Crown Ghettoblaster from the 1980s

A Thing of the Past: Common Tech Fixes of the 80s

By freelance writer Jane Duncan

Feb 5 2020

Remember having to blow into your game cartridges to get them to work again? It was a simple and quick fix that we all just knew how to do, but which has become entirely obsolete over the years. With today’s high tech gaming consoles, smartphones, and more, it’s hard to believe that we ever survived with the tech of the 80s. However, our beloved Walkmans and other favorite devices of the era came along with certain ways to fix each of them that we no longer have to worry about anymore. With that said, here are some of those fixes that are now a thing of the past. Top Image: Crown Ghettoblaster Image from Pixabay (public domain)

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Bunny ears and the woes of rewinding VHS tapes

Just like today, watching TV was a great pastime for many back in the 80s. However, there are many differences between TV now and back then that are easily forgotten about. Antennas, (remember indoor aerials and bunny ears?) were a major difference, and getting them positioned just right was vital in order to watch your favourite show - and let’s not forget having to rewind VHS tapes after you were done watching them. If you didn’t rewind the tape, you risked spoiling it for the next person who did have to rewind it - or, you’d inconvenience yourself by having to rewind it the next time you wanted to watch. The practice of rewinding VHS tapes is yet another simple and quick fix that is now obsolete thanks to DVDs, DVRs, and streaming services like Netflix. 

DIY car fixes: beyond changing a tyre

If you were of driving age in the 80s, chances are you took a drivers education class through your school (usually for free), and learned all about changing a tyre, where to put the jumper leads at if you were unfortunate enough to have your car’s battery die, and how to check the oil level. Today, it’s common for teens to not know much about changing a car’s tyre, or even how to check the tyre treads depth - thanks to how drivers ed has changed. Now, drivers ed is often a paid course taken outside of school hours, which focuses more on road safety rather than common fixes. 

Along with smaller tech fixes, owning a car back in the 80s also required some DIY solutions as well. For example, if you found oil on your car's spark plug threads (common for an older car), it meant that it was time to replace the valve cover gasket and spark plug tube seals. That wasn’t the only thing that made for a DIY fix, though, as in the early 80s (in the U.S., at least) an ‘i’ on cars’ badges began to appear, which meant that the carburetor’s life was limited (due to it being replaced with a fuel injector). While more efficient, this meant that fixing your car yourself became a bit more difficult, as only those with the proper software could control a fuel injection system. In reality, you'd probably lead towards turning to the Yellow Pages for a mechanic’s number to avoid the hassle.

Fixing your cassette tapes and finding the right batteries

Today in 2020, there are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world, meaning that the majority of the population is aware that the small device can do just about anything - including watching TV, staying connected with others, and downloading music. Today’s smartphones also feature many other useful things as well, such as a compass or a calculator. In the 80s, however, not having such a device meant carrying each individual thing with you wherever you needed them - including an address book or paper with important phone numbers written on it, video camera, notebook, calculator, and map - not to mention whatever else you may need - like your Walkman for music. 

If you’ve ever owned a Walkman, you’re sure to remember those times that you had to fix your cassette tapes by winding back the tape with one of your pencils after it eventually unravelled - or was eaten by the stereo. Speaking of the stereo, finding enough of the right sized batteries to put into your boombox was difficult enough when it died, not to mention the amount of time it took to set it in just the right place (and adjust the antenna) in order to reach a steady connection and your desired station. 

The 80s was full of innovative technology, and looking back on the quick fixes we had to do to make it all work is not only nostalgic but shows just how far technology has come since. From carrying every individual thing we need to getting the TV antennas just right, it’s hard to believe that smartphones and other newer devices have made simple fixes obsolete in today’s day and age.

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