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Obsolete technology: 40 big losers

Old tech friends we used for years are now deceased or on life support. Remember shrieking modems, paper phone books and the C:\ prompt?
Image: Derelict VCRs
When was the last time you popped a videotape into your VCR when you wanted to watch a movie?Ian Waldie / Getty Images file
/ Source: PC World

By the time you read this story, the Internet may be obsolete.

OK, maybe not. But you never know. With technology evolving at breakneck speed, no one can say for sure what's around the next corner — to say nothing of the one after that. The circle of life, however, remains constant: When a new high-tech creation is born, something else may die as a result. Sometimes, the loss is a good thing — who wants busy signals or staticky TV? — but at other times, the departure stirs bittersweet feelings (remember saying farewell to your trusty old C:\ prompt?).

We've compiled a list of 40 once-commonplace activities that are rapidly approaching extinction. Some are in danger of disappearing, while others have already vanished. So join us for a spirited send-off.

1. Playing video games at an arcade
Status: On life support
Once a favorite activity of geeks worldwide, going to the arcade to play video games began fading away in the mid-1990s, just as going to the arcade to play pinball had done a decade before.

A few arcades survive, but the days of gamers lining up to toss quarters into "Street Fighter" or "Mortal Kombat" are long gone. It's easy to see why: The advent of advanced gaming systems allows you to experience the same action at home, minus the dungeon-like lighting, the deafening game noise and the premature exhaustion of your lunch money for the week.

2. Running out of hard-drive space
Status: Deceased
With terabyte-size drives now selling for less than $70, hard drives that exceed your storage needs aren't exactly hard to come by these days. But remember when an 80MB drive was the pinnacle of luxury and a 1GB drive would have seemed as spacious as Carlsbad Caverns?

3. Getting a busy signal
Status: Nearly deceased
Thanks to advances in voicemail and call-waiting technology, you rarely hear that annoying broken tone anymore. Unless, of course, you're voting for "American Idol" or listening to Pink Floyd.

4. Going on a 'blind' first date
Status: Deceased
What with Google, dating sites and a slew of social networks, it's not difficult to get to know a person digitally before choosing to interact with them in a brick-and-mortar environment. Heck, you might even get to know them intimately before ever meeting. Or instead of ever meeting.

5. Needing to be 18 to have access to porn
Status: Deceased
It may sound crazy, but in the old days a fella had to be 18 to get his hands on prurient materials — either that or have an easily bribable older brother. Or a friend with such a brother. Or a dad with an obvious stash. Not that I know anything about such matters.

6. Chatting with the SysOp
Status: Deceased
The SysOp — short for system administrator — was a figure of power beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the early 1990s. As the creator and overlord of the local bulletin board system (BBS), the SysOp watched over the users who dialed into his pre-Internet electronic communication system. He chatted with visitors, kept the system running smoothly and occasionally hit the disconnect button when someone remained logged in for too long.

7. Paying for long distance
Status: Nearly deceased
Once upon a time, people had to pay expensive per-minute fees for long distance. Then, the big bad cell phone came along and blew those charges away like a straw house. The end.

8. Getting fuzzy TV reception
Status: Deceased
When the United States flipped the switch on an all-digital broadcasting system this summer, it also effectively sent the fuzzy "white snow" to the graveyard. So long, annoying static; we always loathed you.

9. Hearing the sound of a modem connecting
Status: Nearly deceased
How a familiar series of sounds could simultaneously be so grating and so gratifying is a mystery that man may never unlock. Jonesing for a fix? Try the 56K Modem Emulator.

10. Shooting Polaroids
Status: Nearly deceased
Polaroid plans to stop selling its signature instant film at the end of this year.

11. Waiting to get photos developed
Status: Showing signs of illness
Though film-based cameras aren't completely gone, the advantages of digital snapshots —namely, that you can view a picture immediately after taking it and that you can discard bad shots at no cost — have certainly made traditional cameras far less common.

