Of course, the wheel and internal-combustion engine had already been invented long ago there were as yet no super modern innovations like cell phones or whichever device is in your hand right now as you read this. But so much of the cutting edge technology we depend on today got its start back in the fast-paced, big-haired, neon 1980’s. Let’s take a look at some of the groundbreaking inventions this one-of-a-kind decade brought us.
1. Disposable Cameras
First up on our list of technology invented in the 1980’s is the disposable camera. At one point in time, taking photographs meant investing in a somewhat expensive camera, learning how to use it properly, and getting all the necessary supplies like film and lenses. While professional photographers and hobbyists still preferred the real thing, disposable cameras were perfect for tourists, college students, and anyone who wanted to be able to capture moments without making a big financial investment. For years, they were the preferred choice for so many people.
2. Compact Discs and CD Players
Compact discs came along at an interesting time. Sony released the first CD player in 1982. That was the year most record companies completely phased out 8 tracks and people were primarily listening to music on vinyl and cassette. Early on, CDs themselves were pretty affordable, but the first CD players were much more affordable. Cassettes and vinyl were still available but CDs quickly became the preferred option.
3. Disposable Contact Lenses
Contact lenses used to be hard, difficult to take care of, and could be really uncomfortable. Owning a pair of hard contacts was similar to owning glasses. You wore the same pair over and over again and had to perform regular maintenance and care. If you lost one, replacing it wasn’t cheap. Although they’d been in development for a while, disposable contact lenses hit the consumer market in 1987 and changed everything. Because they’re made of out hydrogel, they’re soft, air permeable, and much more comfortable. Plus, there’s little to no upkeep since you just throw them away and replace them when the time comes.
4. Artificial Human Heart
While the research into artificial hearts started all the way back in the 1930’s, it didn’t become a reality until 1982. The Jarvik-7 artificial heart was made of plastic and metal and was initially supposed to serve as a permanent alternative to a living donor heart transplant. While the implementation didn’t go as planned, it was used as a temporary measure to buy patients a little more time when waiting for a donor organ. The Jarvik-7 itself had limited success but it did prove that it could be done, inspiring surgeons and doctors to continue advancing the technology that the medical field relies on today.
5. Mobile Phones
Believe it or not, the first mobile phones went on sale to consumers in the US in 1983. The very first was the Motorola DynaTAC. It was surprisingly ahead of its time with an LED display and the ability to store up to 30 different phone numbers. The technology had a long way to go until mobile phones could become as ubiquitous as they are today. The DynaTAC took 30 minutes to charge for only 10 minutes of talk time. Plus, the technology was prohibitively expensive. In 1984, it cost about $4,000 and was a status symbol meant for only the wealthy. That’s the equivalent of about $9,500 today.
It might be hard to believe but, prior to the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1980, the only way to listen to music on the go was with a giant battery-powered boombox. The Walkman allowed people to listen to music in private, without disturbing everyone around them or broadcasting their taste in music to everyone around them. Walkmans were so portable—you could just toss it in your bag or even clip it to your waistband. While portable CD players became popular toward the end of the decade, they still weren’t as reliable as a Walkman when on the go because they used cassette tapes, which didn’t skip or need to be held in a certain position to work. Plus, changing the playlist was as simple as popping in a new tape.
7. Personal Computers
The first computers were so massive and they took up entire floors of buildings. In the 1970’s, computing technology advanced rapidly and as miniaturization rapidly took over, the size of computers shrunk dramatically. Where there was once no way for the average person to access a computer conveniently, IBM and Apple took advantage of the new technology and introduced the first personal computers in the early 1980’s. IBM was first with the launch of the 5150 in 1981. It used in Intel 8088 processor and ran on version 1.0 of DOS. Apple soon followed with the Macintosh in 1984. The Macintosh was unique in that it used a graphics-based interface and a mouse to navigate the system instead of typing commands. It simply cannot be overstated how important the introduction of the home PC was.
While Atari introduced home gaming consoles in the 1970’s, it’s still fair to say that Nintendo changed the game entirely. The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, was introduced in 1985. Around this time, PCs were getting very popular and sales of regular video games tanked. Nintendo still felt that their product was unique and the games they were develop were good enough that they could compete with PC gaming. Flash forward to today and we know without a doubt that they were right.
Video cameras were originally designed for television broadcasting and were heavy and impractical for everyday use. Sony first introduced the camcorder for professional use in 1983. It eliminated the cable between the camera and recorder that crews had been working with. This made portable recording a one-person job and gave operators a lot of freedom that they didn’t have before. It wasn’t long until the first consumer camcorder was put on the market. The first versions were designed to sit on the user’s shoulder and enabled people like amateur filmmakers and college TV studios to produce recordings easily.
When MTV first went on the air in 1981, they played mostly music videos, which was a revolutionary concept at the time. The channel went on to boost the careers of artists for decades to come. MTV grew into a major pop culture and entertainment network that’s particularly influential to young adults, even today.
That’s our list of 10 interesting things invented in the 1980’s. Some are still in use today with refinements, while others have been completely replaced, but it’s fun to look back on what this decade brought us.