Nerd Nostalgia: MakeUseOf Remembers Geeky Gifts From The Past

Dave Parrack 11-12-2014

Technology is generally obsessed with looking forward to the next big thing. Innovation is king, with everything that has gone before dropped as soon as the new shiny shiny is released. While looking forward is ultimately positive, occasionally looking back can also be a good thing.


We all love technology here at MakeUseOf. It’s what binds us together, turning us from a disparate group of individuals into a cohesive team working together to create the best website this side of the Dagobah system. So we are nerds The Anatomy of Nerds & Geeks [INFOGRAPHIC] If you are a regular reader of MakeUseOf, and you like computers & technology, then there's a good chance you fall into one of two camps - the Nerd or the Geek. Both have their... Read More . And it turns out we’re a nostalgic bunch too.

Nerd Nostalgia

I recently asked my fellow MakeUseOf staffers to think back over their lives in order to remember the best tech-related gift they have ever received. Some ignored my petulant request for them to do my job for me, but others took the opportunity to wax lyrical about a geeky gift they loved at the time and probably still love to this day.

What follows is MakeUseOf remembering geeky gifts 20 Gadget Gift Ideas For Geeks Geeks love gadgets 365 days a year. However, with the holidays approaching, we really need to start compiling our Christmas lists. Read More from the past. And with people of all ages on staff, the list includes gadgets from as recent as a few years ago to many decades in the dark and distant past. This may well be a little self-indulgent, but we hope it triggers you to remember gadgets long since replaced by newer, shinier alternatives.

Azamat Bohed

Mine was an 8-bit Chinese unnamed gaming console in the shape of a car:) can’t even remember how old I was.. But that was when I first played games like Mario, Dr Mario, ninja turtles, and all that. And that was the first time I started messing around with electronics, like repairing the joysticks, checking what’s inside that magic box and all that.


Ben Stegner

Mine would have to be my Game Boy Pocket, given to me when I was 4 years old by my parents.

We were driving to the beach on vacation and they wanted something to keep me entertained, so that’s what I ended up getting. The rest is history – video games are my biggest hobby to this day!

My first game with it was Wario Land, which I still love, and I still have the Game Boy. What was meant to be a little distraction ended up becoming a lifelong love for me.

Aaron Couch

My brother got me a Kindle Touch a few years back and I loved it. I had been wanting one for some time and somehow he knew. I use it every day, especially for sending web articles to it for later reading.

I love how versatile it is. Whether I’m in the mood to read about self-improvement, fiction or a how-to article, I can. And it’s great for trips, camping, etc. because of its fantastic battery life.


Saikat Basu

The best tech-related gift I ever got was a Nintendo Mickey Mouse game from my sister who was visiting us from the States. Way before computer games and XBoxes. I was probably 8 or 10 then.

Come to think of it, that was my first “digital” interaction of any kind. Today, this game will seem lame even in a browser. But boy, catching eggs was FUN!

James Bruce

Can’t remember how old I was and whether it was birthday or Christmas, but my best tech present was the SoundBlaster Multimedia Upgrade for our 386SX. It had a sound card, CD-ROM, and came with Encarta.

I once submitted a word-for-word copy of the Encarta article on Mozart for a music essay, and got away with it since no one else had Encarta at the time.

The multimedia era was a huge shift in computing generations – before that, every game I played used the crappy beep of the motherboard. Can you imagine the horror? Games took on an entirely new dimension! (I wasn’t allowed to have a video game console, so all my gaming was on DOS)



Daniel Price

First ever computer. Was an Amstrad PC on one side, with a little sliding bit on the front to covert it into a Mega Drive on the other side. I was 8/9 at the time and got it for Xmas. Worth £150 now so I read – should’ve kept it…

Tina Sieber

The original GameBoy.

After having played with a chess computer for years and being very bored and not making progress, I fell in love with the GameBoy when it first came out. It was an unusually expensive gift from my parents and at the time I was unsure whether it was even a good idea to ask for it.

To my surprise and joy, I did receive the GameBoy for Christmas the year it came out in Europe (1990) and soon became an expert Tetris player. I subscribed to the local Nintendo magazine and had my high scores published. Eventually, I got a data cable and competed with friends at school in Tetris tournaments. And of course I saw the big rocket launch after beating level 9 high 5 in Mode B play.

Tetris remained my favorite game for a long time.


Ryan Dube

Hewlett Packard HP48G graphing calculator, which I got my Freshman year of high school. My buddy and I got it the same year, and we felt boss because we could program in things like the quadratic equation and solve for variables on Algebra tests faster than anyone else.

