I recently got to reminiscing of days gone by. When I was young, carefree, and studied the Radio Shack catalog even more religiously than religion, and I was religious.
When I realized, all those gizmos and gadgets I so desperately wanted are now all on the phone in my pocket, and they’re much better, and much cheaper, and we all have access to them.
I decided to dig up an old Radio Shack catalog, choosing 1993 as it was roundly 20-years ago, and found it conveniently hosted here at Radio Shack’s official page.
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My question was how many of the items for sale can be replaced reasonably, if not far better by a mile, by the Android or iOS device most of us have in our pockets and take for granted.
As it turns out, you can exclude 32% of the book if you go by line item and don’t debate it. 78% is covered by your phone if you take security systems and diode type oddball items out of the mix, and even more if you take out things like speakers, PA systems and those with functions easily replaced by a simple app.
So let’s break it down, and this is the link to the Radio Shack 1993 catalog, in case you’re wondering where my numbers are coming from.
Phones! Phones! Phones!
The first 17 pages are made up of all manner of corded, cordless, scrambling (but not quite encrypted) telephones. You can get a Caller ID box for a mere $89.95. Sure, that’s included free now on any line you have, even (especially) the one in your pocket, but why not have an extra box tethered to the wall instead?
Of the 198 items listed in the first 17 pages of the catalog, only one can’t be replaced by your phone, and it’s a cover… for your phone. That’s 99.5% of items in the first 17 pages you can replace with your smart phone, and do so with better results.
Radio Waves… of the past
Pages 18-31 are all about intercoms in the house, police scanners, portable radios and books on how these various things work. There are, of course, apps for all these things, even police scanners, and eBooks on understanding them do a fair job, but Googling the problem will likely yeild quicker results without all the fuss of having to learn something in advance.
Intercoms? Why would you need such a thing when you can text, IM or Facebook the person upstairs? The 153 items listed between pages 18 & 31 are all included with any smart phone newer than 2009.
Personal audio and video
Since DVDs didn’t exist, VHS was all the rage, and your smart phone can replace them with full 1080p streaming images on demand, and show it on your Chromecast big screen or in the privacy of your seat on the bus.
Tape decks have been replaced with every manner of audio service in your pocket. You already have a high-res camera and camcorder right with you, and forget about the 9-foot satellite dish available for the low, low price of $1,995… mind you, that’s in 1993 dollars.
Sure, you get 200 channels, but with your phone, you get unlimited channels on your schedule, wherever you are, and without a 9-foot parabola hanging over your head.
Tape players of all manner, CD players from big to small, all the blank tapes that come with it? Yeah, those are all on your phone.
Electronic Games, Baby!
How about the most sophisticated chess game in the world for $159.95? Or an LCD monochrome golf game for $14.95. You wouldn’t pay $1 for these apps today. What’s replaced them is easily a thousand times more fun, more sophisticated, and more pleasing to the eye. You can pick from 100,000 free games on your phone at any time, and not one of them will suck as bad as these premium games did in 1993.
Indeed your father’s smart device, but so dumb
If you’re in the market for a $149 e-Dictionary, I hope you’re okay with severely abrgd definitions to fewer than a quarter of words in the English language, and forget about urban dictionary or other terms, those you’d be most likely to need to look up. You don’t even need an app to beat this one, Siri can do better in a breath.
For a mere $199.95 you can have “thousands of articles” from a pocket Encyclopedia. Compare that with the million-plus available for free on Wikipedia, complete with references, links and citations, not to mention the fact that you can have it virtually any language you want. It only has .3% of the content, and even then it’s scaled back, and it lacks all the citations and history.
The Holy Bible was also available for $199.95, as well as terrible, impractically useless foreign language translators, all high price points, low usability and usefulness, and an unquenchable thirst for AA batteries, which at the time were about $1 each.