12. Typing on a typewriter
Status: Nearly deceased
The clickity-clackity sound of the standard typewriter has quieted over the years. Unless you work in the New York City Police Department, which reportedly just signed a $1 million typewriter-purchasing contract.

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14. Having easy-to-remember TV channel numbers
Status: Nearly deceased
Fifty-seven channels and nothin' on? More like 557 channels (and still nothin' on). Try writing a catchy tune to that, Springsteen.

15. Checking your answering machine
Status: Seriously ill
"Hi, you've reached the answering machine. I'm still around, but most people are now using dial-in voicemail instead of me. What a bunch of ungrateful little ... BEEP!"

16. Enjoying complete privacy
Status: On life support
In the face of constant monitoring by Google and the many forms of GPS tracking in our lives (social networking shoe, anyone?), privacy has become a rare and precious commodity within the connected world. Speaking of which, that's a nice shirt you're wearing today.

17. Making someone a real mix tape
Status: Deceased
Web sites like and Songza may attempt to fill the void, but the art of laboring over a custom-made mix tape tailored for a special occasion or a special person — as romanticized by John Cusack's character in "High Fidelity" — seems to have gone the way of electrical appliance repair and blacksmithing. It's a damn shame, too, because mix tapes made great gifts for dates (and by "great" I mean "potentially highly prized by the recipient and yet incredibly cheap and easy to assemble").

18. Wearing a calculator watch
Status: Deceased
Affectionately dubbed "the nerd watch," the calculator watch once served as a proud badge of a person's abiding amusement with mathematics — as diagnostic as a pocket protector or membership in the high school Slide Rule Club. Nowadays, the only sure way to ascertain an individual's true geek quotient is to test their "Star Trek" knowledge.

19. Seeing pages and pages of phone sex ads in the back of free city weeklies
Status: Showing signs of illness
Those naughty 900 numbers may still exist, but cybersex and the scandal-du-jour phenomenon of sexting have stolen most of the spotlight from landline lovin' these days. Not to mention that Craigslist and online events calendars have left free city weeklies looking pretty anorexic themselves.

It's true that lying about yourself and your various physical characteristics is just as easy when you're talking on the phone as when you're typing on a keyboard — unless the lie is "I don't sound like Donald Duck" — but online the person you're communicating with can't hear that repellant note of desperation in your voice.

20. Using a public phone booth
Status: On life support
Now that everyone and his cockatiel has a cell phone, public phone booths are getting tougher to track down. Translation: Superman is screwed.

21. Dialing on a rotary phone
Status: Nearly deceased
The ease of touchtone dialing has made active use of rotary phones a novelty, though it isn't clear whether those old Bell Telephone models will ever become truly rare, since they were built to withstand thermonuclear attack. In any case, mimes may never let the motion go from their repertoire.

22. Storing data on a floppy disk
Status: Nearly deceased
A disk with 1.44MB of storage? Shyeah, right. The once-standard protocol for storing and transferring data seems puny by today's file-size standards. (And don't even get started with the truly floppy 5.25-inch variety.) Few new PCs are being built with floppy disk drives anymore; and as a result, the era of the A:\ prompt is in its twilight. As for the Zip drive, Iomega may still say it sells 'em — but is anyone buying it?

23. Booting up to a C:\ prompt
Status: Nearly deceased
DOS, we'll always fondly remember seeing your blinking prompt upon boot-up. Rest in peace, dear friend.

24. Typing on an old-school word processor
Status: Deceased
Let's face it: Doogie Howser wouldn't have been nearly as endearing if he had typed his nightly journal on Microsoft Office 2010. But boy, that plain blue-and-white screen just screams "1991."

25. Having your mobile phone attached to your car
Status: Deceased
I remember those early mobile phones that mechanics installed in people's cars. What I can't remember, though, is what today's important-looking Bluetooth-always-in-the-ear guys did to make themselves look like tools back then.

26. Putting in a videotape to watch a movie
Status: On life support
Dearly beloved, we gather here today to mourn the passing of VHS. The lucky twin of the long-deceased Betamax (whose cause of death remains a source of controversy decades later), VHS gave us hours of videotape-watching enjoyment — and almost as many hours of trying to adjust the blasted tracking knob to get a steady picture.

