As a 90s kid, I’ve seen so many technological milestones that it’s hard to keep up. But for the generation before me, these revolutionary inventions were fewer and further between. When they hit the market, they really rocked everyone’s world. So, practice your joystick flexibility because we’re scouring the past for the 70s and 80s gadgets that blew people’s minds.
I still remember my first floppy disk that was given to me in elementary school. It was a translucent orange, and I stored all sorts of delightful files full of WordArt on there. But before 1971, a storage device for the computer seemed out of the question.
It’s comical to look at how little storage these bad boys actually had in comparison to the terabytes upon terabytes you can store on tiny external hard drives now. But if you were on the forefront of computer technology in the 1970s, the floppy disk was your Apple iPhone or VR game system. You were holding the future in your hands, and that’s a moment you never forget.
Although magnetic tape recording wasn’t new in the 70s and 80s, it was released to the public for the first time in the form of VHS tapes and VCR players. As a 90s baby, VHS tapes were my bread and butter and the thing that started me down a long road toward a master’s degree in film.
We can’t stress it enough, but before VHS tapes, you couldn’t watch blockbuster films at home. Sure, maybe you could grab a rogue film reel from an underground projectionist, but the chances of that were slim to none. So, when VHS tapes were commercially released in 1976, they were the ‘it’ product of the year.
Of course, it took almost a decade for the tapes to become cheap enough for most people to grab, but for film buffs like me, they were one of the coolest gadgets to come out of the 70s and 80s.
I’m proud to be a product of the 90s and early 00s video game generation (my GameBoy was my most prized possession), but home gaming was a distant idea in the 1970s. Arcade games were all the rage, but no one had devised a way to condense these massive consoles for home use. That is, until Atari Inc. launched the Atari 2600, aka the first home video game console ever invented.
Today, it seems impossible to enjoy moving a flickering bar up and down to block a white ball from hitting your side of the screen, but in 1977 Pong was really the coolest thing since sliced bread.
For music fans, the most important gadget from the 70s and 80s was without a doubt, the Sony Walkman. Say bye-bye to lugging around a boombox or listening to whatever radio station the store was playing. Just clip this bad boy onto your fanny pack, and you could listen to the latest Top of the Pops or American Top 40 hits to your heart’s content.
Rock out to your favorite bands with the Walkman’s teeny headphones the size of a half-dollar and this slim portable cassette player. And while I may be a bit young for the Walkman, its legacy lived on in the deep blue Sony Discman I still have today.
Casio C-80 Calculator Watch
The Casio C-80 calculator watch walked so everyone’s beloved Apple Watch could run. Imagine sitting at a restaurant and trying to calculate your tip without pulling up the calculator app on your phone. We’re sweating bullets just thinking about that multiplication table. In 1980, those days were long gone thanks to Casio’s C-80 watch.
Though the design is a little on-the-nose with the square calculator look, we can give it a pass. Just like how whipping out your pagers in the 90s and Blackberrys in the 2000s made you feel like you were living in the future, Casio C-80 was a gadget that felt more 2080 than it did 1980.
Look back at atomic-age sci-fi, and you’ll see just how disappointed our grandparents or great-grandparents must be that we aren’t flying in hovercars and traveling across the stars by now. Although they hadn’t cracked the Atlantis-style underwater settlements people longed for by the 1980s, they had created the quintessential “As-Seen-On-TV” product.
Two words: The. Clapper. With a slogan as rudimentary and catchy as “Clap on! Clap off! The Clapper!,” it’s no wonder people went wild over it. Being able to turn your lights on and off might’ve felt gimmicky to some, but for people with limited mobility or other impairments, this gadget was a revolutionary disability aid. Here’s to unfettered capitalism’s marketing powers accidentally pushing for inclusivity.
Ah, the Macintosh 128K. Let's go back to where it all started. Today, Apple is undoubtedly the largest tech company in the world, but in 1984, they had nothing on companies like IBM. But this truly ground-breaking technology could’ve been nothing without the ingenious Superbowl commercial that marked its birth on the free market.
With a PSA-style announcement saying, “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984” got us hooked almost 40 years later. And Apple delivered on their promises. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” If an elderly woman sprawled out at the bottom of her stairs reaching towards the viewer behind the camera doesn’t immediately come to mind, then chances are you were born after the millennium.
Life Alert lives on 30+ years later because of its incredible advertising campaign. While middle schoolers love to parody it, this 1987 gadget was a revolutionary tool for the aging people. In an age before cell phones were reliable, inexpensive, and readily available, this was a game changer. It gave many folks extra years of independence, and for that, it can’t be overstated how important this gadget really was.
When I was kid, you’d never go on vacation without at least three or four disposable cameras packed into your suitcase. These point-and-click cameras were cheaper and more accessible than Polaroids, and they didn’t have any settings, so even the most photographically illiterate person could capture the moment.
Kodak Fling — the very first disposable camera — came out in 1987, and it democratized photography for every well-meaning tourist or world traveler. Just pop on down to the local Kmart, and you could get all your photos (half of which were always blurry or dark) printed for a small fee. Thanks to Kodak in the 1980s, making memories got a whole lot easier.
These Vintage Gadgets Walked so Yours Could Run
In the 1970s and 80s, the world was on the brink of a technological horizon. Just over the edge was a future full of possibilities, and these vintage gadgets hinted at what was to come. Without them, we wouldn’t have the technology that we’re so obsessed with today. So, take a brief moment to slow clap it out for these iconic pieces of the past.