Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology We Grew Up With: On Its Way Out

It's cliche to say we came from simpler times. After all, I've said it here alone probably 50 times. Every generation invariably feels this way, but the speed of technological growth has sped up the tech nostalgia cycle considerably. In past generation-to-generation technology handoffs, much of the first generation's technology is still in circulation at the time. In our case, in a matter of a few years many of the things we grew up with have become not only unfashionable but nearly technologically obsolete.

We've adapted to new technologies so fluidly it's almost difficult to recall a time when we weren't all totally dependent on today's gadgetry conveniences. Each of us right probably has within a 20-foot radius at least a few major pieces of technology that didn't exist in during our childhood years. If it did exist, its form is often nearly recognizable from the prototypes we grew up using. You could argue that an iPhone and an early suitcase-model mobile phone are the same idea, but they have about as much in common as your TV and your toaster.

While we have seen innumerable technological advances over the years, we rarely take the time to mourn the loss of the electronics that came before. Sit back in that ergonomic chair and adjust the easy-on-the-eyes tint of your high-tech computer screen, and enjoy the ease and quiet of your high-speed internet connection as we pay tribute to some bygone technologies:

Pay Phones

Remember when you were a kid and your parents couldn't reach you every minute of every day? It was still possible to get into a little mischief when our parents weren't constantly harassing our cell phones and tracking their signals via online GPS. In our day, your parents could drop you off at the mall or movie theater with twenty five cents and you could call them at your leisure. They didn't worry about not having total control over our teenage whereabouts for an hour or two. We used to be the ones to decide when and where we'd contact someone. Oh, how the times have changed.

Having Your Own Phone Line

That's not to say we didn't have plenty to talk about with our friends. Yes, talk. It's an unfamiliar mode of communication to many of us whose brains now automatically interpret the phrase "I don't know" as "IDK". 15 years or so back, there was no texting and instant messenger was fairly new technology. If you were very lucky, your parents might award you your very own landline to communicate with your friends without tying up their lines. In an even further example of total technological obsolescence, I actually shared my personal land line with the modem. How's that for a phenomenon you don't see today? That meant I could only talk on the phone if no one was using the internet and vice versa. Nowadays, we've all got internet on our phones themselves, but back in the day it was an either/or type ordeal.

Getting Film Developed

I'm willing to venture we all took significantly fewer pictures in our adolescence than teenagers do today. The reason? Film. We paid to have every one of our photos developed; we couldn't just browse for a select few. If a picture turned out badly, none of us would know until we'd gotten the photographic evidence back from the 1-hour photomat. We'd have to divide the developed photos into two piles: keepers and duds. There was no instant gratification, nor did we immediately see the photos posted online. The aura of suspense has faded with the rise of digital technology. It's not quite as thrilling to look back and reminisce on an image that happened two seconds earlier.

Floppy Disks

Remember that little disk drive our computers used to have? Take a look around your current computer model. I'd guess the majority of us don't even have an input for these guys anymore. From the big CD-album sized originals to the more compact later incarnations, they used to be a major means of saving information to our computers. Now we don't even have an insertion slot. Sunrise, sunset...*

Purchasing CDs/Cassettes

...Or for that matter, popping them into a Walkman or Discman. Yes, they still sell CDs, but the market has decreased significantly. These days most musicians are barely making money off of record sales, especially considering pirated music downloads. For those of us who go the legal route through iTunes, we're far less likely to buy a full album and suffer through the songs that weren't good enough to be released as singles.

I'm being a bit facetious, sure, but when's the last time you burned a CD or made a mixtape for a friend? It's sadly sliding out of practice. How are we supposed to express ourselves without the art of mixtapery? I can't tell someone I love them unless I can find 12 appropriate songs, record them off the radio, and drop it in their locker. It just doesn't feel right.

VHS tapes

Once upon a time, if there was something you wanted to watch on TV but you were going to be away from home, you'd have to program your VCR. This, for its time, seemed like pretty cutting-edge technology. We kept loads of blank videotapes next to our TV and continually taped over them with movies of the week or the latest episode of Dawson's Creek. The other day at Half Price Books I saw them selling bins of 50 VHS tapes for five dollars a case. Five dollars. These were good movies, too. Clearly VHS is no longer the preferred media, but if you've got a player you could certainly rack up quite the cheap collection.

Watching Commercials

Speaking of TV (sort of), our television remote controls didn't always have a pause, fast forward, and rewind function. We sat through every last commercial. Sometimes we even enjoyed it. There's a lot about TV we'll have to miss, actually. For example, that fuzzy snowstorm static you sometimes got? Gone. Kaput. Finito. You'll never see that again. Sort of sad, isn't it? It's strange getting dewy eyed over an irritating TV function, but I'm actually a tad verklempt.

Polaroid cameras and film

Yes, it's true. Now when we hear Outkast's instructions to "shake it like a Polaroid picture" we'll just have to used our imaginations; they no longer exist in their quick-printing form. It once seemed so high tech to instantly have a copy of your photo, but that's since been rendered obsolete by digital photography. It's sad, when you think about it. That "Hey Ya" was pretty recent, but a couple of years from now kids won't even get the reference. Tragic.

