Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Things you'll never see, hear or use

There are lots of different things that you use each and every day. Tons of sounds that you hear every day and lots of things that you can see for yourself.

But there is also a class of sounds, views and utensils that once were so common that every person (in the developed world at least) came into contact with them almost every day of their lives. And in spite of that those things are gone, pretty much forever except for maybe the time when you view and old movie. Here is a list of items and actions that not all that long ago were the stuff of everyday life, and that if you’re born today you probably won’t even realize existed:

  • A storage doubler

  • two modems negotiating (and if you were really sharp you’d know your connection baudrate ahead of time)

  • tape salad

  • a pump screwdriver

  • record needles (steel / tungsten / sapphire / diamond)

  • A crystal radio (a radio that doesn’t need power!)

  • a teletype

  • the sound of a dot matrix printer (especially the cheap roll-and-hammer (one bit io) based ones!)

  • a morse key

  • a wire-wrap tool

  • CD’s (well, soon anyway)

  • a reel-to-reel tape recorder

  • a rotary phone (if you still have one, cherish it!)

  • anything using film (super 8 cameras, projectors and so on)

  • A phone booth (in some areas of the world still quite common)

  • A clear sky at night (unless you live in a very remote place)

  • A letter handwritten just for you or by you

  • Trying to re-fold a map (probably caused quite a few divorces)

  • Steam trains

  • carbon paper

  • an interrupt wiring panel (bonus points if you know what it is, more bonus points if you can still use one)

  • A rolodex (I used to live by that thing!)

  • a 10 (franc/dmark/pesetas/lira/escudos/guilder) note or coin

  • the smell of developing pictures

  • tsr’s (terminate-and-stay-resident)

  • a track stuck in a groove on a radio program (bump or next?)

  • a pager (these are probably still around in some professions, but I haven’t seen one in a long long time)

  • fan-fold green-white paper

  • travel agents

  • a type writer (remember replacing the ribbon or unsticking a bunch of stuck keys)

  • tipp-ex

  • tube glow/feed-back/microphony (it receives radio programs and heats the house!)

  • A KIM-1

And on and on and on… as time goes on the list gets longer all by itself, pretty soon to be followed by such every day things as keys, credit cards, physical cash business cards and a very large number of other items that we feel are going to be around forever but that will be just be the subject of archaeology in the near future.

For some of these I feel quite nostalgic, they remind me of a world that was a bit simpler and easier to understand in depth (clear starry sky in particular, lucky people in Ontario and the North of Sweden, Norway and Finland). There is now so much technology in even the simplest devices that this has become nearly impossible. The schematic of a 1980’s computer could easily be comprehended by anybody with the will and the drive to do so. Understanding how a 201X era personal electronic device (say a phone or an MP3 player or something liket that) works all the way down to the transistor level is probably beyond the possibilities for mere mortals.

Some others (tape salad in particular!) I really don’t miss. Obsolence is the counterpart to progress, for every new thing we invent that improves on an old thing that old thing will fall by the wayside. Musea are full of such objects, but even they have limited capacity to store the incredible amount of things that we are making obsolete now. So some items will probably be forgotten forever, just as if they’d never been. Even if at some point in time they were essential.

It is a boot-strapping process. And it’s only just beginning!

HN Submission/Discussion
If you read this far you should probably follow me on twitter: