It’s an astonishing 40 years since the launch of the Sony Walkman – one of the best loved gadgets of all time. Writer At Large Neil Mackay recalls the technology of our youth and how it changed our lives – and society – forever

APOLOGIES as this will probably make me you feel really old but tomorrow marks 40 years since the launch of the Sony Walkman – that classic gadget which now symbolises nostalgia rather than cutting-edge technology.

Of course, for a younger generation the sight of a Sony Walkman – the world’s first portable cassette player – may evoke feelings of bewilderment or derision, rather than a pang for lost youth.

With strange serendipity today is Social Media Day. What two dates could be more different – today, which celebrates all things digital, the world of the Twitter bubble and Facebook friends, and tomorrow’s anniversary of the Sony Walkman with its memories of a world that was about physical things and shared culture? The era of the mixtape – a time when we owned "stuff" rather than downloaded it.

Our youth is littered throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s with the debris of long-dead technology we once thought we couldn’t live without – gadgets that seemed to change the world, if only for a moment. Let’s pay our respects to some of the "nostalgia tech" we loved and lost.

1 The VCR

The VCR took off in 1975 but it wasn’t until 1982 that the technology established itself as a domestic must-have. We all remember the first video we hired from a rental store, often staffed by local versions of Bill and Ted. The stores once boomed – now they’re no more. For a while the video market became a wild west due to lack of regulation over classification and content. Cue the moral panic of the Video Nasty era and mass-market pornography. Mary Whitehouse had a field day. The video meant we could watch TV when we wanted. If parents were glued to Gardener’s World, you could tape Top Of The Pops and watch it later. This was part of the coming of the cult of "consumer choice" – the video established the idea that if you could help the consumer get what they wanted when they wanted then you were on to a commercial winner.

2 The CB Radio

For much of the 20th century, Ham, or amateur, radio was the domain of the Uber-nerd – a place populated by those with an intimate knowledge of electronics and crystal sets. Then in the late 1970s and early 80s, "citizens band" radio took off as a popular pastime. Strange but true – the phenomenon was partly down to the success of so-called "CB movies" like Convoy or Burt Reynolds in Smokey And The Bandit.

Soon kids were sitting in their bedrooms saying things like "Breaker, breaker, good buddy" as if they were driving an 18-wheeler down Route 66, rather than living in rainy Britain. No-one seemed to worry that children were speaking to complete strangers, many of whom were adults. It was the 70s, after all.

3 The Ghetto Blaster

Otherwise known as the boombox, this mini-music centre came straight from the streets of New York in the late 70s. It spoke of black culture, early hip hop and break dancing. The boombox comprised two tapes decks, speakers and a radio – but you could carry it to the park. You could sit in the park with pals and listen to music really loudly. Adults hated them. They were glorious.

4 The Discman

Like the Sony Walkman and boombox, the Discman, which arrived in 1984, was designed to let you take your music with you. The only problem was that instead of using cassettes, it used CDs. We were told that CDs would famously never skip, you could put jam on them and they’d still play. That, as we learned, was nonsense. If a cat walked past a CD player it would jump.

5 The turntable

As so many people have said so often in life, blame Dire Straits. The CD really started to challenge vinyl in 1985 when the Dire Straits album Brothers In Arms was the first big album released for the CD market. By 1988, CDs outsold vinyl and the turntable started its slow decline – though it’s been rescued today as a kind of artefact for hipsters desperate for authenticity. In turn, the death of the CD with the rise of iTunes and Spotify has transformed music from a shared experience to an individual one, meaning a little bit more connection to other people vanishes every day.

6 The pager

Along with gigantic mobile phones, pagers were the accoutrements of both the 1980s yuppie and drug dealer. Although the gadget was invented in 1949 it took decades to become popular. The classic pager was clipped to the user’s belt – it wasn’t a great look. Short messages, usually from your boss, would appear on the screen invariably telling you to ring the office As of 2017, it’s estimated that some 10% of all pagers remaining in the world – about 130,000 – are used by the NHS.

7 The electric typewriter

The coming of the electric typewriter was like moving from horse and cart to car. Electric typewriters were around since the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that they really took off commercially. Before that, people had to contend with the horror of the manual typewriter. Once a mistake was made the paper became a smudge of Tippex. With the electric one you could erase elegantly and it was quiet rather than sounding like a herd of horses. But with the rise of the home computer in the 90s, they hit the big waste basket of tech – although they remain a collectable for hipsters.

8 The dial-up modem

From the advent of the internet to the coming of broadband in the mid-2000s, we were all dependent on the dial-up modem to get online. Yes it was slow, it was painful – but what can never be forgotten was the sound. First, there came the noise of a telephone number being dialled, then a series of whirrs, clicks, beeps and chirrups until your computer managed to find its way into the web. The modem sums up the testy, and often impatient, relationship humans have with all technology. Here we were, accessing anything we wanted in the world, but we moaned because it took a few minutes to connect and made a weird noise.

9 The Tamagotchi

Children were obsessed with these digital pets which lorded over the toy market from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Tamagotchi – which means "egg friend" in Japanese – were essentially digital pets which lived inside a plastic egg. It sounds strange, but those are the facts. Kids had to care for them, feed them, toilet train them, nurse them if they were sick. Although they taught children about caring and kindness, the tabloids had a fit over the stress and horror that the game allegedly subjected children to – if the pets were left unattended when a child was at school or sleeping, they could die and the child would be left "distraught".

10 The Instant Camera

We think of today as the era of the image – when everything from food to your own face is photographed endlessly. But we’ve been taking stupid pictures and pointless selfies since the birth of photography. One of the first pictures ever taken in 1839 was a selfie. But it was the Polariod which really allowed our narcissistic selves to run free for the first time.

Of course, just as video killed the radio star, instant cameras were killed off by the mobile phone. They still exist as yet another hipster collectable, though – if you fancy blowing £119.99 on an original.

11 Video consoles

It’s been a hell of a ride for the games industry since Pong came out in 1972 followed by the Atari in 1977. The story of the console isn’t so much one of disappearance but of permanent change. The tech hasn’t vanished, but what’s available today is unrecognisable from the defunct products of the past. Through the days of the ZX81 and the Spectrum to the Nintendo and the Sega, games were also a laddish affair. It was all cars and killing. Games have only begun to find more emotional depth in the last decade, hoping to cash in on a growing female market, as consoles became the sophisticated mass entertainment systems they are today in the shape of Xbox and PlayStation.

12 The Eight-Track

If you weren’t alive in the 70s in America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, West Germany, Italy or Japan, this is going to be confusing for you. The eight-track – basically a giant clunky cassette tape – lived and died in those few countries in less than 20 years. Its name had nothing to do with the number of songs on the tape – eight-track refers to the highly complicated and technical side of how sound was stored. If your mum and dad bought an eight-track instead of an ordinary cassette player they were making an early form of the Betamax v VHS mistake.

13 Super 8 movies

Before video, there was a brief golden age for home projection systems in the early 70s. You’d buy a projector, a pull-down screen and a bunch of silent black and white movies and spend your afternoons watching films by Charlie Chaplin. The reel was short so the films were edited down to a matter of minutes. No wonder it died out so quickly. It was a pretty awful form of entertainment.

The flip side of all this was the Super 8mm handheld movie camera which allowed families in the 70s and 80s to record the excitement of grandad’s birthday or auntie Pat drunk on gin at Christmas. Super 8 home movies lie at the heart of the YouTube phenomenon and our love affair with chronicling every aspect of our lives.

14 Teletext

The BBC introduced an early form of "terrible internet" in 1974 with the advent of Ceefax – a text service that came on when television shut down for the night, giving you the news, sport and weather, and allowing lonely people, students and insomniacs to sit up late reading the same facts over and over again. Ceefax stopped broadcasting on October 23, 2012 – the date when the UK completed its digital switchover.

15 The home phone

Throughout the 20th century it was the landline telephone which dominated communication. By 2002, however, 10% of the world’s population had mobiles, and by next year it’ll be 75%. Of course, the landline isn’t completely dead – we use it for connecting to the internet. Back in the time before mobiles, the telephone was in the hall, sometimes with a lock on it, and strictly monitored by skinflint parents who’d listen to your conversations. The phone itself was a ruthless social indicator – did you have a bog standard rotary dial phone? Or a super-modern hi-tech trim phone that had an outer space ringtone? Some people didn’t even have landlines and they still had to use telephone boxes. Remember those?