Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkmans, movie cameras, VHS tapes – are these things of yesteryear? An essential yesterday, forgotten today? Have they lost their charm and usefulness over time, leaving only lingering memories?
Obsolete gadgets, habits and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating reminder. Find out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.
This is the last in a six-part series of stories. Part 5: Walking with the Walkman, which brings music to the ears
Rotary Phones, VHS Tapes, Walkman, Etch-A-Sketch, Kaleidoscopes: Some Cool 90s Gadgets I Miss
By Justin Varghese, Your Money Editor
To be honest, there are some things I miss and some things I don’t. I might miss my cell phone if it disappeared right now, but I can admit I had more time to myself before the advent of mobiles. That’s what reminded me of that one thing I’ve been missing since childhood – the rotary phone.
I remember a time when we only had one rotary phone at home (the one with a compressed cord, which always got tangled up) – shared by my family of four. If you weren’t home, you couldn’t be contacted – end of story. While I agree it was a much simpler time before cell phones, I may miss the rotary phone even more, but that also brings me to my next reminiscence of the 90s.
This next gadget wasn’t exactly practical and the quality of the music in particular wasn’t as good as it is now, but I still miss my old boxy walkman a lot. I can’t quite put my finger on it because while they were clunky or even sometimes devoured the tapes they contained, there’s something I miss about the experience of listening to one, especially in the backseat of my family car during our record weekend.
Maybe I missed the way I listened to a favorite song over and over until I almost hated it, but I had learned every word, because you can’t carry so many things at once. Maybe it’s because of the way the sound of the tapes rewinding made me laugh, or how perfectly they still held your place if you had to take a break. Honestly, I don’t know, but every once in a while I’m tempted to search for one – which brings me to my next nostalgia gadget.
My childhood wouldn’t be complete without those VHS tapes and the VCR that played them. We had about hundreds of VCR tapes stored in drawers, cabinets and boxes in our living room. Yes, the VHS cartridges and VCR were big and clunky, the picture quality was poor (which only got worse with age and wear), not to mention the time spent waiting for them to rewind . And while I agree that with movies that could be streamed there was no mess and no space taken up at home, the simpler times that age-old devices brought with them to me missing.
I also missed the kind of really basic technology that gave me a lot of joy, even if it wasn’t really a technological marvel. Etch-A-Sketch was a wonderful machine that in many ways resembled a modern tablet, but involved a painstaking process of using an internal stylus, which you couldn’t remove from the interior screen to create patterns. Likewise, another 90s toy was kaleidoscopes, those wonderful little tubes that allowed you to be mesmerized by intricate and thoughtful designs.
Who would have thought? Turns out there were a lot more gadgets that I missed since childhood than I thought.
Our transistor radio touched our hearts and minds
By Sadiq Shaban, Opinion Writer
Time is a sneaky monster. When I was growing up in the 1980s, transistor radios were a thing. We had a nice off-white Murphy transistor radio in Kashmir. It was the time when the transistor was the only form of entertainment and information, apart from the occasional black-and-white television in one or two homes in the locality.
I vividly remember my father always listening to the BBC, Voice of America and, of course, All India Radio. My mother was a Vividh Bharati fan who played colorful movie songs forever.
Our triode valve radio was housed in a large wooden cabinet and treated like a family heirloom. As children, neither I nor my sister were allowed to touch it for fear of accidentally changing the frequency.
The names of medium wave or short wave radio stations were labeled on the dial panel with two huge knobs for volume and tuning. Growing up impressed by the Murphy transistor, the radio itself remained the same.
At some point I started keeping a diary and I remember writing down all the fascinating things I heard on the radio. An entry in my early teens said, “It’s way past midnight now. London’s BBC has just said that a new species of bird called the gorged puffleg has been discovered by scientists in the wild. The announcer says it has been hidden from humanity for ages and is green and purple. It also has iridescent green plumage on its neck.
I then gave my teenage hypothesis: I wonder why the poor bird had to appear now. Everyone will follow him in an effort to chain his existence. Every flight of the poor bird must be observed. Why do certain things have to appear to cause all this flutter, I’m not asking anyone in particular? As expected, I get no response.
Guesswork aside, transistors meant innocent times. Every time I see a transistor now (mostly with collectors or a private museum), something changes inside me. I feel the nostalgia slowly rising. The feeling is gemütlich. It’s German for the mix of friendliness, cosiness, and coziness that one associates with times gone by.
One of the things that today’s generation (I’m 40 and I can safely say this now) may never know – that many of us who grew up listening to the radio – is to fall in love with someone’s voice, experience a theater of the mind, and feel intimate, personal – and inspired.