Kids today can’t identify technology of 20 years ago

At Nicely Done Sites we use a lot of technology. We strive to stay at the cutting edge of new technology but it is also important to acknowledge that within a generation some of the technology that we use will be obsolete and only a memory. Our children or grandchildren will marvel at its primitiveness and snicker about it. It is hard to believe but things that are a staple of our lives today will be unknown in a generation.

Think back a generation…

Now first think about what computers were like even only 20 years ago. Windows 98 had just been released as had Pentium II chips. Typical RAM for one of these ancients was between 64 and 128 MB and hard drives typically did not exceed 50 GB, if you were lucky and had the money. DVD players were just becoming mainstream so most people still had CD-ROMs. Most computers of the time still came with 3 ½” floppy disk drives and some may have still had 5 ¼” drives though those were starting to become obsolete by then. A decent computer could cost around $1,000 or more.

In an article presented by the BBC that highlighted a YouGov study that surveyed more than 2,000 school age children in the UK to find out how much of their parents technology they were familiar with. The results were not surprising.

Floppy Disks

Anyone over the age of 30 should know what a floppy disk is. They have been in use since the 1960s and available to the public since the 1970s. They could store an impressive amount of information for the time (less than 1 MB for a 5 ¼” disk) and as they got smaller they could store more. At their peak there were over 5 billion in use in the 1990s. They are obsolete now, being replaced by external hard drives, thumb drives and cloud storage and because of that over ⅔ of the children surveyed did not know what a floppy disk is. The only remaining vestige of them is the save icon in a word processing program.

Teletype machines

There was a way to send information to masses of people before the Internet. News services used it to get anything from breaking news to sports scores to bring to their audience. It may be hard to believe but there was a time before 24/7 wall to wall news coverage when people got their daily news at 5:00 and 11:00. The two primary devices, Ceefax and Teletext were coveted devices to keep people in the know and remained in use until 2012. Only 6 years later only 14% of all kids have even heard of them. They must have been watching a movie and asked their parents about it.


At one time having a pager was the epitome of cool. You were so important that you needed to be reachable 24/7. Pagers were introduced in the 1950s with radio technology that allowed them to display a message. When you got that message, which was a phone number, you knew you needed to call it. Today our smartphones have rendered pagers obsolete but they are still used by some emergency services.

Cassette and VHS tapes

If you were a child of the 80s or 90s you had cassette tapes. Probably lots of them. CDs had not been introduced or were new and expensive and you could put a tape into your Walkman, slap on your headphones and listen to your favorite tunes. Much more convenient than a record. What made these tapes beloved was that you could also record on them creating mixtapes. You could record songs from the radio or from another tape to listen to yourself or to share with others. It was one of the signs of love of the time, how sweet! CDs rendered these obsolete as software allowed for easier and higher quality recordings and eventually digital music services like iTunes killed any need for the cassette tape. They are hard to find, the last were sold in 2007 in the UK but you might find an older car still that has a cassette player but 40% of British children will never know the pain of having to stick the pencil into the tape to respool the magnetic tape. American children could be a bit different as cassette tapes are still commercially available and are making a comeback.

Along the same lines VHS cassette tapes were all the rage. You could buy a blank one in the store and record your favorite movie when it came on the TV, no need to spend the money on it or run to the video store. It was fine as long as you didn’t mind the commercials or were attentive enough to start and stop the recording to edit them out. This was cutting edge technology in the 1970s and spurred a great war between the two formats, Betamax and VHS. VHS won and by the 1980s they were affordable for nearly every household but eventually the DVD and services like Netflix rendered them obsolete and thus today around one third of children surveyed cannot identify a VHS tape. That should be no surprise as it has been over a decade since the last major VHS movie release and no more VCRs are being made. That ended in 2016 when a Japanese company ceased manufacturing models for the Chinese market.

Overhead projectors

Technology within the classroom has dramatically changed. Children of the 80s and 90s were given presentations using overhead projectors. These projectors used mirrors to place an image on a wall. Special material could be written on and erased later for reuse. Oh how we all looked forward to when the cart was wheeled in from the AV room. It was cutting edge then but now with projectors hooked up to computers and even projectors that can be attached to devices like smartphones these are no more and because of that 70% surveyed could not identify the use of an overhead projector.

What the kids can identify

Not all pieces of vintage technology were hard to identify by today’s British youth. Only about 25% were unable to identify a record player. Considering that vinyl is making a huge comeback among younger generations that should not be a surprise. While typewriters are not making a comeback anytime soon about the same number were able to identify them, though they may not all have known them by name. Also despite phones looking much different than 20 years ago only 4% of children surveyed were not able to identify a rotary phone. Maybe that is because it is an emoji now, perhaps their grandparents have one or they just saw it in a movie. Hopefully they did not wonder where the screen was.

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