At the time, the teachers had no clue what the capabilities of these things were. My buddy and I felt so cool…completely unaware that we were really just acting like two of the biggest nerds on the planet.

Philip Bates

I’ve got to go with the “gadget” that started it all for me: when I was a kid, everyone wanted a PlayStation. I was the same. And on Christmas morning, that’s exactly what I unwrapped – swiftly followed by three games to start me off. I’ve since abandoned the PS brand, but happy memories of Spyro, Spider-Man, and Speed Freaks will always remain with me.

Of course there have been some amazing tech presents since, yet you can’t ignore that boyish excitement on Christmas Day, etched in the untouchable sepia of my childhood.


Harry Guinness

Best tech gift was totally the Kindle keyboard. It changed how I read. I always loved books, but the kindle let me go from reading 20 to 30 books a year to 60+. It’s superior to a dead tree in every way!

Mark O’Neill

Actually mine would have to be my MacBook Air, which I have called Scarlett (after Scarlett Johansson, the one woman I would leave Monika for!!).

It’s precious to me because all Apple equipment was too expensive for me. I have never been a rich person, so all Apple products have felt permanently out of my reach. But when my grandparents gave me some money, I bought an iPad and then an iPhone, but the Macbook seemed to be permanently out of my grasp. But then all of a sudden, last year, I got the chance.

Monika and I were about to get a dog, and we were arguing intensely about what name to give it. Suddenly Monika blurted out, “If you let me name the dog, you can have your MacBook.” She had barely finished the sentence as I raided the savings account and barely scraped together the money needed to order from Amazon.

It is my beloved. My precious. It is my Scarlett. And yes, I am insane.


Bruce Epper

Tough call, but both were Christmas presents.

The first was a 150-in-1 electronics kit I got when I was 7 or 8. With it I could construct alarms, an AM radio, sound effects/waveform generators, etc. It was my first hands-on experience with electronics.

The second was a Commodore 64 which my parents thought would only be used for games, but I started programming on it almost immediately. When attempting to do things with graphics, it was god-awful slow because every location was PEEKed/POKEd to do anything at all, and with an interpreted language you can imagine how long it took. A simple switch to hi-res mode and clearing the screen as a 2 minute endeavor. So, I started using machine language instead until I could afford an assembler. After figuring out how their tokenization and parser worked, I then extended them to add my own commands to CBM BASIC. This was probably the most effective computer-related self-education I have ever had.

Christian Cawley

This is tricky. I have a lot of tech as gifts, from a hand me down 1970s games console with 8 built in games, two paddles and a light gun to a Ronco microphone and radio. ViewMaster stereoscopes were tech to me as a lad!

Ultimately, it has to be my Commodore 64, which was a present in 1984 from my mum and dad. The opposite of Bruce’s story, I was expected to learn how to program and ended up playing games almost all of the time (until I discovered how to hack character graphics from one game and drop them into another with the Action Replay cartridge…).

I still have my C64.



Guy McDowell

For me it was very much like Bruce’s experience except I didn’t go THAT far into programming on the C64. There just weren’t any resources around where I lived to learn from. Every once in awhile I would find a C64 magazine and devour it. Even though actual programming seemed beyond my reach, it did encourage a curiosity that I had since seeing War Games and Whiz Kids.

I’ve only just, literally this moment, realized that my dad was a techno-geek. I’m honestly tearing up a little. He did get the 150-in-1 electronics lab from Radio Shack for us and encouraged me to take my transistor radio apart when it died. And warning me that little batteries only hurt a little but the wall socket could kill me. AC DC differentiation was beyond me at age 7.

He also got us the Radio Shack paddle game as well. I think I was maybe 6. It might as well have been magic! I watched my older brother play that in single-player mode for hours. He was a selfish ass-hat, as older siblings can be. Still, it whetted the appetite!

Tim Brookes

Probably the Commodore Amiga A1200 I received for Christmas when I was… 6? It kick-started both a passion and a time-sink, and I still get a little bit sad when I think that no computer is ever going to really make me feel like that again.

It’s still in my parents attic, and last time I checked it works perfectly.


Angela Alcorn

For me, it was a hand-me-down PC from a techy dad. I was at uni in the mid 90s and this meant I had a more powerful machine than any of the hardcore geeks I knew. My entire household used it in shifts to get through their degrees (and to use IRC from home). One of my flatmates pretty much did his entire computer science degree on my computer while I slept. That gift just kept giving.

