R.I.P. Dead Tech

September 5, 2012

One of the things that amazes me is how quickly technology can become a dated reference. I first started noticing it with my nieces, but even friends of mine who are just two or three years younger will hear me talk about tech that used to be an everyday part of my life and look at me like I was speaking an alien language.

But I'm not making this up. I swear to God, we didn't use to have these shiny compact disks, and even that seems like a dated reference. Think about it: the time is coming where there will be adults who will see a CD and have no idea what it's for.

With that in mind, I want to revisit some of these things I've mentioned in passing that have gotten me cross-eyed looks and "wait, what?" responses from friends and loved ones.


I'm old enough to have used the floppier eight inch variety, but what I remember most was the 3 ½ inch floppy disks that used to contain all my reports, stories, and secrets.Well, as long as they lasted, anyway.

Before the advent of the internet and laptop computers, bringing your files with you was a daunting proposition. The solution: floppy disks, little square pieces of plastic where you could save your term paper and bring it with you to school early in the morning to finish it.

The downside was that they were super unreliable. Anyone who remembers the 3 ½ inch floppies likely also remembers the awful sound that accompanied a failed attempt to read the disk. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, either.

They were also used for early PC games, either through a multi-disk installation or playing off the disks themselves. And God forbid if you lost or misplaced a disk in a move; if you had a game that was five disks in total and you forgot disk four? Well, you were done.


Zip disks were like the missing link between floppy disks and CDs, though a more apt comparison might be to Neanderthals.

Developed by Iomega to supplant the floppy, zip disks could initially hold upwards of 250 MB and later 750 MB. At the time, such a high storage capacity was unheard of except in CDs.

They were more reliable than floppys, but much more expensive. They also couldn't match the storage capacity for rewritable compact discs, which couldn't be rewritten but also didn't have the issue of random failure that zip disks suffered from.

And so, like the Neandarthals, their time was brief and reign non-existent, and now the zip disk is but a distant memory kept alive by anthropologists and the occasional science article that speculates some small part of it may still live in the genes of a superior mechanism.


Source: Getty Images

For decades, the eight-track was a punch line for misguided tech. Yet you still got the idea that there was a wistful nostalgia behind all the digs. There was, after all, something earnest and admirable about these little cartridges that allowed you to listen to music on the go but didn't allow you to go back, forward, skip songs, or do anything other than sit there and listen.

Cassettes, on the other hand, are the rightly forgotten child of music tech. Despite the promise and the benefit of fast-forwarding, rewinding, and sharing music, their frustrating shortcomings and temperamental nature outweighed any and all positives.

They never lived up to their promise and, if anything, became something we'd rather forget. They're the English King who inherited the title from his cousin and died three weeks into his reign from syphilis.

The positives were that unlike vinyl records, cassettes were portable. And unlike their forebears the eight-track, you could fast-forward, rewind, and even record and rewrite music onto it. On the surface, it seemed like a dream.

Yet there were downsides. Because it was tape, it wore down fairly quickly. If you really liked an album, you were going to end up buying it a half dozen times. I'm only slightly exaggerating. Somewhere in a dump there are numerous chewed up copies of Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy" to prove this.

There was also the problem of the tape inexplicably getting caught up in gears and jamming. That's when you had to do some surgery with a pencil, bringing the tape itself out of its case to realign it and then winding it back up. Yet even after all this, it wouldn't be the same. That part of "What it Takes" by Aerosmith was never going to be the same, and ten-year-old me never quite recovered from the sudden warbling in Steven Tyler's vocals.


Source: Sony

Speaking of which: the walkman! If there was anything good about cassettes, it was this.People today might not understand how revolutionary this was. Previously, portable music meant an eight-track in your car. Later, cassettes would be available for cars as well, but would eventually fall prey to the inherently junky nature of tapes and result in you having to wedge something above the cassette in order to get it to play correctly.

The walkman, though, was a truly portable device. You could hold it in your hand, listen to a cassette, and take it with you anywhere. And if you didn't want to listen to just one artist, you could make your own mixtape and boom: you had the grandfather of the iPod.

The downsides, of course, were that it was dependent on battery life in the days before everything was rechargeable (seriously, kids) and it was limited by the technology at the time (those awful, awful cassette tapes).But they were still better than…


Source: Sony

The worst. THE. WORST.Perhaps my anger and resentment towards the numerous portable CD players I owned is because of the promise of it being superior to the walkman. But that just wasn't the case.

Like the walkman, they were dependent on battery technology, but they ate up your battery life fairly quickly. There's also the question of how "portable" they really were, since they were beholden to the size of the CD itself. So it wasn't exactly something you could hold in your hand comfortably or shove into a jacket pocket.

Then there was the skipping. My God, the skipping. I remember buying so many that claimed to have "anti-skip technology," which I'm convinced now is like "anti-aging medicine" (nothing but a fantasy, delusion, and a fraud).


And so, there you have it.Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the comments.

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