Five things from yesteryear that have still “got it”
Nostalgia, or “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past,” is a common occurrence in adulthood and has never been as visible as it is today. Think about hipster-culture—bringing back old game consoles like the Nintendo 64, and shunning Spotify in favor of vinyl (it just sounds better). While initially, users were breathing a sigh of relief that Atari and Tandy computers were no longer, there is a real appreciation for all things retro.
But it’s not only nostalgia that makes people turn to the ‘old stuff’—the saying goes “they don’t make them like that anymore”—and it certainly rings true for my top five of things that have been around for many years but are yet to be consigned to the history books.
- Apple Macintosh
When the Apple Macintosh was introduced to the masses in 1984, it was nowhere near the sleek form of any of today’s “Macs” (albeit sleeker than its contemporaries). Steve Jobs’ breakthrough brainchild did not invent, but instead featured the first graphical user interface, a built-in screen, mouse, and an incredibly expensive price-tag. It struggled to compete with the already existing IBM Personal computer and the Commodore 64 and saw a steep decline in sales in the ‘90s. But three decades later, a transition to Intel processors, and their own operating systems, Macs have now a cult following and are living proof that improving and modernizing an already-good product will help it stand the test of time.
The first commercial mainframe computer, called UNIVAC I, was produced in 1951 and could be described as Mac’s great uncle, as mainframes are in many ways the precursors of modern computers and laptops. Operating at around 10,000 operations per second in its early days, today IBM’s largest zEnterprise System mainframes offer over 4,900 MIPS (one million instructions per second) of aggregate processing power from up to 64 “n-way” CPUs in a single processing complex. Without question, mainframes are incredibly powerful and secure machines, naysayers have accused them of holding back digital transformation. But that’s not the case. As with the Apple Macintosh, mainframes can be modernized to keep up with the ever moving times. Something as simple as application programming interfaces (APIs) can unlock the value of these systems.
Looking at the tiny lens on your small phone, it is astonishing that the first cameras invented took up whole rooms. We’ve come a long way since then, with Johann Zahn first envisioning the concept of a handheld device in 1685 after his studies of the camera obscura. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce drove Zahn’s ideas forward with the creation of photography at the beginning of the 19th century (yes, the camera came first!), and roughly 180 years after Niépce’s first experiments, the first phone cameras became readily available. While interchangeable lens cameras (box cameras) are still the best in the business when it comes to producing outstanding photography—no fixed angles and focus, ability to adjust to varying light situations, etc—today, everyone’s a photographer. Most people own a mobile phone that is able to take sophisticated images and the makers of mobile phone cameras are hot on the heels of the camera specialists. Consumers can expect even more advancements in the future because this oldie is by no means averse to modernization.
What do John Irving and government workers in a town called Matanuska-Susitna in Alaska have in common? They are both using typewriters. The first typewriter proven to have worked was built in 1808 by Pellegrino Turri to enable his blind friend to write. The machine enjoyed a long and successful life until the arrival of computers which forced the modest typewriter in the back of the filing cupboard. However, in the past couple of years, people are seeing the security benefits of returning to anachronistic technologies. Germany’s politicians have entertained the idea of reintroducing typewriting and more recent, Russian authorities have shown an increased interest in the “unhackable” device. So while typewriters will never flip the script on its head and replace computers, they certainly still have their use if you want to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps and type out your first novel the old way, or if you are trying to avoid sensitive material being intercepted—just make sure you have the Tipp-Ex handy.
Humanity has always been a busy bunch of people trying to work out whether they were running late or not. Going back as far as 3500 BCE to ancient Egypt, where the first sundials were erected in the form of tall obelisks near temples and royal residences, the time-telling business has come a long way. From the introduction of the pocket watch in the 1600s to the wristwatch in the trenches of World War I, telling time has shaped society. The wristwatch has enabled military actions such as the coordination of precise attacks and battle by airplane, improved commerce with remote trading partners, and aided elections and helped scientists to conduct more accurate experiments. The style and ability (think smartwatches or even a simple alarm) might have changed over the years, but the concept remains timeless.
These seemingly eclectic top five oldies-but-goldies have one thing in common—great things will always have their uses, especially when the can stay agile and move with the times. We might be talking about a combined age of approximately 546 years, but what they lack in youth, they sure make up in reliability, security, and experience. Progress is certainly welcome, however the fact that the Pentagon still uses eight-inch floppy disks for its nuclear weapons program speaks for itself.