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Latest 'Mindset List' Catalogues My Obsolescence

Every year since 2002, Beloit College, of Beloit, Wisc., has released a new "Mindset List" -- a list of the political, cultural and technological things that its incoming freshman class has always taken for granted. The school released this year's edition two Mondays ago.

The 2013 Mindset List features a fair amount of cultural touchstones (such as its first item, "For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead"). Here, though, let's focus on its tech details:

4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.

9. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.

14. Text has always been hyper.

26. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.

34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.

44. There have always been flat screen televisions.

72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.

No. 4 really hits me, but maybe that's because I spent a year or so working in Georgetown's library, where I did have plenty of opportunities to flip through a paper card catalog. (If you'd seen how brutally obsolete the electronic card catalog was back then, you'd understand why!). Nine also resonates all too well -- I've been reporting on the arrival of HDTV for more than a quarter of my life.

No. 14 seems like a space filler, unfortunately. (Yes, I just made that observation in a blog post largely devoid of news content. Look, it's the last week of August...)

No. 26, however, may annoy quite a few people who are still waiting to get a choice of land-based TV providers -- including the entire populations of the District and Alexandria. No. 34 seems a little optimistic, too, given the limits of electronic-book interfaces a decade ago (and even today); for that matter, you could have read a book on the screen of a TRS-80 three decades ago, but that doesn't mean most people would have enjoyed it.

No. 44 reminds me that I still need to find a home for a couple of old analog tube TVs (if that's even possible these days). And No. 72 makes me wish that some of these bright young kids could quickly ascend to management roles in the media industry; that way, we might at some point have a movie-download site that isn't terrible.

Most of all, though, Beloit's Mindset List makes me feel a little old. Which, in turn, has me wondering about how best to exploit my hard-won curmudgeon status -- if I'm stuck with all this knowledge of obsolete technologies, why not have some fun with it?

At a flea market near my home, there's a guy who regularly sells such old hardware as manual typewriters and rotary-dial phones. One of these Saturdays, I might have to pick up an old Smith-Corona -- just so I can type out a letter, scan it in and send the results as an e-mail attachment. Or maybe I'll pick up a rotary-dial phone, then connect it to a voice-over-Internet-Protocol calling service. Back at home, perhaps I can use an old floppy disk to carry around flash-memory cards.

What's the oldest form of electronic technology you have lying around the house? Do you still make any use of it? If so, what do visitors say when they see this antique powered up and running?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 31, 2009; 11:23 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Many electronics have a pretty short shelf life compared to furniture or most other appliances. Of our everyday items; our tube-TVs are from the 80s and our VCR is pushing 20 years old as well. The DTV converter box has given them new life. One electronics gadget that continues to be useful and current is my clock radio, which is probably pushing 30 years old with no end in sight. I have an old turntable but it doesn't get much use, so I'm not counting that.

Other stuff, like PCs, CD players, cell phones, answering machines, cameras and portable phones never seem to make it past 10.

Posted by: KS100H | August 31, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Does my Stewart-Warner AM radio count?

Posted by: Chalres | August 31, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Old landline phone about 10 years old. Not wireless, no answering machine built in. But it worked when the power was out. Put it in a box when I got rid of the landline.


Clock radio that's about 20 years old. Battery powered travel clock of the same vintage.


I remember, back in college in the early 90's, I was talking with a fellow student about taking in the tubes from our TVs to the tester at the local drug store (Drug Fair, Dart Drug, and People's had testers), a girl sitting behind me leaned forward and asked what a "tube" was...

Posted by: wiredog | August 31, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I have a cell phone that I use... as a phone. Okay, occasionally I send a text message. But that's it.

Posted by: Ghak | August 31, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

It's a stretch for electronics...I still use my 1972 Amana Radarange microwave oven. It's used every day. It needed one small repair (broken plastic piece) in '73 but it was still under warranty. First I was the new kid on the block with it, then it turned "old" compared to modern it so cool it's "retro"!!!Folks ask me where to get one like it. I hope it goes along forever!

Posted by: tbva | August 31, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

My 8-track player was just called home, but my TEAC reel-to-reel tape deck is in use as I write, comforting me with Blossom Dearie singing.

Posted by: Geezer4 | August 31, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I have several old '30s and '40s vintage radios around. Mainly because the design is so cool, but a couple of them still work. And unlike modern AM radios, they REALLY work. They'll pick up Canadian stations at night.

