Todd Wasserman

Mar 28th 2018

Why Outdated Technology Is so Hard to Kill


Though it may seem counterintuitive, some outdated technology still finds a place in modern culture. Objects like fax machines and vinyl records continue to have relevance, despite the popularity of computers and music streaming. The curious thing is that none of these technologies seem to go away completely.

Obsolete Technology Examples

In 2018, there’s no reason to buy outdated technology like a stand-alone GPS device or a point-and-shoot digital camera if you have a smartphone, yet people continue to buy these items. What is the appeal in buying technologies that are easily replaceable with more modern inventions? Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  1. Fax Machines: Although the use of e-signing digital paperwork is widespread, some entities continue to ask for paper copies. Law firms and government agencies — which highly value privacy — are more likely to have fax machines.

  2. Mainframe Computers: Despite the prevalence of the cloud, banks and other financial institutions like mainframes because they can hold a lot of data securely without fear of internet-based data breaches, according to Fortune.

  3. Credit Cards with Magnetic Strips: You’ve probably noticed that some retail establishments still prefer credit cards with magnetic strips to those with chips. According to a report from Nasdaq, as of 2016, “Despite the fact that 70 percent of U.S. credit card holders possess EMV chip cards, only between 22 percent and 37 percent of retailers have adopted the technology.” Nasdaq attributes this to a few reasons, one being that vendors don’t want to purchase new credit card terminals with chip-reading capabilities.

  4. Vinyl Records and CDs: More than 50 million people pay for Spotify subscriptions, according to BuzzAngle. So why do vinyl records remain a favorite? Proponents of vinyl claim that it sounds warmer and richer than digitally based music. That appreciation propelled vinyl records to a 25-year peak in 2017, according to The Guardian. Additionally, CD sales fell just 3.9 percent in 2017, according to BuzzAngle, despite a huge shift to streaming music. According to Motherboard, CD consumers “see little in the way of benefits from streaming and value physical ownership.”

  5. Typewriters: Despite the fact that most companies no longer use the typewriter, there is still a market for it. According to Secure Data, typewriters offer a much greater level of security. “There’s … no need for data recovery services, since it’s all there. Old typewriters cannot be hacked, and they cannot be infected with malware.”

These obsolete technology examples are just a few of many, which leads to the question: when will we officially retire these obsolete objects? Will we ever?

Staying Power

One factor in keeping obsolete technology afloat is the long tail. Years ago, technologies died out at least in part because no one was selling them. But internet marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon have created a means to sell new and used items without the overhead typically associated with a retail store. As a result, you can find pretty much anything you want online.

There’s something to be said for the tactility associated with analog devices. Whether it’s mainframes or vinyl, some people like to physically touch their technologies. That’s a need that the cloud and MP3s can’t hope to meet.