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80s Technology: Key Innovations and Their Contemporary Replacements

The 80s was a remarkable decade marked by Ronald Reagan’s presidency, big hair, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” However, it was also the era that saw the birth of much of the technology we enjoy today, including personal computers and cellphones. In this article, we’ll take a trip down memory lane as we delve into the top tech of the decade and their modern-day counterparts.

Fax Machines

There used to be a time when you couldn’t visit a home or office without seeing a fax machine. Though a great option for transmitting documents, they weren’t all that convenient. Faxing could be slow or incomplete, and fax pages could print out blurry, out of order or not at all.
Many industries still rely on the fax today, and bulky fax machines are being kicked to the curb in favor of internet faxing. Sending a fax online eliminates the troubles of a 1980s fax machine, and it can be done with any computer, tablet or smartphone.

Answering Machines​

Back in the 1980s, an answering machine was your only hope if you weren’t around to catch a call. Sure, it might eat your messages or fail to pick up calls, but at least you took comfort in thinking it had you covered.
Nowadays, voicemail is built right into smartphones and office phones, making it easier for you to retrieve and keep track of messages, from wherever you may be. And virtual answering services take things yet a step further, with features like voicemail transcription.

Floppy Disks

Before there was “the cloud,” there was the floppy disk – a storage medium used to hold a limited amount of data (a mere 110 KB for the 5-1/4 inch disk, and 1.4 MB for the 3.5-inch version). While convenient for transferring computer files, the biggest downside to the floppy disk was that it wasn’t always easy to determine which version was compatible with your PC. Plus, the initial formatting process could take hours to complete.
Today, cloud sharing lets you electronically share, transfer, and co-author computer files using any internet-enabled device. Cloud storage also allows you to back up and share as much data as you’d like – a huge advantage over the disks of the ‘80s.


Commonly referred to as “beepers,” pagers were the mobile devices of their time. These little gadgets clipped onto your belt and displayed a caller’s number across the screen when you were being “beeped” …and that’s about it. It was then up to you to find a pay phone in order to call back.
Mobile phones have of course replaced this tech in the modern day, so you can receive calls, texts, emails and other notifications right in your pocket. The only beeping going on is your phone letting you know about one of these messages.

Cassette Tapes

It used to be that if you wanted to listen to your favorite band, you had to have a physical copy of their music – like on a cassette tape. And since cassettes were double-sided, you also had to flip the tape over when one side finished playing.
Today, on-demand music streaming services have all but replaced cassette tapes (and physical copies of music altogether). Now, you can stream music on your cellphone, tablet or computer, preselecting songs for instant playback or repeating your favorite tracks ad nauseam. And who wouldn’t want to access virtually any song at the press of a button?

Polaroid Cameras

Polaroid pictures were the only real option for instantly viewing your photos in the ‘80s. Yeah, you may not have enjoyed carrying around a clunky Polaroid camera, and sure, you may not have liked the size and shape of the photos, but it was neat!
The popularity of the Instagram app today has done more than just replace the Polaroid – it has driven new interest in this vintage technology. If you want to go old school, instantly printed photos are still an option, but for the rest of us, snapping a selfie with Instagram and just as quickly posting it online will give us the same instant gratification.


Remember renting a VHS tape from Blockbuster? It was one of the best ways to watch a newly-released movie at home in the 1980s. The VHS player/VCR was a staple in most households, and it allowed for recording TV shows onto tapes to watch later, too. How convenient!
Much like music, movies and TV have now gone digital, so they can be watched on-demand online. Streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu have sent VHS/VCR down the path of the Dodo.

Cellular Phone

A piece of ‘80s tech that only few could afford at the time, the cellphone takes the cake. Like most technologies, it started out big and awkward before being streamlined into the powerhouse it is today.
Every one of the tech items listed here can now be found on a smartphone (either built in or as an app). In fact, you could argue the cellphone is the single most important innovative technology of the last century. Just try going a day without one, and see for yourself.

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