Gallery: Dead technologies Gen-Y and younger will only find in old movies and TV

Gallery: Dead technologies Gen-Y and younger will only find in old movies and TV

Summary: Remember the days when you dialed a phone number, turned your rabbit ears for better reception, and took pictures on film?


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  • If you've read Steve Jobs' biography, you'd know that one of the
    people he most admired was Dr. Edwin Land, who was the inventor of the
    Polaroid Land Camera.

    Introduced in 1947 and manufactured and sold through the early 1980s,
    the Polaroid Land Camera used a unique chemical process which allowed
    a photo to be taken and within several minutes, to have the photo
    instantly develop and printed on photographic paper.

    This was considered to be a huge technological achievement because
    with regular film cameras, if you weren't a professional or amateur
    photographer with your own photo lab, you had to send your film out
    for developing and enlargement, which took as much as a week or

    Although this type of film was considerably more expensive than
    traditional 35mm or 110mm film, and you could only have 8-10 exposures
    per pack, the Polaroid camera took amateur photography to new heights
    of popularity.

    Photographs taken with the Polaroid process included the transfer
    paper and film/chemical reagents on a multi-layer sandwich. Over time,
    the colors would fade and images would degrade, much faster than
    traditional photographic paper.

  • Before there was personal computing, before there was word processing,
    there were typewriters. They were noisy, they required ink ribbons,
    they used paper, and they did not correct your mistakes. If it was a
    manual (non-electric) typewriter, they were also known to jam if you
    didn't have the correct typing "rhythm".

    Our own David Gewirtz recently did an ode to typewriters, so I'll
    direct you to his great piece instead of waxing rhapsodic about them

  • From the 1890's up until the early 1960's when the DTMF or "Touch
    Tone" method of keying in telephone numbers was introduced, the rotary
    dial or pulse dial method was the predominant form of calling someone.
    That's where the anachronism "dial" or "dial tone" or "I dialed it
    wrong" actually comes from, despite the fact that all phones currently
    use some kind of keypad.

    Instead of sending a digital tone over the POTS line, these phones
    used electromechanical relays that sent electrical pulses over the
    telephone line which corresponded with the number that was being sent.
    The switch equipment at the carrier (also electromechanical) receiving
    the signal then routed the call.

    These types of phones used a circular dial with holes that
    corresponded with each number, 0 to 9. There was no "speed dial" or
    re-dial, and you also didn't know who was calling you on the phone --
    there was no caller ID of any kind. Someone called, you simply
    answered, and you had no idea who was on the other end unless you

    Excessive use of rotary phones was also painful and hurt one's
    fingers, so people used to use pens and pencils to stick into the
    dialing holes instead.

    Pulse dialing was still operational and considered basic service in
    the United States up until the early 1980s when DTMF dial service was
    incorporated as a basic feature of land-line telephone service bills
    and the electromechanical switching equipment at the carriers was
    fully converted to digital.

    Up until that point touch tone service was charged extra to the
    customer on their monthly bill. The bastards.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Telcos


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Except the Analog Synthesizer I've owned or used all of those.

    Except the Analog Synthesizer I've owned or used all of those. I've only used the typewriter briefly.

    VCRs, walkmans, floppy disks, 35mm cameras, dial-up modems, CRT TVs, dot matrix printers and transistor radios (although it was nearly pocket size) I used a lot.

    Neither vinyl or 35mm camera are dying. They both have niche markets. Google lomography to see the popularity of 35mm cameras, a lomography store opened a few months back in Manchester, England.
    • Lomography

      Lomography is a unique, fun and very interesting hobby but I don't think it's big enough to sustain the film industry. I also don't think as a hobby it is dependent on film as low cost, shoot from the hip digital cameras that produce the same "effect" already exist and I see no reason why that can't be built into smartphones. Purist lomographers might balk at digital but everyone else will just accept it as the natural order of things. 35mm film will probably be around for at least another 10 years provided Fuji and others can sustain a business around it. Kodak obviously has issues.
    • 35 mm film is dying.

      Plain and simple. It takes a multi-million base infrastructure to support and it almost at the point where it will simply cease to exist. That time is coming very very fast. I suspect 35mm film has less than 3years of life left.
      • I'm afraid you're right

        The first brick to fall from the wall was Kodachrome. I was absolutely stunned when the Gold Standard for slide film stopped being produced. I fear that the whole wall will come tumbling down, and a sad day it will be. I love digital photography, but I have so many sweet memories of developing T-Max and creating my own B&W prints...
  • Analog Synthesizers resurrection

    Analog music gear is actually pretty big with the young folk and heavily used in new music these days, and not just for recreation of Wendy Carlos. Moog is back, new analog synths pop up everywhere, the Arturia Minibrute being the most recent example. This also resonates with what's going on the Maker scene with simple micro-controllers like Arduino & friends. They utilize technology from the 80's to teach low level computing and enabling the internet of things. Retro doesn't necessarily mean backwards, it can be very innovative and cool. Just compare Braun/Dieter Rams design with Apple if you need more proof.
  • Strange but true

    The funny part, all those older devices were built far better and will last far longer than the devices you can buy today.
    • You said it

      I still have cassettes that play perfectly. I have VHS tapes that work perfectly on a Toshiba player. Those devices were not made in China. Sony Japan and Minolta Japan made very good hardware. Now Sony just outsources manufacturing to China.
  • re:

    "they still have limited applications in ATM machines and cash registers"

    And even there, they seem to be rare, with most machines having basically switched to thermal paper.
  • Thank you for the memories, Jason. Please enjoy these addendum's.

