera, and Edward Land’s Polaroid.

In the 1990s, the world saw the advent of digital photography and companies like Nikon, Canon and Leica joined the race by adding advanced components to their cameras such as interchangeable lenses, light meters, flash, etc. Interestingly, most of which are now easily available to you in mobile phones.

At first, the digital camera was too expensive to buy, but the increased competition and advancements in technology brought about a decrease in prices for digital cameras. And as smartphones emerged, cameras, both film and digital, became obscure and limited to those who liked photography the old-fashioned way.

Published in Dawn, Young World, December 17, 2022

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