22 Things That Have Become Obsolete Since 2000
Fare thee well, VCRs, fax machines, and pagers.
When we think of how far we’ve come since the year 2000, it’s easy to focus on what we’ve gained. We’ve gotten iPods, smart phones, driverless cars, text messaging, GPS, social media, Wikipedia, every TV show and movie in human existence available on demand, and an AI-based computer that can kick anybody’s butt at Jeopardy. It’s amazing and wonderful—no doubt about it. But what about what we’ve lost—the things that no longer exist? Cue the “in memoriam” theme music as we take a moment to look back at 22 things that everybody took for granted in the 20th century but have become almost entirely obsolete today.
Wait, wait, hear us out. In high schools and even colleges, there was a specific room on campus where they kept all the computers. No, seriously, all of them. Nobody had their own computer. Back then that was as absurd as saying “I could fly commercial, but I prefer to fly my own plane.” So you went to these rooms and used one of the computers, and then you left and you didn’t have access to a computer again until you went back to that room!
The busy signal
It’s really strange the obsolete things you miss. Back in the days of landlines, calling somebody and getting a busy signal used to be annoying. But today, in an age of digital phones, we’d give anything to hear a busy signal. Because if you heard one, you had some solid information. The person you were trying to reach was home, just on another call. Going straight to voicemail can mean anything. But that beep-beep-beep was a reason for hope!
Watching crappy daytime TV on sick days
You know why so many people who came of age in the late 20th century have such fond memories of former Price Is Right host Bob Barker? Because when we stayed home sick from school and watched TV all day, we always ended up watching The Price Is Right because it was the only thing on. It was that or some terrible soap opera or the local news. Can you imagine anyone today watching a game show they were vaguely interested in over and over and over because it was the only option?
DVDs arrived in the U.S. in 1997, and it didn’t take long for the new format to make VCRs feel like cave drawings. It looked bad when The Washington Post gave the obsolete products a tongue-in-cheek obit in 2005—”It passed away peacefully after a long illness caused by chronic technological insignificance and a lack of director’s commentary tracks”—but when Japanese newspaper Nikkei rang the death knell for VCRs last summer, it was officially over.
Getting film developed
Walking past a “film processing” desk at a pharmacy can be downright creepy. It’s like driving by an abandoned drive-in movie theater. You want to crane your neck just to get a better look, as if maybe you’ll see the ghosts of former customers, picking up their photos and saying, “I can’t believe I got these developed in under 24 hours!” Next time you’re there, take three dozen photos of the film-developing station with your phone, then look at them immediately, just to remind yourself how far we’ve come.
Dot matrix printers
The only places where perforated printouts still reign supreme are at thrift-store “electronics” sections and car rental offices. Even though they were a pain during their prime, especially when they jammed (which was, you know, always), we can’t help but get a little misty-eyed when we hear the purring of a dot matrix in action.
If there’s no picture on your TV in 2017, it just means you didn’t pay your cable bill. But even then, we never get the electromagnetic noise that was so frustrating (and weirdly comforting) for several generations of TV watchers. It seems that younger generations hardly even own televisions because everything is available from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Phone sex ads in the back of free weeklies
Free city weeklies were once overstuffed with content, with the last dozen or so pages taken up almost entirely with ads for phone sex services like 1-900-Hot-Sexx. You can still get news for free and pay to have women talk dirty to you, but it all happens on computers today. Or smartphones, which we as all know are just tiny computers.
Is it possible that future generations will never know the horrors of sitting through an aunt’s vacation photos in a living room slide projector show that feels like waterboarding torture in which you have to pretend to smile? How is that remotely fair?
When was the last time you made a new friend and he or she said to you, “Let’s keep in touch. Wanna exchange fax numbers?” Okay, maybe that didn’t even happen in the 20th century. The point is, nobody has a fax machine anymore! And if you have one, nobody wants the number, because nobody is going to send you a fax on one of those obsolete products. Ever.
