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Gadgets we couldn’t live without, but are now gone

If there is one thing that has become constant in the modern world, it is that everything changes. This is especially true of technology, it seems some new tech or gadget appears every week to transform our lives. Everything promises to have a huge impact and be something we cannot live without, but sometimes new gadgets really do that, and become things we accept as part of life, right up to the point where it suddenly isn’t.

As Apple announce the death of the iPod, ceasing all manufacture of the simple MP3 player and leaving just the iPod Touch, which is essentially a stripped-down iPhone rather than a version of the game changing music player we have loved for so long, it’s time to take a look back at the gadgets we thought we would need forever, and now lost to the constant march of technology advancement.



They first appeared in the late 1970’s, and VCRs were the ultimate gadget for organizing your own TV schedule for over 20 years. Every home had one in the eighties, and by the nineties, every TV had one attached. In the early days,

VCRs really did change the way we watched TV, before that, you watched when a show was broadcast, or you missed it. It has been like that since the first TV broadcasts, but the VCR changed it all. Suddenly, you could record shows while you were out, and watch them when you got home. It may sound ridiculous to think of that as a revolution now, but at the time, it really was.

Then came the DVR, and suddenly we had something better, no tape to wear out, the cat couldn’t get hold of a DVD and ruin it in quite the same way it could a tape either, even picture quality was better. By 2002 DVD sales overtook VCRs for the first time, and today, the VCR exists only in dusty boxed in basements and garages all over the world, and of course a museum or two.

The Pager

It is hard for some to accept, but there was a time when mobile phones did not exist, the dark times. But even after the first mobiles appeared, they were so expensive that most people couldn’t really afford them, and in any case, they were so large they looked ridiculous. Instead of carrying around what at first glance appeared to be a grey colored house brick, the most popular gadget to stay in touch on the move was the pager.

A tiny, always connected device that allowed short messages or numbers to be sent, so the owner knew who to call back. Of course, once paged, if you were out and about, you had to then frantically search for a payphone so you call the number back in case it was an emergency. The rise of the mobile phone, as they became cheaper to own and much smaller and more convenient to use saw the end of the pager for most of us, although they do live on, being used in some places by emergency services for operator contact, due to their robust reliability. But there was a time when a pager was the way to contact someone wherever they were.

The Foldout Map

Ok, so you may not think a map is a gadget, but it really is. A gadget is something that helps us perform a task more conveniently, and a map does that. What road trip didn’t include a period of hours staring at a huge unfolded map trying to figure out where you went wrong and exactly where you are right now?

Until this decade, you wanted to know where you were and how to get to where you want to be, you needed a map. You could get into anyone’s car, and you could be sure to find two things, an empty Starbucks cup and at least one map. But now, in just a few short years, they have gone. First it was GPS then in car navigation, and finally Google Maps. When you have the whole world at your fingertips with voice directions, somehow the map seems irrelevant. And so it proved.

The Palm Pilot

The most famous of a whole type of gadget, the Palm Pilot was a PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant. In the nineties, these were the handheld PC we thought the future would bring, and they became incredibly popular. With a web browser and scheduling apps and other data management options, but they are most recognized for the stylus provided to work the early touchscreen.

PDAs shined brightly for a few years, providing on the move internet and business focused communications, calendar and email, and it seemed like the future really had arrived. Then came the iPhone and Android, and within a few years, everything a PDA could do, smartphones did better, in a smaller package that also did so much more. Today, most people have a smartphone, but very few have a PDA.


Finally, we talk about the most recent loss, the iPod. Some will argue, but it’s not too out there to say this is the lost gadget that had the most effect on the world. It didn’t create a new type of gadget, portable music players had been around since the cassette tape, but it defined what a portable music player is for an entire generation. It brought the MP3 to mainstream and without the iPod, would digital music have been so accepted so quickly?

The idea of digital music and music downloads being the way to buy stems from the iPod, so it can be argued that the iPod even created music streaming, the thing that ended it. That is always the mark of a legend. But really, the iPod influence went much deeper, the auto industry across the world brought out cars for a decade or more with specifically developed interface and functionality to work with an iPod. Not just one or two, all of them. That kind of influence really is unpresented.  Today iPod still means a portable MP3 player to millions, and yet the iPod itself is gone.

This is just five of our most missed gadgets, things we thought would be there forever, and yet today we have even better gadgets to replace them. As I look around my desk, I wonder what will be replaced next.

08 August 2017

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