As far as electronics I still use regularly, I got a great double take from a friend when he asked if he could borrow a videotape that I had been watching, and I told him it was a Beta...

And wiredgos post was interesting. Another friend and I were once wondering when those tube testers disappeared from stores. It's one of those things you don't think about until you realize that you haven't seen one in years.

Posted by: rashomon | August 31, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

We have a shelf full of LPs, and a turntable to play them on. My wife's old manual typewriter that she took to college is around somewhere - mine went to the trash several years ago. In the attic is an old Atari 400 computer complete with cassette tape drive and 300 baud handset cradle modem.

Posted by: jcflack1 | August 31, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

My blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb guitar amplifier, built in October 1963. (I bought it used and have replaced the original Jensen speaker.) Has a bunch of those vacuum tubes referred to by other commenters. Still sounds beautiful and hauls ass. Now Fender sells what they call "reissue" versions of it.

I know a lot of other players who are fond of their even older "tweed"- and tan-vinyl-covered amps.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | August 31, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

How about a Kodak slide projector? I'm pretty sure most of today's college freshmen haven't seen one of those in use.

Posted by: NebraskaGreen | August 31, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

The wheel of obsolescence turns quickly now . . . I have a Iomega HipZip MP3 player from (I think) 2001 . . it's ABOUT paperback book size, weighs a ton, and held (whoa) *40MB* disks . . . maybe 10, 12 songs at a time. Seemed great for the gym back then, even if you DID have to carry it in a sturdy case.

And it still works. Not sure there's any reason in the universe to use it, but it still works.

But I just got rid of my 27" Toshiba tube set last year . . .

Posted by: Gunga2009 | August 31, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

How about a 24 year old functioning BETAMAX VCR? Even a portable black and white TV (with AM/FM radio built-in) that could run on a battery pack, from circa 1976?

Posted by: scottr2 | August 31, 2009 10:48 PM | Report abuse

I still have my 13" Sony Trinitron television. It was my second TV. (My first was this 6" black and white thing.) I got it when I was around 12 years old, and I watched plenty of "Benny Hill" on it. I actually still use it yearly, for my Super Bowl party. It either goes in the kitchen or (ahem) where someone using the restroom can see it.

And I have a complete set of darkroom equipment. I *so* would love to get back into developing film and making prints, but with three young'uns, there simply isn't time.

-- Michael Seese, CISSP, CIPP
author of Scrappy Information Security

Posted by: MichaelSeese | August 31, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Hanging on my office wall... a framed IBM punch card from a program I wrote (punched) in FORTRAN for an EE class. Oh yea, I have a slide rule that I think I still know how to use. And a ZX-81...I have no idea how to use it.

Posted by: nospam6 | September 1, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

As a technology teacher, one of my favorite "obsolete" devices I have on display is a couple of vacuum tubes which absolutely no student -- or any parent, for that matter -- can identify. Yet, they really changed the world, and showing off an old Hallicrafters radio set that still works leaves them stunned by its enormous size. I spanned the globe with that set and a transmitter as a kid.

Posted by: dsmith5 | September 1, 2009 5:56 AM | Report abuse

Some of the dads at the playground were talking about giving kids an old turntable hooked up to a speaker to play with. Punch cards? I don't have truck with them newfangled technology - I have some paper tape lying around in a box, waiting to be connected up to this Intertube.

Posted by: jimward21 | September 1, 2009 7:12 AM | Report abuse

I learned to use a slide rule and abacus in high school (the later for fun). I have continued to use them ever since (45+ years.) For addition the abacus is still faster than a calculator, since once you enter the numbers you also have the answer without hitting the + key. I used them in Grad school (Nuclear Physics) and when I was a Professor, again just for fun, when adding grades. Used to freak students out when I checked their test scores!

Posted by: HappilyRetired2 | September 1, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I still have the 1938 Stromberg-Carlson radio that I found in my next door neighbor's trash 40 years ago when I was a little kid. My mom rolled her eyes when she saw me drag it into the house. By the early 1970s, I finally learned enough about electronics to figure out how to fix it, and it still works fine to this day. Lots of tubes, including a special "green eye" tube to tell you when the stations are properly tuned in! I also have another old console radio with a 78 RPM turntable and some old records to play on it.