Polaroid “instant” pictures
Kids today have it so easy. For them, an “instant” picture is any image they capture on their smartphone, and it’s accessible nanoseconds after taking it. But with Polaroids—which ceased making instant film in 2008—”instant” meant “in a few minutes, after you shake the photo violently for some reason and then wait and wait and wait for what seems like an eternity for the image to sloooooowly appear.” It’s hard to believe that we were ever so patient with these obsolete things.
Phones were once connected to walls with fiber optic cables. No, I’m totally not kidding. They worked just like any other phone, except there was no screen, or Internet connection, and it didn’t tell you the time, and it had zero apps.
Paying for pornography
Yes, in the old days you had to make an effort and buy magazines with pictures of carnal exchanges at your local convenience stores, or movies of dirty people being dirty at your local video rental shop (yet another obsolete thing). But then you had to face another human being, and say, “I would like to pay you money to take this magazine or video with images of people engaged in sex home with me and… well, you know… Please don’t judge me.” But of course they were judging you.
To connect to the Internet once required a phone line (see #14 above) which you would plug into your computer. Then your computer would attempt to “call” the Internet. It was a whole thing. And then sometimes your connection would get interrupted if somebody in the house picked up another phone, and you’d yell, “Mom! I’m trying to check my email!” Compared to what we’re used to, it was a nightmare. But there was something about that sound, the jarring electronic caterwauling that meant you were aaaaaaalmost online. In a way, this sound became one of the many icons of the obsolete products of decades past.
Before every car and cellular phone came with their own global positioning systems, it was entirely possible that you could venture out into the world and not have any idea where you were. It was called “being lost,” and you either had to find somebody to give you directions or find a map (see above.) Or maybe you’d just stay lost, and keep wandering until you stumbled onto something familiar, or just figured out where you were going out of dumb luck. Being lost wasn’t so bad, if you can believe it. It was a weird thrill to have no clue when, or even if, you’d arrive at your destination. Nowadays, this would cause pure panic.
CD case binders
There’s a whole lot that feels conspicuously absent now that music has become digitized and is no longer a physical thing. Nobody owns a Walkman or Discman anymore. But one of the weirdest obsolete products is the CD binder, which you’d fill up with music before a car trip or any outdoor excursion, and then invariably realize too late that you forgot the one CD you wanted to hear. Darn you, limited number of plastic storage sleeves!
There was a weird thrill to showing up for a first date and having no idea what the other person looked like. No more. Thanks, Tinder.
Kids today not only can’t write in cursive, but some of them also can’t even read it. Does it matter? Other than signing a check (another thing we stopped doing in the last decade), cursive might very well be a lost art. Sure it’s cool, but it’s cool like being able to read Beowulf in the original Old English is cool. It doesn’t have real-world applications.
Pre-2000, a cloud was a collection of condensed water vapor hovering in the sky. It’s what made rain, not where you stored all of your computer files. If you wanted to save important documents, you needed something like a floppy disk, which could hold up to 240 MB of memory. But then came the floppy-less iMac in 1998, and eventually the iCloud, which made floppies seem adorably quaint. If you still have dozens of floppy disks, don’t throw them out just yet. You can repurpose them as a plant holder, among other things.
Library card catalogs
You know what would be a far more entertaining version of The Hunger Games? A bunch of kids from 2017 compete in a death match where they have to find a book in the library using only the Dewey decimal system. In the end, everybody gets paper cuts and nobody finds their book.
These were like tiny computers whose only job—only job—was to do math. That was literally all it did. You couldn’t do any other thing with it besides add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Oh sure, it could make some amusing swear words. 8008 kinda looked like BOOB. And type in 7734 and then turn the calculator upside down and it looked like HELL. But you definitely couldn’t get the weather, your email, or play Minecraft on it.
If even drug dealers don’t want to use these obsolete products anymore, they’ve officially outlasted their cultural usefulness.
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