Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Old Technology Review

Apparently still a favorite of police departments. Accosted by word processors, and the ease of sending emails. Wounded by the fillable PDF.

Desktop Computer
Preferred by the government, cash-flush companies, and extreme gamers. Also used by those with work-life balance, who leave the computer in the home office.

Laptop Computer
Digital natives adapt seamlessly to smartphones, leaving heavier Windows-operating machines to suit-and-tie professionals. Where's the USB port on the Apple iPad? There is none. Low-cost Netbooks fill gaps which smartphones are ill-adept, such as word processing.

Vinyl Record Players
They're coming back, right? You can get your favorite alt-rock hits on new vinyl.

They have a bad rap for being associated with bad news, whether in 1928 (1) or in WWII. But they could also be used for good news as well.
It was more convenient to use a telex or fax machine than walking to the telegram office. Long-distance phone calls and later email displaced the messenger boy.

Reliable, lower cost international phone service and the internet banished the typewriter-resembling device from land. Still reigns with pilots and mariners in the air and at sea. 

Fax Machine
Dogbert from the Dilbert cartoon may have hated the fax machine, but I. Technophobes in some state legislatures have not allowed signed emails to hold the same legal status as faxed documents. For this reason, lawyers and doctors err on the side of conservative caution and continue to use fax. From my point of view it is a convenient way of sending medium-sized documents, as an alternative to priority mail. Fax machines work on the basis of dial-and-send. To email a document, you must fire up the computer, scan each page, create an email and attach the scanned files. Beware: smartphones, with snap-and-send features, are eliminating this advantage.

Forget putting dimes in the copy machine. The all-in-one machine meant that a family could get a full-color printer, a copier, scanner and fax machine for the price of one machine. 

As far as old technologies go, sending a letter is really easy. Stamp and envelope and go to a blue mailbox- or raise the flag on your own mailbox.  And for those dreaded bills, you can save a stamp and pay online. It also helps the business save on data entry staff.
Regular correspondence is cheaper and faster by email, unless it's the US Navy. From boot camp letters to family photos sent to sailors on ships, snail mail is slow but ultimately reliable.

Telephone Operators
Direct dialing of long distance calls began in the 1950's.  Local calls in big cities were automated even earlier. Large businesses and institutions kept telephone operators until relay electronics and computers became widespread, allowing extension lines to be dialed directly. If you are feeling nostalgic, call a friend in his or her hotel room. You will likely be connected through the front desk.

 Dial Up Internet
According to Time Magazine, about 3% of internet users in the US still use a dial up service. In the 1990's, dial-up was slow but awe-inspiring. Today, it's fairly slow, and the modern age has adapted to DSL and other high-speed services. You can't watch videos, but you can check basic email. Better than nothing.

Landlines and DSL
The younger generation wants their smartphones, and want it now. This increasing traffic has proven a challenge to wireless data providers on 3G and LTE networks. A sober approach would be to increase use of wired internet through seamless WiFi connections in public spaces; providers must adapt to the reality that "millenials" are choosing to forgo wired services like landlines and DSL internet. 

Overnight Letters
Fred Smith thought that the Dilbert-era 1990's fax machine (and later, email) would kill his Federal Express business. Instead, the need for overnight parcels kept increasing.  Overnight mail is my preferred method of transmitting large documents from overseas, since some fax machines reject international lines.

Camera Film
It used to come in rolls of 24 exposures.  You paid for the roll of film and you paid for the development at a photo lab. You made three trips to get a photo: one to buy the film, one to drop off the completed roll of film, and one to pick up the developed pictures. For this reason, places like convenience stores and groceries were 'in' on the photo business. Polaroid was a bit different; my family never had one but the photos would be ready after a few minutes.

CD Players and Walkmans
"Want to buy a Tower Records?" asks Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. Still used by my family's 2006 Volvo and durable home stereo. With a near-ban on USB sticks, Uncle Sam is propping up the decades-old CD-ROM industry. CDs were replaced by the MP3 player for music, notably the iPod and Zune, which were supplanted by smartphones. Files went to USB sticks and cloud services.

Floppy Disks, Cassette Tapes and VHS
Navy ships commissioned in the early 1990s used state-of-the art computer technology, including floppy disks that saved engine performance data. Comparison with today's readings would guide maintenance planners as the ships enter mid-life.

For tapes and VHS, remember to be kind and rewind.

Punch Cards
Unlike most of today's electronics, the machines were pretty durable, and some served into the computer age. I have come across these cards in the back of library books.

Carbon Copies
Today, making a copy of a saved document is as easy as Control+P.
Carbon copies are still used on handwritten forms like sales receipts of small businesses. 
Handheld tablets and the ubiquity of credit card use meant that  manual imprint machines gave way to point-of-sale receipt printers.

Rooms filled with Filing Cabinets
I like to keep paper records for the day we are hit by solar flares. Many people go full electronic, and for many businesses, retaining paper records means paying for storage space in the tunnels of Iron Mountain. You can sympathize with the secretary who was replaced by Control+F on the keyboard, with which you can find a long-lost e-file in a few seconds.

Flip Phones
Once a technological breakthrough. Today, they are relegated to 'late adapters' and business that hand out no-fun dumbphones to employees.

Creative destruction at its finest. Mobile internet became more widely available and ended need for proprietary services; but more importantly, seemed to fall behind learning curve.