How the floppy disk continues to be relevant in today's world

A video that went viral with over 1.4 million views on TikTok showed that an American family restaurant is still using floppy disks in 2023. — Unsplash

It’s common practice to replace older devices when a newer model appears with better features, yet some manage to defy obsolescence against all odds.

Take the floppy disk, for example.

Introduced by IBM back in 1971 as a way to upload software or updates into mainframe computers, it evolved to enable people to share data or save documents as they go about work on their personal computers.

Eventually, the floppy disk fell out of favour as a data storage method as people came to rely on newer technologies such as rewritable CDs, USB flash drives and Cloud storage, which allowed data to be easily retrieved or exchanged online.

That being said, floppy disks still have a role to play in a surprising number of industries today.

Say ‘cheese’

A TikTok video that recently went viral with over 1.4 million views showed that American family restaurant Chuck E. Cheese is still using floppy disks in 2023.

Famous for its singing and dancing robotic animals, an employee at the restaurant chain demonstrated how the company updates the robots’ song-and-dance routine by loading a 3.5in disk into a large computer server.

The revelation fascinated some viewers, with one joking that Chuck E. Cheese may be single-handedly keeping the demand for floppy disks alive.

According to Tom Persky, the owner of – one of the remaining purveyors of floppy disks in the US – Chuck E. Cheese is a longtime client.

He explained that the floppy disk is still being used by some companies today because of its reliability.

“If you’re looking for something very stable, really non-hackable – it’s not Internet-based, not network-based,” Persky said. “It’s quite elegant for what it does,” he told BuzzFeed News.

Chuck E. Cheese announced in 2017 that it plans to phase out the iconic animatronic creatures in favour of screen-based entertainment or live entertainers.

To date, less than 50 out of 600 Chuck E. Cheese restaurants worldwide are still using floppy disks to program its dancing robots.

Big in Japan

Floppy disks continue to be so popular in Japan that in August last year, its Digital Minister declared “a war on floppy discs” to end the use of the dated technology.

Taro Kono said in his Aug 31 tweet that there are about 1,900 government procedures that require business communities to submit forms or applications in physical formats such as CDs or floppy disks.

He added that the Digital Agency is set to change such regulations to enable people to submit their forms through digital means.

In the city of Hamada, one local bank insists that payment instructions are to be handed over physically via floppy disks, according to a CBS News report. A spokesperson said in the report that the bank continues to do so even though floppy disk production ended in Japan in 2011.

The report also stated that a newspaper survey revealed that Hamada is one of nine towns in Japan where floppy disks are still widely used.

It’s not just banking in Japan that still relies on floppy disks. In December 2021, Japanese newspaper The Mainichi reported that the Metropolitan Police Department had lost two floppy disks containing the personal information of 38 people who had applied for public housing in Tokyo.

The MPD said the disks, which it first received in 2019 as part of a measure to conduct background checks on the public housing applicants, were initially kept in locked storage and may have been accidentally discarded.

The police apologised to the 38 people whose information were on the disks.

On the flop side

Despite some businesses’ and government agencies’ continued use of floppy disks, the technology is struggling to keep up in other areas.

Last month, The San Francisco Standard reported that the city’s transportation agency is still using 5in floppy disks for crucial operations on the subway system.

Jeffrey Tumlin, director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA), said in a TV interview with KQED News that maintaining a legacy system is not easy.

“We have to maintain programmers who are experts in the programming languages of the 90s in order to keep running our current systems. We have a technical debt that stretches back many decades,” he said.

The SFMTA also addressed concerns about relying on dated equipment in the San Francisco Standard report.

“We recognise that any failure of the outdated equipment is certain to impact everyone working on or riding Muni. Fortunately, our crew makes the difference between these failures crippling the system for weeks or for just a few hours,” its spokesperson Stephen Chun said.

A project to upgrade the train system is currently in planning stages and set to be completed in 2029.

End of the road?

Due to the fact that floppy disks are no longer being widely produced, some people have started to worry about what to do when supply runs out.

Wired reported about Mark Necaise, who creates custom embroidery on jackets using a Japanese machine that was manufactured in 2004. The only way for him to transfer his designs from a computer to the machine was via floppy disks.

However, when some of his disks stopped working, he began to feel uneasy. Eventually, Necaise used a custom upgrade to replace the floppy drive on his machine with the more manageable USB port.

Persky, who runs the site, told Wired that he is able to sell 1,000 disks a day, relying on existing stock from a warehouse in California. The most common type is the 3.5in, which goes for US$1 (RM4) each.

At 73 years old, Persky said he is looking to work for another five years as he does not think anyone will want to take over his company.

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Technology , Social Media , Computer


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