27. Holding up a lighter at a concert
Status: Showing signs of illness
Listening to a power ballad in a dimly lit stadium without a sea of gently undulating lighters for company is like spending time at Twitter without a sea of social media experts offering their insights and informed criticism: Something about it doesn't feel right. Sure, holding up thousands of illuminated cell phones might be safer — but even if the phones have virtual lighter apps installed, it just isn't the same.

28. Watching a movie in laser disc
Status: Deceased
The only proof that anyone ever actually watched movies on laser disc is the (at this writing) 5,282 entries posted on eBay by people trying to dump their LDs. But whether fact or fiction, the technology is definitely obsolete now.

29. Using proper grammar and punctuation
Status: On life support
txting and iming has made proper grammar seems kinda old skoo, dont u thnk? heres hoping 4 capitalization & punctuation 2 make a comeback in emails & other writing. the gr8 gatsby probly wuld hv been way less gr8 if it wuz written like this. lol

30. Getting a new car with a cigarette lighter
Status: Showing signs of illness
Built-in cigarette lighters — standard-issue accessories for many nicotine-friendly decades — are losing favor among automobile manufacturers. In fact, most new cars today ship cigarette lighter-free, instead dedicating the ports to electronics charging.

31. Flipping on an incandescent light bulb
Status: On life support
More and more nations are saying so long to the traditional incandescent light bulb and encouraging their citizens to use relatively ecology-friendly, energy-saving bulbs. Cartoon characters getting "bright ideas" have yet to adapt, however.

32. Sitting in front of a CRT monitor
Status: On life support
I won't miss staring at blurry, hard-to-read text on a CRT screen. But I will miss the dramatic effect of seeing one of those bad boys dropped from a third-story window. Flatscreen monitors may be more aerodynamic, but they just don't blow up as well.

33. Playing music on an audiocassette
Status: Nearly deceased
You can try to rewind, but the life of the cassette is on its last legs. If anyone knows a practical application for four boxes of late-1980s, early-1990s rock tapes, please advise.

34. Going to the local music store to check out CDs
Status: On life support
Local music stores are becoming harder and harder to find. Here's hoping that the remaining few can manage to hang on. Losing them would leave a cultural void that iTunes is not equipped to fill.

Image: AOL disk
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36. Looking up numbers in the phone book
Status: Showing signs of illness
Phone companies still hand them out, but printed phone books have definitely seen better days. The combined influence of the Web and of phone services such as GOOG-411 has sharply reduced everyday use of phone books; and today the traditional walking of fingers through wood-pulp pages seems antiquated to many tech-friendly families (and wasteful to many green-friendly families).

37. Using carbon copy paper
Status: Nearly deceased
With even low-end printers now able to scan, copy and possibly make toast, you don't see old-fashioned carbon copy paper too often, making carbon paper a candidate to join purple-on-white mimeograph paper any day now in the museum of antiquities. And I doubt that anyone's complaining.

38. Sending documents via fax
Status: Showing signs of illness
Why fax when you can attach? Especially since most documents are now created on computers, the facsimile may soon find itself on the endangered species list. Fear not, though, "Office Space" fans: The legend "PC Load Letter" will live on forever.

39. Rockin' out with your boombox
Status: Nearly deceased
Your iPod may look cool, but can you balance it on your shoulder and blare your funky beats at obnoxiously high volumes? Didn't think so. The boombox — also known as the jambox, the ghetto blaster or the jerkface apparatus — reached its peak popularity during the 1980s, when big hair, stone-washed jeans and bad dancing enjoyed similarly unaccountable heydays. Though updated editions of the boombox may be on the market today, the era of not being able to ride in peace on a randomly selected public conveyance on a randomly selected day is, thankfully, behind us.

40. Giving someone your undivided attention during a social interaction
Status: Showing signs of illness
Oh, come on — talking without simultaneously texting or tweeting is so 2008.