OK Boomer: Can You Guess What These 5 Old Technologies Are Used For?

These technologies will either make you feel really old, or really confused.
Chris Young
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Innovation in technology is going at the pace of a hypersonic spaceplane at Mach 5. It feels like one day to the next what was once a commonly used piece of hardware or contraption is suddenly obsolete.

For readers of a certain age the compact disc, walkman, Gameboy, and VHS might come to mind. But what if we go even further down the rabbit hole?

Here are 5 technologies that had people stumped, due to their obscurity and their age.


1. A strange invention from another time

So this one's not so old, but Reddit user u/Kryshi recently took to subreddit r/whatisthisthing to ask — you guessed it — what is this thing?

The poster said "It's on my HP laptop close to the touchpad, I thought it might be a “scroll wheel”, but it doesn't move at all. Any ideas?"

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Source: u/Kryshi/Reddit

The answer? It's a technology that you are likely using every day, whether it's to unlock your phone, get into the gym, or have access to a top-secret government facility.

The fingerprint scanner has come a long way since it was a simple strip on the body of our laptops.

2. Gas-powered cycle safety

Today cycling safety means luminous jackets, LED lights and even smart helmets that give direction signals to cars. 

Not so long ago though — relatively speaking — cyclists relied on a very specific chemical reaction to keep them safe at night.

OK Boomer: Can You Guess What These 5 Old Technologies Are Used For?
Source: u/F_s_c_c/Reddit

The carbide bicycle lamp, also known as the acetylene gas lamp, produces and burns acetylene (C2H2). Calcium carbide (CaC2) is mixed with water (H2O), the ensuing reaction creating burning acetylene which lights up the old-style lamp.

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OK Boomer: Can You Guess What These 5 Old Technologies Are Used For?
Source: Spydr/iStock

Carbide lamps were also once used for car headlights, building lights, and for mining.

3. Gotta time those X-Rays

Vintage X-ray machines are one of the most obscure pieces of old tech there is — maybe that's why they are a collector's item.

OK Boomer: Can You Guess What These 5 Old Technologies Are Used For?
Source: u/Eukie78/Reddit

Did you know old X-ray machines had timers that somewhat resemble the ones we have on our microwaves and ovens — that's an uncomfortable comparison. 

X-rays were officially discovered and named in 1895. Now they form an essential part of modern medicine.

4. Future tech in the past?

This device looks like it was cheekily installed by a time traveler from the future to give us a taste of how much the future will look like 70's sci-fi.

OK Boomer: Can You Guess What These 5 Old Technologies Are Used For?
Source: u/smjth67991/Reddit

As poster jackrats pointed out on subreddit, r/whatisthis, the device is a touch-activated electrical timer switch. 

Here's a manual for one of the old devices that is also sometimes used as a weatherproof outdoor switch.

5. Old-fashioned portable photography

These days we tend to take it for granted how many accessories our smartphones pack into one handy device.

It used to be that those wanting to take a photo — in the pre-selfie halcyon days — would need to have a portable flash device with them if the conditions weren't favorable.

OK Boomer: Can You Guess What These 5 Old Technologies Are Used For?
Source: u/austikins/Reddit

The device can be folded open and closed so that it can be easily carried around. This particular flash attachment, which is mounted onto a camera, was developed by Honeywell and is called the Tilt-a-mite.

It's probably not a technology that's going to make a vinyl-style comeback. We'll stick to our smartphones.

What do you think about these old pieces of technology? Most of them are slightly older than your old Tamagotchis and iMacs. We wonder what technologies will come along to make the smartphone, laptop, and car obsolete.

Who knows, maybe we'll all soon be connected to the web via a chip in our brains.

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