Posted by: alrob8 | September 1, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Oh,yes, I still have an E6B navigation computer in my desk, but by now I have forgotten how to use much of it. Durn these newfangled electronic things anyhow!

Posted by: Geezer4 | September 1, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Let's see...I have an Apple Lisa from 1982 along with the 128K Mac that was given to me in 1984 as 'payment' for participating in Apple's beta test program prior to launch.

My mother-in-law has a rotary dial desk phone with a party line at her home in western Massachusetts. Since there is limited cell service in her town I need to drive 10 minutes to the local strip mall in order to check voicemail.

Posted by: skipper7 | September 1, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I have an Apple IIGS that still functions quite well... and is as souped-up as a system from that era can be: 20MB hard drive; dual 800KB 3.5" floppy drives; 4MB RAM; 8MHz accellerated processor. It plays a few great games, and if I feel like programming in assembly language, I can. I've actually got an even-older Apple IIe sitting around somewhere (with its monochrome green monitor) and a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A as well. And I even play my Mattel Intellivision to this day; we bought it when I was 4 or 5 years old, and it works fine 30 years later.

Posted by: exerda | September 1, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Our home still has the working intercom with AM/FM radio and a phonograph jack. The vacuum tubes take a while to warm up but the radio still work.

Posted by: nitcat | September 1, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

A pair of turntables here -- one Technics two-speed, one Panasonic three-speed changer; also have a working 8-track RECORD/playback deck. Then there's the Pentax K-1000 film camera that still takes awesome photos...and last but not least, the handheld Mattel Electronics football game! :)

Posted by: SportzNut21 | September 1, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

A circa 1977 HeathKit SW717 Shortwave radio that my dad and I put together.

It still works, but I haven't had a chance to string an antenna at the new house yet.

It was this piece of equipment that made me want to get a Ham radio license -- which I finally did 30 years later.

Posted by: Annorax | September 1, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Exerda's comment about Intellivision reminded me that I've got an original Pong game in a closet somewhere.

Posted by: rashomon | September 1, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

As for the oldest *electronic* equipment, that would be a couple of AM/FM transistor radios from the 1960's, each slightly bigger than an iPod Classic. As for the oldest *electrical*, i.e., no transistors, equipment, we have a working portable record player (33/45 rpm) with builtin speaker (monaural of course). You should hear our old 45's on that! (Or maybe not.) We can type up a list of them on a couple of manual typewriters sitting in our garage. Too bad that we don't have any carbon paper for making extra copies. Our original Mac 128K is just too new to mention.

As for your analog TVs, Rob, we had no trouble selling ours on Craigslist recently. $60 for a newish 32" model (114 pounds!) with a cable connection or converter box is affordable for those who can't spend $400 for an HDTV LCD model. Works just fine in front of someone's exercycle or treadmill.

Posted by: bluevoter1 | September 1, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Oldest working piece of electronics I regularly use is my original Nintendo Gameboy. Still plays Zelda and Tetris just fine.

I've got a colorimeter from the 60's stashed away, and spent three years in college maintaining a 1973 electromechanical pinball machine. Now that thing was awesome, not a printed circuit board or vacuum tube in sight. Just wires, relays, motors, solenoids, and a couple of blinking light bulbs it used as a timer for the tilt mechanism.

Posted by: theGelf | September 1, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Readers of this story may find this movie interesting.

Connecting to the internet on a modem from 1964:

Posted by: hayesap8 | September 1, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

I have a few old tube radios from the 30's and 40's. Shortwave and AM. Kids think the tubes are cool. Of course, tubes have been coming back in high-end audio systems. So, I guess they ARE cool again.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | September 1, 2009 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I still have the charging tray for a Zaurus PDA, and, an unopened Apple Plaintalk Microphone.

Posted by: query0 | September 3, 2009 7:04 AM | Report abuse

From the days when VCR rez wasn't enough, the videophile alternative: LaserDisk! A Magnavox-branded player, pre-digital soundtrack, awarded to me via a dropbox drawing at our local Grenada TV Rental storefront, c. 1985
Ultimately acquired some 100 discs for viewing pleasure..

Posted by: Mark_CharmCity | September 3, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to say two things:

1) I like this comments thread. A lot.

2) My wife recently brought home a stack of unused IBM 5081 punchcards she got from somebody in her IT department (not to brag or anything :), and now I'm strongly tempted to use them for thank-you notes or greeting cards.

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | September 3, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

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