Monday, June 6, 2011

Remember when this technology excited us?

At some point in time, all now-tired technology was new and exciting. With the rapid rate of technological change, it is tough remember a time when what now seems simple seemed like super high-tech space age innovation. While we now use many more advanced forms of these gadgets and gizmos in our everyday lives, the first time we saw them, most of us were incredibly impressed. Here are just a few of the things that may once have blown us away with their modernity but have since been relegated to technological relics:

Caller ID/*69

It was fun to see who was calling, but it certainly made telemarketing and prank phone calling far more difficult. While you may have legitimately been wondering if someone’s refrigerator was running, you were now in peril of that angry crank-callee’s mom calling back your home and complaining to your parents. Talk about sucking the enjoyment out of frivolous childish fun.


In the days before cell phones--if you can strain to remember back far enough--there were pagers and beepers. For awhile, they existed as viable forms of communication for more than just doctors and drug dealers. When mobile or car phones were still as big and bulky as a suitcase, beepers gave us our first taste of the craving to be constantly and uninterruptedly reachable.

Beepers and pagers also gave us license to get incredibly creative with our use of beeper codes, arguably the most primitive predecessors of today’s text messages. 911 meant an emergency, but some were more cryptic, like the popular “143,” representing the number of letters in each word of “I love you.” Some of us also liked to utilize the upside-down number-to-letter comparisons, like 07734 as hello. Beepers may have encouraged creativity with messaging, but having to find a payphone to call for the full scoop was a less than efficient means of communication on the go.


Portable music you can bring with you? Back in the 80s, many people had never seen such a thing. Thus began the socially acceptable norm of blocking out all outside stimuli/avoiding human interaction by permanently attaching headphones to our ears. We’ve come a long way with portable music players since the introduction of Sony’s Walkman, but you have to admit it’s a lot harder to play a mix tape on an iPod.

America Online/Prodigy/Other early internet providers

I can still remember my first encounter with the internet. Our friends told us they had the internet, and I asked, “What is the internet?” I don’t think children growing up today in even the most remote regions of the world would ask such a naive tech ignoramus-style question. Our friends had “Prodigy,” an early internet service that linked to news, weather, message boards, and other prehistoric internet capabilities. At the time though, I couldn’t imagine anything more interesting than reading the bland reprinted news and weather reports that took thirteen minutes each to fully load.

Another friend’s family were early adopters of America Online; she told me she once tried searching the internet for “rhino” and came up with no results. Nothing. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine coming up empty on an internet search for just about any topic, but someday we’ll be able to act crotchety to our grandchildren who can’t appreciate that we were around before the internet’s search database was fully populated with pertinent information.

Dial-Up Internet

While we’re discussing the internet, we can’t possibly forget how we used to connect to the internet. More specifically, many of us will forever remember the sounds it made. A combination of dialing, beeping, and crackling static set the mood for most of our modem-driven early internet encounters. Today we take for granted our generally simple and uninterrupted methods of connecting to the internet from our computers and mobile devices, and we whine relentlessly when our connection speeds lag or stop working for even a minute a two.

In our dial-up days, there were all sorts of tricks to reset your modem when a connection was unavailable, and God forbid one of your family members picked up the phone while you were trying to establish a connection. Your AOL running man could be frozen in a perpetual state of mid-jog, forcing you to go through your long lists of alternate dial-up numbers until one finally struck a good connection.

Videotaping TV Shows

A recent survey showed that a 79% of respondents indicated that a specific home technology improved their relationship with their partner. The gadget in question? A DVR.
Once upon a time, we had to actually watch shows at the times dictated by the networks who air them. Back in our day, the only way to save your favorite show was to insert a blank (or re-recordable) VHS tape and go through an incredibly complex series of remote control commands to set a recording.

Digital Cameras

Just a few short years ago, photos used to be a surprise. You took the shots, you dropped them off to be developed, and when you got them back, you laughed over how horrible everyone looked in all of them. If we took pictures like we do now back when we relied on actual developable film, we would waste an incredible amount of money. After each group portrait, now we all have to check it out and approve it to ensure we’re not making a silly face and our eyes aren’t mid-blink. Digital cameras have significantly increased our collective sense of vanity; while once we were willing to settle for not always looking our best, now we’re pushing for twelve takes on those group shots to ensure we are fully camera-ready.

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