A Look Back On Our Childhood Toys and Gadgets

Millennials childhood toys

Ah, youth, so fun, so fleeting. It feels like just yesterday we were kids flapping shut our Trapper Keepers and rushing home to hit the Atari…or something like that. Now we’re the ones having kids, and the youth of today are using devices we only knew in the context of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Worth mentioning: the  toys of our childhood and teenage years are now worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

They Were Called “Landlines.”

The mobile phone was invented in 1973, but it didn’t gain real popularity until the ‘90s—and it was reserved for adults. When we were kids, if you wanted to talk to a friend, you had to go to a specific place, pick up a receiver, and dial a real keypad (or even a rotary). If you were lucky, that receiver was wireless, but quite possibly you were restricted to within a few feet of the kitchen for the duration of the call. Don’t say anything you’d hate for mom to hear.

Today, 80% of children between 12 and 17 have cell phones, and about half of those are smartphones. It’s not the least bit uncommon to see a 10-year-old tapping away on his iPhone. “Tapping away” meaning texting, emailing, and social-media-ing. Cell phones today have more power and capabilities than even the spiffiest ‘90s PC. Gen Z, properly known as the iGen, is the generation birthed side-by-side with iPhone adaptations, and they are skilled digital users.

“You’ve Got Mail.”

The “You’ve Got Mail” catchphrase still warms a Millennial’s heart and reminds us of the iconic, now dated but available on Netflix, romcom with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The only sound more nostalgic than the AOL email message are the beeps and statics of a dial-up modem, similar to the sound of a fax machine (don’t even get us started). Remember all the things you could do while waiting for dial-up? Get a snack. Finish your math homework. These days, Internet connectivity is all but instantaneous and, thanks to Wi-Fi, fairly ubiquitous. There’s Internet in our coffee shops, in our doctor’s offices, in our parks. An iGen kid, like all of us, is mobile accessible and publicly presented from birth (have you checked out your Facebook feed lately?). All we had was AIM.

Let’s also thank constant Internet for why we’ll never see another snow day from the outdoors, as we’ll be typing away remotely. Sigh.

Before There Was The “Uncanny Valley” There Was Super Mario Bros.

When the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out in 1985, it revolutionized the video game industry, in part because it was the first time a console company allowed third-party game developers to sell products for their devices. The graphics were basic…

… but the fun was the same. And today millennials are still playing video games. The average age of a gamer is 31 years old, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and adult women represent a significantly greater proportion of players than boys 18 or younger. But boys (and girls) are still playing, which helps explain video games’ enduring popularity.

The top-selling game of 2014 was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The first-person shooter, militaristic Call of Duty franchise has grossed over $10 billion since the original’s release in 2003. While the franchise began as a WWII-era game, Advanced Warfare has a futuristic/science fiction plot that involves a lot of gunfire and one of our favorite actors.

Needless to say, the visuals have changed a lot. And along with the games, the gaming devices have evolved, too. ‘Multiplayer’ used to mean two controllers plugged into one device, but today gamers all around the world play together and communicate in real-time, chatting away through headsets and text-based messaging systems. In addition, many consoles, like XBox 360 or Playstation 4, function as full entertainment suites, offering access to streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu, as well as movies and TV shows.

Not only are the graphics lightyears ahead of where they were in the ‘90s, the world of portable gaming has been turned on its head thanks to the the rise of mobile media technology elsewhere — you might not invest in a handheld gaming device, or even a TV or PC console for that matter, when you can play countless games (many for free) on your phone or tablet.

Toys You Could Cuddle

Speaking of video games and the rise of electronic devices, they’ve basically made physical toys uncool. According to an infographic by Abby Ryan Designs, between 2002 and 2012, eight of the 10 most popular holiday toys were electronic, including the iPod Touch, XBox 360, iPad, and LeapPad, a tablet targeted at early learners.

Millennials had their early-learner electronics too. The Tamagotchi was a wildly popular egged-shaped computer that functioned much like the baby-shaped “infant simulators” sometimes employed today in high school health classes to demonstrate the difficulty of parenting. Granted, it’s easier to forget to feed something when you can lose it in your backpack…

The electronic nature of the Tamagotchi made it an outlier in the 1990s, though, a time when kids were more drawn to plush toys. Top-selling toys of the ‘90s include Beanie Babies, Furbies, and Tickle Me Elmo — a stuffed animal that caused actual stampedes in stores.

Feeling Nostalgic?

If you’re feeling nostalgic, never fear, you can relive your childhood through the Tamagotchi app. And Super Mario Bros.? It’s holding its own on WiiU, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS.

As for the land line? Millennials were the first to ditch them, but if you’re craving a spiral phone cord to wrap around your finger like the good ol’ days, you can do that too.

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