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The ghosts of tech past

FEATUREdeadtech

Pssshhkkkkkrrrr-
kakingkakingkaking-
tshchchchchchchchcch
*ding*ding*ding*

Hear that? It’s the unholy screech you might have heard if you were ever unlucky to pick up the phone while someone else was using the Dialup broadband connection in your house. Technology has come a long way over the decades – these days you can browse online, download a file, watch a music video and make a phone call all at the same time (and then some).

We’re lucky to live in an era when the development of new technology has never been so rapid, with a huge range of networking and entertainment devices available on the market. Today you can have your phone, messaging service, TV, music, emails and web browsing all in one handy device, but that wasn’t always the case. Let’s take a look at some pieces of “dead” tech that might not be the bee’s knees any more, but they did help pave the way for the stuff we have today.

snails

Dialup broadband (b. 1992 – d. 2015)

Originating way bay in the 80s, dialup broadband delivered breakneck speeds (just kidding) of up to 56Kbps – that’s 0.056Mbps if you’re too used to measuring speed in Megabits per second. Still, for its time, dial-up was the only way for the vast majority of users to get online – until many eagerly jumped ship for faster ADSL1 broadband at the beginning of the new millennium.

iiNet stopped selling dialup in September 2015. These days, the image, video and other entertainment-rich content of the web makes dialup virtually unusable, although you’ll still find a few services alive and kicking – perhaps some people are just really into text emails.

pager

Pagers/Beepers (b. 1950 – d. 2001)

Originally developed in 1950 for use by hospital doctors (a practice which continues today) pagers were also hugely popular as a form of messaging throughout the 1980s-1990s. With a limited coverage range (typically nationwide or smaller) and an even more limited character count for the message that could be displayed on the little LCD screen, pagers were the hip new way to text before mobile handsets with better capabilities such as the Nokia 3310 came around.

Motorola ended its manufacturing of pagers in 2001 and today, you’re much more likely to find a pager in a restaurant (to let you know your food is ready) than clipped to a teenager’s belt.

radio

Transistor radio (b. 1954 – d. 1980s)

The transistor radio is an iconic piece of technology when it comes to music listening on the go. Born in an era full of lots of young people thanks to the post World War II baby boom, you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie about teens in the 1950s-1970s that didn’t show one of these babies being carried around by a wrist strap or in a purpose-made leather satchel case.

Transistor radios started declining in popularity in the 1980s when portable cassette players with better audio quality came onto the scene, with CD and MP3 players to follow in subsequent decades. Though still a durable piece of hardware that you might find at a building site or a beach party, most people today prefer digital radio or music streaming delivered over WiFi or mobile broadband through apps such as Spotify on their smartphone.

ipod

iPods and other dedicated MP3 players (b. 2001 – Present)

All things considered, the personal MP3 player wasn’t long for this world. They were a great upgrade to the humble portable CD player and the technology really took off with the release of the original Apple iPod in 2001. Things got even better when the 2007 iPod Touch supported WiFi internet connections to access even more content like YouTube videos, but MP3 players just aren’t a big deal any more. Sure, they still make them, but with smartphones and other multi-purpose devices having a range of music apps plus a memory bank big enough to hold your entire music library and then some – why bother with an MP3 player unless you’re an avid jogger?

burgerphone

Landline phones (b. 1880 – d. The near future)

Australia got its very first telephone exchanges in Melbourne and Brisbane in 1880, just two years after the first telephone exchange in the world was built. For an entire century with decades to spare, the copper landline network has been the heart of Australian telecommunications. Unfortunately, the rising demand for high performance broadband has placed great strain on the network in recent years, and there’s only so much bandwidth an internet service can use on copper line without interfering with bandwidth which needs to be reserved for voice phone calls.

The mix of technologies rolling out with the nbn™ will see much of this copper network replaced with fibre optic or hybrid fibre coaxial cable, meaning the traditional landline phone just won’t be available any more in certain areas. Give it another decade or two and the only premises left with a landline phone will be those in areas service by nbn™ Satellite or Fixed Wireless broadband.

Are there any ancient pieces of tech you miss? (Or perhaps you’re glad they’re gone!) Tell us in the comments.

Image credits

59 comments

  1. Dennis says:

    .056Mbs sounds good to me compared to what I am getting with IINET nbn at the moment.2.4GB game patch 9 days 12 hours 27 minutes to complete.Technology sure has come a long way

    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      Hey Dennis,

      Sounds like the server where that patch is hosted might be in another country or under a lot of demand. How’d things go after a quick look over any internal factors, reboots or localised troubleshooting?

      If any issues with speeds do persist, we do have a dedicated support team available any time on 13 22 58 who can give you a hand in testing things to get them working better.

      – Tal

  2. Brian Rimmer says:

    Hi Guys
    Enjoyed the read. I am in my 70th year and have been a part of this ancient tech in our daily but I wanted to keep up with it. Had my Grand kids buy me an MP3 player. I was fine transferring music files from the computer, but by the time I sort them out on the player I have finished my walk. But hey my 14 year old Grandson is up there with it!!!!EASY

  3. David MacFarlane says:

    Well we are still living in the 80s then, here in Legana Tasmania we laboured through ADSL at 50kbps-150kbps download speed ( while paying for 10 times that much and no offer of 90% refund) we waited with great anticipation for the mighty NBN and on the very first day we had 10 Mbps download woo hoo but then it slowed to around 150 Kbps, don’t tell me it’s the wiring in my home or the local blah blah it worked for the first couple of days so can I have dial up speeds at dial up prices please? It makes me cringe to get these emails when it just isn’t so. I can’t even watch a low quality YouTube without it freezing. What other industry would deliver 10% of its product and everyone thinks it is ok.

