We often talk about the astonishing pace of technological progress, but we often fail to realize how fast it is really moving. After all, we were supposed to get jet packs, flying cars and robot butlers in the year 2000 – clearly we are behind the schedule. But let’s do a little thought experiment. How many popular technologies got obsoleted within your life time? I was born in 1981, and I have already seen my share of technological marvels come and go. Here are some of them:
When I was younger we used to use tapes for everything. We taped music from the radio. We taped our voices. We made mix tapes for girls. We used tapes to store video games for our Commodore 64. Tapes were everywhere. And then they were gone. The other day I realized that I currently do not own any device capable of playing back a standard audio tape. Seriously, I don’t know what happened. I could swear we have owned a boom box at one point or the other. And a Walkman! Everyone had one of those. I guess all these things eventually ended up at my curb side, next to the garbage cans.
That’s ok though, because I don’t own any tapes any more.
Earlier this semester I brought some floppy disks to class. My students actually laughed when I pulled out the 5 1/4″ and demonstrated why exactly were these things called “floppies”. Then I held up the 3 1/4″ one and told them you would need about 3-5 of those to store your average mp3 song. I don’t think they believed me.
Funny thing is that when I graduated college floppies while on their way out, were still in use. I remember my boss telling me to make sure all the new computers we order have floppy drives for example – because it was still the preferred medium to put in snailmail packages. Hell, I still have few external USB floppy drives in my drawer at work. My coworker laughed at me the other day, but I just don’t have the heart to throw them out. Besides, if we ever get some important data on a floppy who will have the last la… Ah, who am I kidding. I am keeping them mainly due to sentiment.
Anyone remember these things?
My brother recently found one of these underneath his bed and we had a good laugh. Diskman is actually a great example of a technology that hit the wall of progress so hard it vaporized itself. It’s predecessor – the Walkman had a long and successful life that ended when the cassette tapes went out of style. Diskman briefly appeared on the stage to be almost immediately obsoleted by mp3 players.
Hey guise, remember when connecting to the internet was like this. I do! Hell, I was probably the last person in my group of peers to get broadband internet. I used AOL, Earthlink, PeoplePC, NetZero, All2Easy and several other dial up services. It was all kinds of crazy for a while there. Hell, my first experience with Linux was a complete and utter failure because I couldn’t get my winmodem to work. Heh… Soft modems. I am so glad that bullshit is no longer haunting me.
It’s funny but each semester I ask my class whether or not they have ever used dialup. I used to get few people in each class who remembered it. These days no one raises their hand when I ask that question. Dialup is long forgotten in these parts of the world.
When I was a kid, I thought that the Polaroid camera was the coolest thing ever. When my dad brought it home my mind was blown – I just couldn’t believe you could just snap a picture and see it develop itself right in front of your eyes. You have to keep in mind this was before one hour photo booths, and self service drop-off boxes. Back then you had to bring your film roll to the photo store and then wait few days before picking it up. A picture appearing right before your eyes was unbelievably cool.
And now it is dead. In fact, ti seems a bit silly now when we have digital photography. Nah, screw it – Polaroids pictures are still awesome for their retro quality.
You know what is funny though? Our children or grand children will watch Memento one day (and they will because it is a fucking awesome movie) and will think the camera he uses is some sort of a funky retro-anachronism. A bit like the communicators on the original Star Trek – this was how people imagined cell phones before we had cellular technology. I will have to explain that the Polaroid did in fact exist, and it was not some silly SF concept of analog instant photo created before the digital age.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have a phone in the house. It seems almost inconceivable by today’s standards but we were just fine. Most business was done in person back then anyway. The only people we have ever called was my grandma – because she was the only person who actually had a phone at that time. When we finally got a phone, it was one of these:
By the time I was in high school, I already could not imagine life without a phone. Nowadays most people don’t even have a land line in their house. Or rather the only people who have land-lines are those who haven’t moved in years. Younger people who move out of their parents houses just use their cell phones. Older people who are still attached to the concept of a stationary “house phone” get a voip plan from their broadband ISP. Traditional phone networks are not completely out yet, but rotary phones are are only seen in old movies and museums these days.
My dad’s ancient VCR broke recently. He asked me to to buy him a replacement. You know – a cheap VCR only device. He didn’t want one of these combo systems because he already had a decent DVD player. He assumed that these things should be dirt cheap by now. He didn’t expect them to be… Gone. We looked in several local stores and no one carried them anymore. Eventually he found something he liked online, but it was not as cheap as he thought it would be.
Let’s face it – VCR is a dead technology. It is becoming almost as hard to buy VCR tapes as it is to find audio cassettes. It seems strange after all these years over which the phrase “be kind, please rewind” was etched into our memory.
Have you noticed you can’t buy these anywhere anymore? I recently threw out my old CRT monitor and replaced it with a brand spanking new wide screen LCD and I haven’t looked back since. I still have a CRT TV in my room, but since I hardly ever watch television it pretty much a dust magnet. I watch most of the movies at my desk via the computer. I only put on the TV when I’m going to sleep or when I want some background noise. Yes, I sleep with the TV on tuned to [adult-swim] – doesn’t everyone? I will eventually replace it with a plasma with a HDMI input but this purchase is sort of low on my priority list. I still want a new laptop and a new phone before I throw out this relic out of my house.
When we moved offices, we forgot to connect the fax machine to the phone outlet. No one noticed for over 3 months, because it acted the same way it always was – it was sitting in the corner of the room in sleep mode. The only reason why we noticed it was not plugged in was because some client requested something to be sent by fax. Then he realized that the fax machine in his office was broken, and no one noticed. We ended up scanning the document as a PDF and sending it via email.
Fax is slowly fading away. It is still used here and there, but it is on it’s last legs. Seriously, you can easily run an office without a fax machine these days. Just a few years ago this was inconceivable.
There are probably few other obsolete technologies I am forgetting right now. It’s wild. All of these things came and went away in less than 30 years of my life. I wonder what is next. What ubiquitous technology of today will be gone by tomorrow? Any guesses?
My predictions are as follows:
- DVD will be likely replaced by BluRay – at least that is the plan so far
- Personal desktop computers – traditional tower setups will likely disappear in the next few years for the home user market. Computer vendors will still carry business models, high end gaming machines an gimmicky mini machines
- Dumbphones – you know, cell phones without internet access. I suspect they will be phased out in the next few years – similarly to how you can’t really buy a cell phone without a camera these days
Anything else? Let me know your picks for the new obsolete technology.