The enduring appeal of classic technology: A poll of Americans’ past and present usage

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
February 16, 2023, 3:03 PM GMT+0

In a world where technology is constantly evolving and new gadgets are being released at a rapid pace, it may come as a surprise to learn that some Americans are still regularly using seemingly outdated pre-internet technologies. To understand which are still in use — and which are nearly obsolete — YouGov conducted a series of polls asking Americans which, if any, of a list of 50 activities they currently do, have done in the past but no longer do, or have never done. All of the activities polled fall have one of four primary purposes: communication, entertainment, record-keeping, and reference.


Few Americans still regularly engage in any of the communication methods asked about in the poll — with the one exception being sending letters in the mail, something 55% of people say they currently do. But far fewer say they currently mail postcards (23%) or letters to pen pals (12%). When it comes to telephone technology, 29% say they own a landline, 18% say they own a corded phone, and 11% say they own a mobile phone that can't access the internet. The use of rotary dial phones and public pay phones is declining, with only 4% of respondents still using each one. One in five (20%) say they currently send faxes, while an additional 56% say they have in the past but no longer do. Other modes of communicating information, such as slide projectors and overhead projectors, also have become nearly obsolete, with fewer than 10% stating they still use them.


Despite the rise of streaming services, some traditional forms of entertainment hold some ground. The poll finds that certain forms of digital media — such as DVDs and CDs — remain somewhat widespread, with 41% and 40% saying they currently watch or listen to them, respectively. Far fewer still rely on analog entertainment sources, such as VHS tapes (13%) and music cassettes (10%). One of the music cassette's predecessors — the vinyl record player — is more popular, with 18% saying they still listen to music on one. While at least eight in 10 Americans have ever rented a movie from a video store, just 8% say they currently do.


Even with digital alternatives available, large shares of Americans still sometimes do certain tasks by hand using pen and paper. Around or nearly half of people say they do each of the following: own a printer (57%), plan events on a physical calendar (53%), or pay using checks (42%). Around one in three say they use a physical address book to store contact information (35%) though just 10% say they use a Rolodex. Physical photo albums are still used by 41% of Americans. But when it comes to recording memories, most have converted entirely to digital. Just one in 10 people take photos using a non-disposable camera (9%) and a similar share record videos using film (10%).


When it comes to tasks like finding a recipe or looking up the meaning of a word, many Americans don't mind flipping through pages to find an answer. Roughly half say they currently prepare recipes from cookbooks (49%) and a similar share own a dictionary (48%). A similar share (45%) say they own a handheld calculator. Fewer than one in four use each of the following paper sources for information: maps (23%), newspapers (23%), encyclopedias (18%), and phone books (15%).

Related: What outdated items are Britons still using?

— Carl Bialik, Linley Sanders, and Matthew Smith contributed to this article.

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: The poll was conducted among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys conducted from December 19 - 28, 2022 and December 20 - 30, 2022, with each survey conducted among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for each poll is approximately 4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (patrick)