I wish I hadn’t thrown that old piece of technology away

On The Media had a fascinating piece this weekend about digital archaeologists.  These are people who are attempting to preserve technology that has long since passed into obsolescence in order for us to remember how technology used to work.  In one exhibit, they had unearthed an original NeXT cube, the computer on which the very first web browser and web page was constructed, and a copy of one of the very first web pages.

Sadly, the very first web page itself no longer exists.  Back in 1991, no one really realized its significance, and the file was discarded.  The closest the digital archaeologists were able to find was an early web page from 1992.

I know how they feel.  About ten years ago, my parents were cleaning out the attic, and they had rented a dumpster to haul away the junk.  My father proudly told me how he had finally thrown away that old Mac Plus that had been collecting dust with the other junk up there.  “You what?!” I exclaimed.  “You have to go get it back out.”  After arguing for a few minutes, my father finally agreed to back out to the dumpster and rescue it.

beige Macintosh Plus

That old Mac Plus was a true piece of history.  This was the days before hard drives were ubiquitous, and we had stacks and stacks of floppy disks that held only 800k each.  As a kid, I longed for a hard drive, and I saved up money for more than a year to buy one.  It was glorious – 20 megabytes, and it was the size and weight of a dictionary.  At the time, it felt like enough storage to last forever.  Nowadays, I send emails larger than its entire capacity.

I’ve since devoted a shelf in the basement to other obsolete technology that I think will be a novelty some day.  I have an old rotary phone (remember when you actually had to d-i-a-l?), a mouse that had a real roller ball rather than a laser eye, a VCR (“Be Kind, Rewind”), and even a small cathode ray tube television.  I look forward to showing them to my kids one day so that they can marvel at how backwards we were in the olden days.

What really makes me sad, however, is the technology that I just dumped without recognizing what a piece of history it was going to be.  If I could have just one of them back, it would be my first cell phone.  It was the size of a giant snickers bar and weighed more than a cantaloupe.  I remember marveling at how small and light it was when we first bought it.  I eventually handed it down to my sister-in-law, and when she was done with it, I told her to donate it.  What a shame!

I have other regrets, too.  That second generation 10GB ipod with the monochrome LCD display that was the size of a deck of cards and weighed five times as much… our old dot matrix printer… our 35mm film point and shoot camera.

I’m trying to do better.  When I upgraded to an iPhone 3GS a few years ago, I loaned my original iPhone 2G to my mom with strict instructions that she give it back to me, since I knew it would be a collectors item some day.

I do wonder what common place technology today will be fascinating curiosities in the future.  I try not to be a pack rat, but I have a feeling that I will be expanding my collection soon to include items like DVDs or even incandescent light bulbs.

Thus far, Aviva is very patient with my slowly expanding shelf in the basement, which is taking up useful storage space.  It’s a good thing, otherwise future generations will miss out on some real history!  Of course, I’m sure they will roll their eyes any time I try to bring it out, but I can dream.
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3 Responses to I wish I hadn’t thrown that old piece of technology away

  1. Sivakumar AVKD says:

    This is cool Jeremy. I too have few older items at my home. But frankly, I did not keep them for saving the history, but that just happened.I will try to follow you, as always 🙂

  2. Sivakumar AVKD says:
  3. Amy says:

    Your blog posts are always interesting! That is neat that you are saving these things!

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