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Popular Retro Items That Never Actually Went Away

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Archive Photos / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Archive Photos / Getty Images

In an era dominated by cutting-edge technology and rapid advancements, it is remarkable to witness the enduring appeal of retro items. From vintage record players to classic video game consoles, certain nostalgic treasures have transcended time and technology to maintain their popularity among modern enthusiasts. Not only have they carved a special place in the hearts of collectors and hobbyists, but many of these items are used because people still enjoy them. Keep clicking through to learn more, and comment if you have any of these cool and retro items!

Dial-up internet

Ah, dial-up internet, the rollercoaster ride of the online world! Remember those ear-piercing screeches as the modem connected? It was like a musical battle between your computer and the telephone line, with your mom yelling from downstairs to get off the line. Waiting for a webpage to load felt like an eternity; you could write a novel during that time! But oh, the excitement when you finally heard that magical “You’ve got mail” from AOL.

Woman typing on a retro computer.
A Brazilian woman logs onto AOL while at an internet cafe in Sao Paulo, November 16, 1999. (Photo Credit: Marie Hippenmeyer / AFP/ Getty Images)

It was a connection that required patience, perseverance, and a whole lot of love for that nostalgic crackling sound. But you might be surprised to know that this antique way of surfing the web hasn’t actually hasn’t gone away. In a 2019 American census, it was revealed that a shocking 0.2 percent of homes still use dial-up internet. That might not seem like much, but it’s equal to about 265,000 people!

Polaroid cameras

Forget the cellphone, Polaroid cameras were the original wizards of instant photography! With a swift click and a whirring sound, it spat out photos like a mischievous printer on a sugar rush. No need to wait for prints; the moment was right there, smack in your hands! In the words of Outkast, “Shake it like a Polaroid picture,” which everyone did. We all hoped that a little jiggle would speed up the development process (even if it didn’t).

The Supremes posing in fur coats with polaroid cameras hanging around their necks.
The Supremes pose with Polaroid cameras around their neck, October 6, 1965. (Photo Credit: Stone / Mirrorpix / Getty Images)

From family reunions to teenage shenanigans, Polaroids captured the quirky essence of life, making memories even more memorable. Today, they might be retro relics, but that doesn’t mean they are any less fun. Now, a whole new generation has taken to them. These cameras might look a little different than they once did, but they have made a comeback. Safe to say, they won’t be going anywhere soon.

Vinyl records

Vinyl records were part of the good old days of music when artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones ruled the charts. Their songs were played back to us by way of the record, the crackles and pops from the speaker only adding to the vintage charm – not to mention how much fun it was to collect different records. Perusing music stores was like going on a treasure hunt for rare gems.

Woman putting a vinyl record on, while holding the cover with Elvis Presley's face on it.
Elvis Presley’s future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, plays his album, 1960. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Perhaps the best part was that the album covers were like their own mini works of art. It was a good look to have your shelves full of them, just waiting to be played. As with so many retro items, vinyl may have lost some of its appeal with the introduction of the CD and, eventually, digital music streaming, but there are some things that never get old. Production companies still make vinyl albums that enthusiastic collectors are all too happy to pay for.

Rotary phones

The rotary phone seems like a clunky relic of the past, especially compared to the ease of dialing on modern touchscreen cellphones, but they are certainly a great piece of decor. Modern phones just don’t have the same element of entertainment as waiting for the dial to spin back after you released it. And it was so satisfying to hang up on a rotary phone – very definitive.

Woman in a pink dress sitting at an outdoor table talking on a rotary phone.
A woman speaking on an antique rotary telephone while seated at an outdoor table, c. 1980s. (Photo Credit: Tom Kelley / Getty Images)

Surprisingly, most of these devices will still function if they are connected to your home. In fact, there are many people who still use them simply because they work just fine. They are still well-loved vintage pieces, to the point that now it’s even possible to connect them to your modern network or even hook them up to your cellphone. You can feel like you’re back in your childhood kitchen, talking to your friends after school.

Game Boys

Any gamers out there will know that the Game Boy has never gone far. With its chunky design and iconic green screen, it was the ultimate gaming gadget of the ’90s. Carrying one around felt like having a treasure chest of entertainment in your hands. Who needed fancy graphics when you had pixels that sparked the imagination? And let’s not forget the epic battles over the link cable – trading Pokémon and throwing down in Tetris like warriors of the digital realm!

