Anna Jane Grossman, author of Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By, has compiled a special short list for Giz readers, four things we’ll really miss, and four we’re glad are gone. (She’s pictured below, not above.)
Technology is all about what’s new and what’s next — today’s iPhone is just tomorrow’s paperweight. What about the things that were “new” and “next” yesterday or the day before? We live in a time of so much change and progress that there’s nostalgia for things that kinda still exist. Here are a few that, for better or worse, are fading fast.
What We’ll Miss
Today, buttons are becoming mere ideas: a link on a webpage; a “keyboard” on the screen of an iPhone. Thing is, sometimes buttons really do make things easier. My friend Mackenzie once watched Karl Rove try to figure out how to navigate the button-less elevator cars of the News Corporation (NY Post, Fox News, etc) building in Manhattan. “I could see his mind working, looking for buttons, but there were none,” she told me. “I just grinned at him as the doors closed, ready to take him to some mysterious random floor.” Good thing nobody cool works in that building!
When answering machine usage became widespread in the eighties, phone usage surged across the country: people quickly caught onto the fact that you could make the requisite calls to exes and in-laws and creditors at odd hours without actually having to speak to anyone. By 1988, more than a quarter of all US households had one.
My favourite part of answering machine ownership was the outgoing greeting. I’d spend hours coming up with the perfect clip of music to play. Once, I even wrote a rap song:
Hey guys and gals let me make it plain:
You’ve just reached Anna Jane.
I happened to go out for a while
So I’m not here to catch your dial.
Leave a message, at the tone
And I’ll call you right back when I get home.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very cool. [Price Is Right screengrab from The Bleat]
What We Won’t Miss
Tube sets work thanks to the cathode ray tube, aka CRT, which fires electrons that light up a phosphorous coating on the inside of a curved glass screen. The bigger the screen, the bigger the tube has to be—and the more your household starts to seem like it revolves around a washing machine that occasionally shelters a man name Brady who has three boys of his own. In 1973, Sony’s Trinitron tube television was so admired it became the first TV set to win an Emmy. Today, however, the CRT’s contribution to entertainment is not so appreciated: The 115kg 40-inch sets you can find for cheap on eBay all come with the “Pick-up only” shipping caveat. And many Salvation Armies and Goodwill donation centres in the US no longer accept anything but flat screens. [Image by lloth/Flickr]
In 2006, Apple released a MacBook Pro without a modem, and a lot of people flipped out. But the truth is, not many ended up missing it. By the previous year, the number of people using broadband devices had surpassed the dial-uppers. Today, only one in 10 people use dial-up connections. I pray for them. [War Games shot from PC Museum]
As someone who can hardly locate her own elbow, I am pretty glad that nearly every phone now can tell me to make the next legal U-turn. However, in addition to having no sense of direction, I have issues with punctuality — and it kind of sucks that I can no longer use “I got lost” as an excuse when I’m late. I mean, I guess I could. Actually, sometimes I do. Usually it’s because I’ve lost my phone.
Call me crazy, but sometimes I like to dance when I listen to music. If I were able to play my music aloud, I wouldn’t look so strange doing the Running Man alone on the subway platform.
Got any more dead innovations you want to lament or wish good riddance? Chances are Anna Jane covered them in her book, but until you pick up a copy, you might as well comment about it below.
Anna Jane Grossman is the author of Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By (Abrams Image) and the creator of iamobsolete.net. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including the New York Times, Salon.com, the Associated Press, Elle and the Huffington Post. She has a complicated relationship with technology, but she does have an eponymous website: AnnaJane.net. [ Photo of Anna Jane by Amber Marlow Blatt, from Hey Brooklyn]