5 ‘high-tech’ gadgets from days of yore

In the not too distant future, when we all have iChips embedded in our skulls, we’ll recall smartphones as ‘quaint.’ The author looks back on what once was cutting-edge technology.

There’s a pay phone in downtown Lancaster that I walk past, and it looks so lonely. No one ever uses it, and I was kind of curious why it is still there. You don’t see pay phones around much anymore, and you certainly don’t see traditional phone booths.

I decided to take a look at some of the other things I miss from “the good ol’ days.” Technology has advanced to the point where not only are pay phones disappearing, but house phones as well, which brings me to my list of five things I miss:

Rotary phones

The advance toward touch-tone technology was not just a great thing for us, but for those in the entertainment field. Do you know how much time was wasted in films and television shows by people having to run to find a phone (there were no cell phones) and then dialing seven numbers, waiting for the dial to return each time before dialing the next number? People had to die very slowly back then so they could survive the long wait for the paramedics to arrive.

Take something like the “Harry Potter” movie series that is 10 hours and eight minutes in length. If they had to use a rotary phone every time they needed to make a call to order up some eye of newt, that series would be at least 12 hours long.

OK, I don’t even know if they use phones in those movies. But think about all 10 hours and 54 minutes of “The Lord of the Rings.” What if every time they had to make a call—OK, never mind, but you know what I mean. A touch-tone phone is much faster than sending out the eagles.

Developing film

Growing up we had the kind of camera that you had to buy stuff called film to put in. After you took a picture, you had to remember to advance the film to take another picture, or you’d end up with a “double exposure.” When you were done, you had to take the film someplace to get it developed.

Eventually they built these little hobbit house things called Fotomat stores, which they plopped down in parking lots. You would drive up, drop off your film, and presumably get the developed photos back the next day.

Later we would use those mailer inserts from the Sunday paper and send them off to Clark Laboratories for really cheap photos, deciding if we wanted double prints, and whether to go with matte or glossy. Then you’d get double prints of poorly exposed, out-of-focus pictures. That’s right, one copy of a lousy photo just isn’t enough. I have drawers full, if anyone is interested.

Oh, and don’t forget slides. My parents still have a dozen or more slide carousels of various vacations from the ’60s and ’70s. You pop the carousel on the slide projector, set up a screen across the room, darken the room, and it’s just like a movie theater. Except with no motion. Or sound, other than the snarky remarks of the viewers. Hours and hours and hours of…fun?

This whole digital picture thing will never catch on.

Dial-up modems

There was a time when “going on the Internet” was a thing. We had to plan for it and alert the family. Our computer was in the dining room, nowhere near a phone jack. When we wanted to go online (we started with People PC and other free services like Netzero and Juno, by getting their free CDs in the mail or at local stores, and later moved to AOL with the rest of the free world), we had to make sure that no one needed the phone.

I would stretch a long phone cord from the back of the computer to the jack in the kitchen, and then I would hit the button that would hopefully, maybe, connect us to this Internet thing. We’d know we were on the right track when we heard that most musical of sounds.

Ain’t nothing sweeter than the sound of a dial up modem connecting. Once I disconnected, of course, I would get a call from someone, usually my parents, wondering who I had been yammering at on the phone for so long. No, Mom and Dad. Not yammering. Connecting with the world.


Though cassettes have gone the way of the dinosaur, vinyl is having a bit of renaissance, mostly because of hipsters who love to hear their music with a little bit of snap, crackle, and pop. But I’m still waiting for the return of the 8-track. Some like the tonal quality of vinyl, but there’s something that 8-tracks have that cassettes, vinyl, CDs, and MP3s just don’t have.

The Clunk.

That’s right, it’s all about the Clunk.

You’re in your car, listening to that hot new 8-track album from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and the best song comes on. You settle in behind the wheel enjoying the drive, wishing someone had invented something called cruise control so you could pay less attention to driving and more attention to being cool. Midway through the song, just as it’s hitting its stride, the song fades to silence. Deafening silence for about four seconds, and then it hits.

The Clunk.

This is your 8-track switching from one “program” to another, and then the song fades back in and finishes. Oh, some might complain about how it ruined the song, but for me it is forever etched in my mind as a part of the song; a piece of rebellious performance art, if you will.

These days when I hear that song on the radio-without the silence and The Clunk-I lean over to my kids and say, “Oh, I remember the original version of that song. It was about 8-seconds longer. And it had The Clunk.”

You can keep your stinkin’ vinyl.

Big, bulky calculators

My son went into the college store the other day and spent about $15 dollars on this thing called a scientific calculator. It has all sorts of buttons and multi-function capabilities. When I saw it, it took me back to a much simpler time.

Our first calculator was a little beauty from Texas Instruments that gave me the ability to do every kind of math I needed: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. That’s right: the big four.

I had no need for percentages, square roots, cubing, sine, cosine, and the rest of that trigonometric voodoo. Give me the big four on a big, bulky calculator, and make me pay $129 for it. That’s my kind of technology. I’m just glad Apple wasn’t around making calculators at that time, I’d have to buy a new one every year, and pay more each time: iAdd.

A version of this article first appeared on Inkling Media.

Topics: PR


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