Historic Evolution of 10 Essential Gadgets & Technologies

Geeks are living in a golden age – the geeky gadgets we love get smaller, cheaper and more capable by the day! Where did it all begin? Explore the evolution of geek tech through these 10 engaging examples, from classics including refrigerators and boom-boxes and car audio players to contemporary cellular phones, cars, computers, calculators, video games and more.

1) The Evolution of Cellular Phones

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Cellphones have evolved so fast even last year’s models are already uncool. Go back a few more years – or watch most any 90s sitcom like Seinfeld – and you’ll be reminded of how things used to be. Rewind back to the beginning and behold the behemoths: how did we ever walk around with those things?

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The first working commercial cellular phone made its appearance in the early 1970s and these so-called “brick” phones were portable in the sense that they were wireless. You can still buy brick-style cellphones though their technical limitations make them more impractical than ever.

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What does the future hold for cellphones? We may not need to hold them at all. As phones shrink (and our hands stay the same size), features and novelty will play larger roles – in other words, they’ll get geekier, like the two-finger phone above.

2) The Evolution of Music Playing Technology

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Prefer to listen instead of talk? Options were few and far-between in days of yore. Before the SONY Walkman changed portable music forever, music lovers on the move had to take their music with them: it was the era of the sonic boombox!

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Fast-forward a few decades and we find the bombastic boombox has been cut down to size. The Mini Boombox GSM Cell Phone displays boombox style while packing advanced features those subway serenaders of our youth never even dreamed of, like a built in MP3 player, a 1.3 megapixel digital camera and SMS/MMS text messaging. And forget those mix tapes, this mighty mite has 256MB of memory and a microSD card slot that adds another 4GB if needed.

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The original boombox hasn’t quite faded away, however, and the sheer audacity of the concept has a certain appeal for rebellious geeks. A few products exploit the boombox look to the max and beyond – like the Spirit of St Louis iPod Boombox above.

3) The Evolution of Vehicular Music Players

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Driving has become a much more aurally satisfying experience as well. If you had a Highway Hi-Fi in 1956 would one be considered a geek by the standards of the day? That’s “champagne music” king Lawrence Welk in the large image above, trying out one of the special 16 2/3 rpm vinyl records specially made for the Highway Hi-Fi.

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Wonder what ol’ LW would think of the Blaupunkt Melbourne SD27 MP3 tuner? The SD27 doesn’t play from records, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes or even CDs – instead, listeners either plug in their personal music players or pop an SD card into the waiting SD/MMC card slot. Champagne optional (but not recommended).

4) The Evolution of Cars and Vehicles

(images via: American Parts and Net Car Show)

As for cars themselves, geeky wheels have a long history. Above are just a few: The 1950 Studebaker that was Stanley Ipkiss’s loaner car in The Mask, a BMW Isetta belonging to uber-geek Steve Urkel, and a mid-1970s AMC Pacer – the Mirthmobile from Wayne’s World. Party on, dudes!

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Urkel may have the ultimate Revenge of the Nerds – BMW is considering a very cool update of the Isetta for 2010!

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Until that happens, today’s cool geeks will have to get around in the Toyota Prius and the VW Beetle, shown above in Geek Squad livery. The Prius is driven by not one but TWO notable geeks: Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Weird Al Yankovic in his video for White and Nerdy. Here’s that video:

5) The Evolution of Refrigerators and Freezers

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Gettin’ hungry? Then it’s time to raid the fridge. Time was, each house had a single refrigerator in the kitchen and maybe a smaller, older beer fridge downstairs. Preferred colors were Electric Blue, Harvest Gold, Avocado Green and Frigid Pink (OK, I made that last one up).

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These days, who has time to walk to the kitchen? And who needs to, with a USB refrigerator on your desktop? It may look retro but the USB fridge is a thirsty geek’s dream come true. Typical models hold just one soda can… chill the next while drinking the first. As for the need to store other essential foodstuffs, there IS no need: Doritos are cool to begin with.

6) The Evolution of Computers

(images via: The Noisettes and Frobenius)

Miniaturization is a common theme in the evolution of geek technology, and computers have been the greatest beneficiaries. Thousands of archaic vacuum tubes powered early electronic digital computers like the 1940s ENIAC (which needed 17,468) and the slightly later UNIVAC, the great-grand-daddies of today’s slim, trim desktops and laptops.

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These days, desktop computer designers are, to use an old but apt cliche, thinking outside the box. Take Antec’s Skeleton case: the spidery, open-air style gives it a unique look more like the base of the Eiffel Tower than a computer case! The Skeleton is topped by a 250mm-wide, 3-speed multi-color LED fan whose tint and speed can be adjusted to the owner’s taste.

7) The Evolution of Calculators

(image via: Hall of Precision Astrometry)

Electronic calculators are close cousins to computers; ENIAC was basically an overgrown calculator used by the the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory to work out artillery firing tables. For everyday geeks who were inseparable from the slide rules, however, calculators like the Marchant-1 above were a revelation. Best of all, they used Nixie tubes to display the numbers. Nixies are beloved today by steampunk designers for their ancient electrical aesthetic.

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Today electronic calculators are typically solar powered and can be so small, they’re built into wristwatches and imitate credit cards. That’s no fun – but the USB Hub Calculator is! On the one hand it’s a functional calculator with a swiveling LCD screen, on the other it’s a nifty USB hub that has 3 slots for USB 2.0 flash drives.

8) The Evolution of Watches

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Speaking of wristwatches, these wearable timepieces (no, not you Flavor Flav) have been a showcase for geek obsessions since the first Casio digital watch hit the market. While the trend has been to shrink the size while adding more functions, the clunky, Soviet-style Zihotch telephone dial watch above goes against the grain while adding a hefty (literally) dose of geek chic.

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Retro is fine but futuristic is finer – like the Tokyoflash watches above. So you think you’re a geek? If you can tell time with one of these, you pass muster.

9) The Evolution of Televisions

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TV is sacred to true geeks – it gave us Star Trek, after all. Long before Kirk, Spock & the gang were a twinkle in Gene Roddenberry’s eye, however, television had the power to entrance and inspire. Remarkable considering how primitive early TV sets were compared to today’s modern marvels.

(images via: Geeky Gadgets and Turbosquid)

10) The Evolution of Videos Games

The latest generation of televisions make Star Trek: The Next Generation even more real – well, LOOK more real. That’s what Turbosquid’s virtual high-tech futuristic TV studio set or an 82-inch LCD screen can do. What else can one say but “Make it so!”

(image via: Not All Who Wander Are Lost)

Last but certainly not least, gaming – the paragon of geekiness. Games & gaming have come a long, long way since Atari gave us Pong, which was a revelation at the time of its introduction in the early 1970s. Today we have Beer Pong. Let’s all drink to progress!

(images via: X-Boxer and Tomorrow’s Technology Never Ending)

Games are getting better and better as technology improves, driven by the demands of gamers and geeks. What will the future of gaming hold? The “if you build it, they will come” factor is the main driver here. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft etc will build them and we will play. And we all will win!