    I wonder how many readers will recall that Sir Laurence Olivier's one and only commercial that he participated in was for the introduction of the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. Those curious can search YouTube for this or, hopefully, use this link to view that video clip.

    BTW, I bought that camera when it first came out. Unfortunately, a year later, I placed it on the top of my car just before driving away from a camp site. I came back a few minutes later only to discover that some unknown-to-this-day lucky soul verified that old saying: Finders keepers. Losers weepers.

    The picture you used to describe 35mm cameras brought back many fond personal memories. That exact Olympus model was a faithful companion during the 80's. To this day, those optics produced some of the sharpest film images I have ever taken.

    I still have a working Betamax player and tapes somewhere boxed up. I never did find out how to set the clock!

    I say - Bring back the pocket pagers!

    Finally, regarding transistor radios. I'm surprised you didn't mention this comparison to modern day digital cameras. I'm referring to a similar marketing ploy used to sell these devices. For transistor radios, the astute consumer was always informed of the number of transistors inside the radio. (As if the sheer number was an indication of superior performance.) Much like the number of mega pixels that the digital camera sensor incorporates is an indication of image rendering superiority.
    • SX-70

      My dad purchased an SX-70 for doing dental photography. It was an amazingly cool camera, and I enjoyed using it when he wasn't sticking it in people's mouths. :) I can certainly understand why Jobs was impressed with the device, especially how it folded up.
  • Analog Synths

    I picked up a MiniMoog Voyager Old School a couple years ago when Moog discontinued the model. It is the closet you can get to the classic MiniMoog Model D. No midi, no memory (presets are for the weak).
    Mark Kunnecke
  • Don't for get 33-1/3

    After 72 RPM's came out, vinyl records switched to the true 'LP' format playing at 33.3 RPM. This was the prodominent vinyl format up until today. Some say we lost audio quality switching from vinyl to CD's/digital. I say our greatest loss was album cover art.
  • where 72 rpm?

    If you spun an LP at 72 rpm, it sounded like Donald Duck. And as far as I know, nothing was recorded commercialy in '72", the old standard was 78 rpm, replaced by the smaller 45 s , and then by the LP (Long Play) at 33 1/3 rpm, improperly called "albums" because they replaced the earlier albums of 78 rpm, which were kept a in scrapbook of paper sleeves.
  • Dial phone

    Before about 1953, we picked up the phone and gave the operator the number, localy just the last 4 digits. We got one of the first dial phones in town in 1953, and it was hard to remember to dial all 7 digits. I still have 2 or 3 dial phones, they work fine, and work on at least the 3 VOIP systems I've tried also.
  • what do you consider gen y?

    I was born in 86. I believe that falls under Gen y. I used half of those products regularly when I was young and some of the others came out in my youth (like the beeper). And while most of these items will fall into obscurity, i doubt they will actually die. typewriters still have a place with enthusiasts, just like vacuum tube radios, vinyls, and old PCs. I still keep a CRT around because any game that uses a light-gun (think NES's duck hunt or other, later ps2 games) don't work on HDTVs due to the matte screen. I only bring this up because I believe that the title of the blog is off.
  • Man, I remember as a kid going with my dad down to the local

    drugstore to use their tube tester
  • LP disk formats

    I worked on WHRB, the Harvard radio station, in the Fifties (OK, I'm older than most/all of you!) and I seem to recall that there was a 16 rpm standard for records -- call it "extreme long play" -- that never made it commercially. Anyone remember that? Also, while I have your attention, tape recorders were all reel-to-reel back then, and the broadcast standard was 15 inches per second! High quality consumer performance meant 7.5 in/sec, low quality (good for voice only) was 3.75 in/sec. (For comparison, those little cassettes played at 0.75 in/sec. The technology that drove this drastic increase in storage capacity, I assume was improvements in the deposition of the ferromagenetic layer on the tape.)
    • 16 RPM

      I had a phonograph whose speed control lever had a 16 position. We had no records at that speed, but found that it made out Alvin & the Chipmunks album sound like three grown men singing slowly.

      And 72 rpm? The old disks were 10 inches and ran at 78 rpm. LPs (Long Play) were/are the new, improved, version: 12 inches in diameter and running at 33 1/3 rpm, with stereo and a frequency response approaching human hearing..
  • Missing video system

    You only talk about the Betamax and VHS. What about the Video 2000 system from Philips and Grundig ( That was the best quality and could be used on both sides line audiocassetes.

    But this brings back some golden memories ;-)
  • Happy days??

    Yes, I started in the tube and selenium rectifier age. Built a couple of analog synths (based on Xerographic reproductions of European designs) and guitar effects boxes (wah-wah pedals, fuzz boxes etc). Had a bleeper at work - dumb thing always going off and you could never read the display.

    Happy days, lots of employment, gas was cheap, could buy a house within a lifetime.