Young kid playing on a gameboy.
A boy playing on one of the first Nintendo Game Boy computers. (Photo Credit: In Pictures Ltd. / Corbis Historical / Getty Images)

Changing batteries became a sacred ritual, ensuring the adventures never had to end. For most, the Game Boy feels like a fun relic of the past, but for a niche group of people, it is still something they use. Did you know that there are even developers who make new games that can be played on the old devices? If you were a die-hard fan, it might be worth your while to pull your old Game Boy out of the attic and dust it off to try some of the new games.

Typewriters

When we talk of typewriters, we are talking really retro. Not only did they revolutionize the workplace, but they were extremely satisfying to use. The rhythm of typing was like a dance, where fingers tapped and danced across the keys like graceful performers. And oh, the satisfying ding of reaching the end of a line – it was like a typewriter’s way of saying, “Well done, writer!”

Elderly woman working away at an old typewriter.
Woman working on an old version of a typewriter. (Photo Credit: Keystone-France/ Gamma-Keystone/  Getty Images)

There was no backspace or delete key to save us, but we embraced the beauty of imperfections, making every word a carefully crafted masterpiece. Replacing ink ribbons and keeping the keys oiled was like caring for a loyal companion, ensuring they never missed a beat. In the digital age, typewriters may be vintage relics only used by some, but they are still used. Granted, some might use them as quirky planters, but there are others who still employ them to craft their literary masterpieces.

Nokia cellphones

There is nothing as trusty as a Nokia, the indestructible titan of the mobile world. With their sturdy build and iconic designs, they were like the Chuck Norris of phones, surviving drops, spills, and the test of time. The battery life seemed to last forever, and who could forget the classic Snake game that kept us hooked for hours, turning us into nimble-fingered gaming champs? T9 texting, a feat of speed and accuracy, turned us into wordsmith ninjas, crafting messages at lightning speed.

Young woman talking on a Nokia phone.
Young woman with Nokia Natel-D mobile phone, 1994. (Photo Credit: RDB / ullstein bild/ Getty Images)

The endless customization of ringtones and covers made each Nokia phone a unique expression of personality. Nokia may have faded into history in the face of newer and ‘cooler’ phone companies, but they are very much still in business. They are even starting to make a comeback as Generation Z has started turning away from their fancy smartphones in favor of so-called “dumb phones,” those without all the bells and whistles. Who knows, maybe they will be all the rage again one day soon.

iPods

Okay, okay, you know that iPods definitely haven’t disappeared. They have certainly had a much-needed facelift in recent years, going from the size of a brick to the size of a matchbox. When the original 2001 design was released, it revolutionized the way people listened to music, a far cry from using vinyl or even CD players.

Woman walking across the street while holding her pink iPod in her hands.
A woman holding an iPod as she walks on a city crosswalk. (Photo Credit: Tony Savino / Corbis Historical/ Getty Images)

Now, you could carry a seemingly unlimited number of tracks with you at any time. Even though the design was heavily modified, there is still something about these 2000s devices that appeal to the masses. In fact, they are still bought and sold regularly – and for staggering sums. An unopened 2008 version could go for over a thousand dollars!

Pagers

Pagers were the buzzing beacons of the ’90s communication era. With their compact size and clip-on charm, they were the ultimate status symbol for the tech-savvy crowd. Waiting for that magic number to flash on the tiny screen was like a suspenseful game of hide and seek with the sender. And let’s not forget the creative pager codes we used to send secret messages, like modern-day Morse code masters!

Jack Straw stands behind a microphone while looking at a pager.
British Home Secretary Jack Straw, is interrupted by a pager message from the Labour Party chief whip during his address at the Police Federation Annual Conference in Blackpool. (Photo Credit: Phil Noble / PA Images / Getty Images)

Wearing a pager on your hip made you feel like a high-powered executive, even if you were just a teenager with a curfew. They were the original notification system, alerting us to the importance of every message, which is exactly why they’re still commonly used in hospitals. Wouldn’t it make sense for them to swap over to something a little more high-tech? As it turns out, no. Pagers simply can’t be beaten for performance.

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Even in 2023, cell networks just can’t beat the reliability of the pager networks. Maybe one day, a new system will come along, but for now, our doctors and nurses will stick with the tried and true pager on their hip.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.

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