Rob Nightingale

Bop It! provided hours of fun as a kid. I might actually hunt one out now as a Christmas present to myself…


Andre Infante

The first generation iPhone. Going from feature phones to modern smart phones was a religious awakening for me.

Continue The Conversation

We hope you found this little peek behind the MakeUseOf curtain interesting. If nothing else it should act as a reminder that we’re all geeks at heart 10 Websites Geeks of All Stripes Should Bookmark We geeks know what we are and revel in our existence as our place in society grows ever stronger. We are geeks, we are proud, and we're not going anywhere. As the Internet becomes a... Read More , and it doesn’t matter what generation we belong to, a great gadget given as a gift can be life-changing. Especially if it’s a Commodore 64, apparently.

If our nostalgic nerdgasms inspired you to remember gadgets from the past then let us know in the comments below. Just tell us what tech-related gift has stuck in your mind right through to the present day, and a few details surrounding how you came to be in possession of it.


A Debt Of Gratitude

This article sprung from us asking our readers, What’s The Best Tech-Related Gift You Have Received? Unfortunately, only a handful of readers answered the question, which meant turning to the MakeUseOf staff instead. Thankfully, this worked out rather well.

Regardless, we thank each and every one of you who did respond to the previous question, and we hope more people get involved with future editions of We Ask You. The more people who do, the better content we can create from the discussion which ensues.

Image Credits: Betsy Weber, Franklin Heijnen, Ruben Schade, William Warby, Nicolas Fuentes, Dan Taylor, Conor Lawless, Monochrome, Jim Wall. All via Flickr.

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  1. Jeff
    January 8, 2015 at 10:43 am

    I can't believe all these C64 people, and no Atari 400 or 800 people! I got the 400 with external (of course) cassette tape drive ~1984. Programming and games using Atari basic. Loved my text based adventure games, "go north" or "pickup sword". The good old days!!

  2. Tim Brookes
    December 12, 2014 at 2:57 am

    I agree with Saikat – when you asked this question I instantly shied away from the modern iPads and games consoles we have today in favour of something entirely unattainable in today's marketplace.

    Maybe it's the ubiquity of technology, devices, the Internet. Maybe its our age – we can now buy the gadgets we want, and there's something far less enticing about them when that's the case.

    Fun post, I enjoyed.

    • Dave Parrack
      December 12, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks for getting involved, Tim. It was fun to compile everybody's comments.

      Nostalgia has to play a huge part in this. I suspect youngsters today will, in 20 years' time, talk about the time they were given an iPad or Android phone.

  3. Ben S
    December 11, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    This was fun to see! Seems like all of us geeks had our origins in a gift : )

    • Dave Parrack
      December 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      I think you're right. Which makes me determined to buy any kids I may have in the future a cool gadget as soon as possible.

  4. Guy
    December 11, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    dragonmouth, very cool and nice to hear. Thank you for sharing that.

  5. dragonmouth
    December 11, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Back in the early 1980s I made myself a Christmas gift of an Apple II+ with 48k RAM, one 5 1/2 inch 143kb floppy drive and a Zenith black & green monochrome monitor. It all cost me a piddling $2500.

    BTW - I still have it and it does work.

    • Tim Brookes
      December 12, 2014 at 2:52 am

      ...and it's still sitting on your desk, right? ;)

      I'd have my A1200 permanently plugged into the TV if it wasn't 10,000 miles away from me right now...

    • Dave Parrack
      December 12, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      That is amazing. Do you actually do anything with it though?

  6. Saikat Basu
    December 11, 2014 at 6:58 am

    What a fun read. Today, we take digital gifts for granted and they are almost dispensable "utilities". But there was a time, when getting one was a dream come true.

    • Dave Parrack
      December 12, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Mark's comment made me realize that's still the case for a lot of people. Not as much as in years gone by, but there is still a divide between the haves and the have-nots. The throwaway culture with technology annoys me no end though.

  7. silverlokk
    December 11, 2014 at 4:30 am

    Mark, a MacBook Air in exchange for the privilege of naming the dog?!

    Sounds like something out of a sitcom (e.g., The Big Bang Theory), but I don't think even the writers could come up with something as good as this.

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 11, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      And the funny thing was that when I had the Macbook, I ended up reneging on the deal, and I got to name the dog anyway!!! LOL! :-)

      The moral of the story - never let me have my toys until after the dog has been bought and named. LOL!

    • Dave Parrack
      December 12, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      That could totally be the plot of an episode of any sitcom you care to mention. Everybody Loves Raymond immediately springs to mind.