by Tom McBride

The Mindset List of Throwback Technology

Is it possible to go forward and backwards at the same time? The wisdom about advanced technology seems settled: it comes fast; new is always better; it makes us more productive but tyrannizes our time. And so: there is a reaction—a wish to go backwards with THROWBACK TECHNOLOGY. Some of this is a genuine preference for the older technology; some of it is sheer nostalgia; some of it is the design of an old-tech façade with new-tech convenience. Whatever it is, retro is in!  THE MINDSET LIST OF THROWBACK TECHNOLOGY is a fast and lively look at this peculiar paradox.

1 It took seventeen years for the telegram to replace the Pony Express; it took only eight for the digital camera to replace Polaroid.

2 It took nearly thirty years for TV sets to replace radios as a preferred infotainment option; it took only 13 for video compact discs to replace videocassettes.

3 If you think high tech is going too fast, you can purchase an old-fashioned phonograph—complete with Bluetooth technology.

4 It took thousands of years for typewriters to replace quills, pens, and ink.

5 In 1980 every office had a typewriter; in 1990 few if any did.

6 In the current craze for throwback technology, no one has gone back to typewriters, and there seems to be no way to put word processors into typewriter casings.

7 Feeling nostalgic? You can buy a digital camera housed in Instamatic design.

8 If you are still pushing buttons on your remote controls and not using a touch screen, you are holding a soon-to-be-ancient technology.

9 For those who want to revisit their childhoods, you can buy a hand-held Nintendo player, though it will include FAR more games than you could have imagined when you were ten.

10 When the Walkman started including CDs, it seemed that it could never get any better than that.

11 If you are still planning trips via paper maps, what’s wrong with you?

12 There were smart watches forty years ago, including one that doubled as a stop watch, phone book (up to 10 names), and game player—costing only $355 in 2020 money.  

13 Pagers were everywhere in the 90s; nowhere in the 2000s.

14 If you look hard, you can still buy a curved TV screen, but why would you want to?

15 Ethernet as a connection has gone the way of ether as an anesthetic.

16 Few technologies have fought off obsolescence as well as the FAX machine.

17 There’s now one pay phone for every 3300 Americans, but no lines to use one.

18 It took hundreds of years for white boards to replace blackboards, but only 20 years for interactive whiteboards to replace dumb whiteboards.

19 It took 20 years to go from crank auto windows to power windows; 10 years to go from power windows to remote control ones—you only need your key fob now on a hot day.

20 YouTube is the ultimate jukebox, and if you danced to a jukebox, then you also recall when a car’s headlight dimmer was a steel button on the floor.

21 A phonograph is now called a “vinyl player” and you can buy them in hyper-portable designs.

22 Shown a vintage portable record player from the 1950s, a Millennial asked how you were supposed to jog with it.

23 If you’re feeling ultra-retro, you can buy abacuses now.

24 Etch-a-Sketch is back—for your I-Pad.

25 Want to slow down?  You can buy a rotary phone for as low as 45 bucks.

26 You can still send an American “telegram” (or something that looks like one) via regular postal service.

26 Telegram service is still available in Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Portugal, Poland, Israel, and 17 other countries.

26 Cars were fully-carbureted forty years ago; now 40 percent of a new car’s cost is its computerization.

26 Number of internet users twenty years ago: 381 million worldwide; today’s total number of users on FACEBOOK ALONE: nearly 3 billion.

27 To escape the autocracy of the Internet and to find a greater variety of styles Gen Z is going back to the Flip Top Phone: you can make the screen—and the digital universe—go away for a while.

28 Sixteen hundred years ago, the book replaced the scroll–until billions of people began to “doom-scroll down their screens with a masochistic thirst for terrible news.

29 Some folks just can’t help themselves: they miss the feel of paper photos, the sound of a keyboard clicking, or the whirr of a camcorder.

30 A YouTube channel devoted to retro tech has over 300,000 subscribers.

31 If we can photograph everything on our phones, how do we know what’s a truly special occasion?

32 Sony has issued a look-alike 1979 Walkman while Atari has launched a look-alike 1982 game console.

33 When will virtual reality be convincing enough so that we can live in the good old days when Fill-in-the-Blank was president and everything was great?

34 There is a market for “new” record players so that you can hear your grandparents’ treasured old 78 RPMs.

35. Look for lovely curved wooden houses–for calculators.

36 Do new technologies in a retro design just seem—somehow—more permanent?

37 For those of you who just can’t shake the childhood joy of drug store fountain cokes, there’s a cylindrical carbonator to take you back to the days of Buddy Holly, Teresa Brewer, and marble counters—and soda jerks.

38 Talk about retro: In a world where parents drool over their kids growing up to be STEM geniuses, the Rubik’s Cube has become, once more, one of the most popular toys on the planet.

39 So far no one wants to bring back floppy discs, even if they were stored in an elegant oaken chest from the good old days.

40 If a xerox machine can’t also print, scan, and fax, no amount of nostalgia can bring it back.  

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