Fax, Calculators and Digital Planners
Many readers won’t even know what these things are I speak of. A fax is like a copy machine that prints the copy in another city, but only sometimes, with terrible quality, and it costs as much as a gallon of milk.
Calculators are what people used to buy rather than pulling up their calculator apps. And Digital Planners were the worst, earliest, dumbest form of an online calendar you could ever imagine.
But we had all of these, and we paid mad money to have them. Smart Phones might not have precisely replaced faxes, but it’s certainly cut the need for them, and you can technically do it from your phone.
As for the rest… we’re way past that.
“Laptops” and Desktops
I have to put laptops in quotes, since these bulky chunks of uncivilized machinery would numb your appendages to the point of severage within a few uses. They were big, clunky, hilariously underpowered, lasted only about an hour off power, and even a $50 prepaid phone could beat them in a computation race.
The desktops were just about as bad. How about a 486-33 with a whopping 120mb hard drive (with no monitor) for the paltry sum of $4,499? Yeah, your old Razr could beat that. A smart phone today is unlikely to be below 1.2Ghz with a dual core, meaning a processing speed of about 100x greater, plus it fits nicely in your shirt pocket.
Software… oh my
This is listed on various pages, but it’s hysterical. A Spanish language tutorial for $69.95, when you could get hundreds of hours more free on YouTube. The Sleeping Beauty eBook for $49.95… come on, today we wouldn’t pay more than 99-cents, if that.
Computer memory and hard drives
I counted all of this as “gimmes”. Yes, storage still costs money today, but everything listed as the highest possible purchase point for memory was still comically below what’s even offered as a bare minimum today.
A 40Mb hard drive was $299.95, and that’s enough for what, maybe 80 pictures today? 25 songs? One music video? Zero tv shows? It’s not even meaningful to draw the comparison.
How about a dialup modem for $349.95?
Just absurd. For that price you could get a latest-generation 10.1″ Samsun Galaxy Tab-3. It has everything you could ever want, not to mention the silly modem that was once apparently considered a good deal.
By the way, it wasn’t. Read the description, it was a ripoff even then. Nothing more than a way to separate the rich from their hard earned cash.
Some things can’t be replaced
Home stereos and receivers still require enormous speakers. All these are categories where the replacement comparison fell short, but in fairness, the family doesn’t all listen to the same thing anymore.
Where 20 years ago, dad or the teen may put on music and blast it throughout the house, today we’re more likely to see each wandering around with their own headphones on. Greater control, vastly easier access, higher fidelity, and more privacy too.
The other big non-replaced items were car stereos, car alarms, and car radar detectors. Maybe cars just come with better equipment now so it’s not such a big thing, but it seems these aren’t quite as big as they once were.
There are about 55 pages in the middle of the catalog dedicated to home security and it’s many sensors, diodes, electrodes, resistors, capacitors and other sundry transistors. For the most part, I’ve cut them out.
They weren’t part of everyday life back then, they aren’t part of everyday life today. While interesting to hobbyists, they didn’t account for any large proportion of sales or profit, so I’m basically ignoring them.
What you didn’t buy would have cost you vastly more
Think about what’s not even included in the 1993 Radio Shack catalog. There’s no Siri, no Google, no Wikipedia, and no GPS. These dreams were barely imagined at the time, yet today they’re part of your every day life. You’d have imagined to watch a movie on the way to work, you’d first have to know what movie it is, bring it with you, and not change it on the way there.
One or a few of the devices in 1993 would cost more than your entire device today, and you get way more out of it for free. Just be happy with it, that’s all I’m saying. There’s a new device and a new operating system just around the corner, and now that Windows is out of the game, you can rest assured each will be better than the last.
So just be happy…
Maybe your text takes a few seconds or minutes too long. Maybe you could have saved $5 by waiting a week to buy that memory card, or by shopping smarter. It’s not worth it. In 20-years you’d look back on the difference and think, “Man, was I ever an idiot for getting worked up over a measly few dozen gigs!”
Thanks Radio Shack!