Dial-Up Modems

...And that charming noise that come along with them. Remember that? All the buzzing and the beeping and the waiting for the little AOL running guy to reach his final destination of internetland? That
dial up noise is now relegated to the back spaces of our memories. I'll never forget you, Ringers. That's what I just named my modem. Posthumously, of course.

Oh, how quickly things change. Just as we're getting accustomed to one mode of technology, another sweeps in and changes the course completely. We wouldn't trade our modern technology for anything, but it's crazy to think that ten years from now, the iPhone and Blackberry may just be retro kitsch. I can't imagine what else they'll tack on to these things, but that's sort of the beauty of it. We can mourn the loss of these bygone tech practices, but there's always something new just over the horizon. My guess is the next generation of phones will also be flying cars. Just don't forget you heard it here first.


ReRe said...

I will never let the VHS tape die! i admit that i still TAPE my soap operas every day. One day i may get Tivo, but right now i'm a taper! call me old school.

i thought i as da bomb when i got my own phone line -- still remember the number!

Nic said...

Aww, I loved this post :) Mostly because I did/had all of these things! We definitely did live in simpler times.

Adam L. said...

My mom still records shows on VHS tapes, often using the same tape to record over and over and over...

Meghan said...

I used to call my mom collect from the pay phone at school when I wanted a ride home from basketball practice. She didn't accept the call but knew it was time to come get me so it saved us a quarter:)

Sadako said...

The modem sounds and the running AOL man take me back. This whole post is making me want to shake my fist and be all, "Crazy kids, get off a my lawn!"

Mr. Condescending said...

I put in a vhs the other day and had tpo hook up the old dusty VCR hah.

I remember signing on to AOL and hoping that a connection number would be available; During peak hours they would often be busy and it would have to keep redialing until I heard that glorious beeping.

Remember computers costing like $3500!

Robyn said...

I miss all this stuff.

I remember how kids with their own phone line used to seem really elite and cool.

Melissa Blake said...

Is it bad I sort of miss floppy disks?

Julie said...

Awwww, this post makes me sad. :( I still burn CDs, though. And watch some of my old VHS tapes.

I do not, however, miss dial up!

Oh, and I was trying to explain a floppy disk to a teenager the other day, and failed miserably. She just couldn't imagine it.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I will never throw out my VHS tapes. I <3 them too much!! Seriously tho about the pay phones. I remember they were like a quarter, now if you are lucky to find one they have credit card slots because they are so expensive!!

Oh floppy disks. When i went to college I had saved my assignment one day on a floppy & then I realized there were no longer Floppy drives in computers. It was a sad day. hehe.

Love this post!! Have a great weekend!!

carissa said...

Man, I have so much to say on this one. I still have hundreds of VHS tapes that I can't get rid of. I'm slowly trying to replace them with DVDs... but it's not gonna happen anytime soon.

Ahh and I so had my own phone line.. and would call people on threeway, and get "beeps"...I would talk on that thing for HOURS. Love this post!

Jen said...

I still collect VHS! There's so much stuff that wasn't put on DVD, that I'm always hunting at Goodwill for a bargain.

I was at a video rental store the other day and they were requiring a $150 deposit on a Rainbow Brite VHS!! Crazy huh? That stuff is total vintage.

Jen said...

also I never had my own phone line, but it was a happy Christmas morning when there was a shiny lime green CORDLESS (gasp) phone for me under the tree. I felt so chic.

Having a boombox with a remote was also a luxury that I LOVED. I could sit on my bed and change the CD and not move an inch! laziness. awesome.

Now kids just have iPods and use their iPhone remote app to change the music on their laptop. I'm jealous.

lissa said...

I did have a portable cassette player and even record songs from the radio to listen to, it was much cheaper that way than to buy the artists cassettes

and I still like polaroid cameras, though the films are so expensive now

I don't think these things will ever be forgotten, I'm sure there's someone somewhere still using one of these...

Andhari said...

LOL I love this. Floppy disks made me laugh so hard :D

I like pay phones the most though. I remember going to the end of the street to use payphones when I liked a guy because I didn't want my parents to find out / listened. :p

Opanga-Tay said...

I remember I always had a tape on standby, whether it be in the VCR or the boombox, ready to go in case that certain show or song came on. And it seemed like the DJ always talked during the intro of the song you were recording, or the very end of the song got cut off by a commerical, but we were happy to accept that, so long as we had it on tape!

Oh, and while I never had my own phone line, my family got another line that was strictly for internet and - wait for it - fax machine usage. I know faxes are still being used today, but in the event we do send a fax, it seems so old-fashioned.

Literary Crap said...

Oh, VHS. How I miss your buzzing audio as you aged!
I still have all of my Disney movies on VHS, but I'm hesitant to re-watch after the great Lion King-VCR battle of 2005. Watching those movies on DVD just isn't the same experience.

Anonymous said...

This boy I liked had his own phone line and I thought he was sooo cool. I used to open up the phone book just to look at his name. :)

Lil' Woman said...

My 2004 Neon only has a cassette player in it (wtf?) so while at the thrift store the other day I picked up Paula Abdul's Forever Your Girl on cassette for 69 cents.

Ahh the days! :)

RAY J said...

LOL Payphones... the theater I worked at in college, we had one for awhile, but they took it out a few years back, the reasoning being the majority of the people have cell phones, we have the office and box office phones if there is a dire emergency, and Walmart was just a short walk out the front door and they have them there. We'd still occasionally get that one customer though that didn't have a cell phone, but it was rare!

I wasn't fortunate enough to have my phoneline, but I was stoked when my parents let me get my own phone in my room though!

Old skool film... ah those were the days - get a 24shot disposable camera for summer camp and we were good, but had to determine what was picture worthy and what wasn't since there were only 24 shots and then you had to *hope* it turned out okay!

I actually didn't realize PCs today don't have floppy disk inserts until a few months ago when I went to pop in my Classic Concentration game and couldn't figure out where the slot was - I called my husband and he explained to me that his 'new' (we bought it a year and a half ago) computer didn't have one "they don't make em with those anymore babe" he told me. I was dumbfounded and declared that dumb - I have like 5 games on Floppy that run on DOS and now I can't play em /sadpanda

I haven't bought a CD for myself in years, although there's a few I keep forgetting to pick up Used just because I want the album art =)

I actually still have a DVD/VCR combo and about 15 VHS tapes that I haven't bought on DVD yet. I also have a blank VHS tape too for when we need to record something (which we used a few months ago too!) because we don't have a DVR. Usually if we miss something on TV though we just watch it either onDemand, online, or catch a rerun.

And we still watch commercials cuz again, we don't have a DVR or Tivo or anything like that. I don't mind them though at time - gives me a chance to run to the bathroom or kitchen! hehe

My parents still had dial-up until about 2 years ago - I was shocked to learn they had switched! Nothing like coming home for Christmas break from college, and having to play World of Warcraft on dial-up! lol... my husband knows someone at his job that still has dial-up though!

Rory L. Aronsky said...

About VHS tapes...

After a sleepless Saturday morning last week, I put on my DVD of "Airplane II: The Sequel" (after watching "L.A. Story") and a few minutes in, I remembered how I hated the VHS tape I had of it, because when it rewound, it made an awful screeching noise. I vowed one day to buy a replacement copy. Then DVDs came along.

My VHS copy of "Airplane!", however, has been honorably retired to one of my bookshelves. I watched it so often that the beginning of the tape wrinkled.

Anonymous said...

Aww I remember having/using all these things.(except I never had my own phone line which isn't such a big deal since I hate using the phone as it is.) In fact I still have a floppy disk in one of my desk drawers and kinda miss using it.

Red said...

I saw a guy with a walkman on the train the other day and was so surprised about it, i twittered it.
I also wondered if he had to hold it, so the disc wouldn't jump like mine used to, in car trips.

nick said...

they are bringing back polaroid film,2817,2357787,00.asp

Robyn said...

A lot of thrift stores have good movies on VHS for about $1-5 each.

floreta said...

i was sad when polaroids became obsolete! such a cool photo concept. and yes.. talking on the phone seems to be dying too. my longest phone converstion is 6 hours.. but that was in 2003 which is vastly different than 2010. i'm sad that that's not likely to happen in this day and age.. i actually like talking on the phone w/ the right person!

Melissa said...

This brings back so many memories! I used to record all my favorite boy band's performances on VHS tapes to keep, and I would listen to the radio and record my favorite songs on my tape deck. And remember when it was a treat to spring for DOUBLES when you got your film developed?!!!

And that dialing, ringing and buzzing of the old modems.

Oh the 90s!

Robyn said...

Thank goodness dial-up modems are gone. I still have nightmares set to the sound of that high-pitched whirring and dialing from hell.

Lisa said...

I remember every single one of these...and I have to admit that I am pretty bummed that a lot of them aren't around anymore.

ali said...

I actually used a pay phone the other day. True story. It felt kinda weird... and it wasn't that expensive even though I was calling long distance.

Sheri said...

OMG I remember when I had my own phone line too... I thought I was sooo cool... lol Wow I remember the number too how sad is that? haha

LAK said...

We just upgraded to a DVR and I miss my VCR! I didn't think I would but I do.

And finding a roll of film that you forgot to develop-and then worrying what was on it! Just in case Mom offered to pick it up.

Laina said...

I still use VHS tapes, too :) And it's pretty common here. I miss pay phones, though, they took down the two in my town a couple years ago. I always wanted one in my house XD

Anonymous said...

5.25 inch CD-album sized Floppy Disks, i'm guessing you don't remember the earlier and much larger 8 inch floppies (with a whopping 180/360k data capacity)

Jillian said...

The modem/phone line tug-of-war makes me think of my sister who gave a guy her number because she didn't want to be mean and proceeded to spend the next week constantly on the internet so he would be unable to call! Also, my car used to be my grandparents and even though when they got it CDs were standard my grandpa requested the cassette player so me and my one cassette tape left from childhood rock out all the time!

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