    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      Hi David,

      There are a lot of moving parts involved in serving an internet connection and general processes to mandate ensuring any internal side of things are ruled out through troubleshooting before we get this resolved. We definitely suggest resuming contact with support team staff on 13 22 58 to have us help investigate the connection speed issues on your service and what can be done to help resolve them.

      – Tal

  4. David says:

    You’d better leave some space for the BlackBerry!

  5. Ramona says:

    Hahaha,
    We joined iiNet in its infancy, when it was still being run in Michael Malone’s garage in 1993. To boost their new business venture, they offered teachers at our school a good deal to sign up to this new thing called Dialup internet. A megabyte file took an hour to download, and unless you were really tech savvy and signed up to an FTP server, if you dropped out at 59 minutes, you had to start the download all over again. Why 1 Meg? That was the size of the vid games on offer in the 1990’s. We have been with iiNet ever since. Our password is still the original one generated by iiNet in 1993. We are now on NBN and still thrilled with the service iiNet provide, we couldn’t be happier!

  6. Mark says:

    Radios live on for talk-back, news, sports commentary… And their battery life still s***s on all the alternatives.
    In decline yes – but mostly after Napster (1999), not back in the ’80s.

  7. Stephen Barnham says:

    Someone ought to do their research. Technological change is often truly amazing and useful, note often, but not always as this article would suggest.

    Pagers are in heavy use in Victoria’s SES and CFA and heaven knows what else. (Doctors still use them but the date shown is d 2001??) There is a good reason for pagers, go and find out.

    The performance fallacy and coverage of digital radio verses conventional analogue, be it MW band AM mode or VHF band FM mode, is still obviously alive and well. I suggest a careful study of woeful performance limitations of digital be undertaken and do not be advised by the marketing people. There is also the issue that digital radio began with one expensive “standard” then changed, leaving people with expensive shelf ornaments.
    For emergency purposes people are advised to have an old fashioned transistor radio for when all else fails. That is because those seemingly pre-history technologies cover large distances, have a lot of overlap and therefore redundancy and are not as reliant as modern technologies, which are on a truly distressing long chain of weak links. As a brief example the NBN stops when the power stops unlike the land line (have you checked the cost of in home backup for NBN). Also, due to commercial considerations, in a district emergency, a mobile phone is near useless as the system can only handle a small percentage of the total phones at any one time. Also, start naming the towers that have effective back-up power systems. Why do you think authorities are experimenting with isolated band space for emergency services because even the cops’ mobile phones go down. I could go on at length but why bother.
    1. Modern technology has vastly improved communication capacity in general and in emergency situations but it is not all glory days and is a fool’s paradise to think it so. 2. There is an ever increasing house of cards of vulnerabilities which is (in some situations) officially recognised, although the public has no idea that the bottom line for emergencies is hobbyists playing with radios (Not CB). For a little information have a look at http://www.wicen.org.au/ Also, many local government areas have emergency management plans that includes amateur radio. This video, setting aside all other promotional aspects of amateur radio, will give some idea that the glitz and glamour of new utopian technologies have some deadly flaws. Watch carefully for the sample disaster list. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcfJUjcSEz8
    Steve VK3ZPG

  8. Krzysztof says:

    How about the manual transmission in cars?
    I’ve met apprentice mechanics who have an auto only licence. Must say something.
    Personally, I must say I really miss having a mobile phone battery that lasts 4-5 days.
    Great article. Well written with a nice sprinkling of facts/trivia. Well done.

  9. Tony says:

    The author refers to dial-up broadband in this article. Broadband was a term used to describe the faster technologies which came after broadband. Originally we had text based bulletin boards which were dialed into on a 300bps modem (.ooo3Mbps).

  10. edward farrar says:

    8 track?

  11. Don Readett says:

    The wonderful fax machine. I was principal in a school and it was great. You had to photocopy anything important because the image faded.
    Finally moved to arriving on your email address or photocopier.
    Dito with photocopiers b&w and colour.

  12. Nathan says:

    How about the VCR, laser disk, DCC – DIGITAL Compact Cassette by Phillips. DAT, 8mm video. 14.4K MODEM :-D.

  13. Mick Phelan says:

    Good article Gina
    Enjoying reading it , love the techie stuff,
    even though I am a fifties invention
    Love II Westnet great service
    Keep up the good work
    Mik

  14. Gerry says:

    Ah yes, interesting to look back, but how many of us can remember back to making their first crystal set or one valve wireless? (don’t call it a radio) and are still using today’s technology

  15. Karen says:

    I am old enough to remember when the electric typewriter replaced the manual typewriter and how excited we were to have one that actually had a white-out ribbon in the typewriter. Then when I returned to the workforce in 1986 there was this AMAZING machine called a Fax and my mind was blown away when I found out I could feed a letter through and it was immediately coming out of a machine in the USA, how clever was that!

  16. Paul says:

    I atill have lots of use for my ipods. Show me a phone enought space to store 160gb of music and then apps, photos, tracking data etc.

    I leave an old one in ther car for entertainment. I use an old on for workouts so my phone does not get wet, damaged, lost etc.

  17. Peter Sinclair says:

    Sorry but I will be keeping my landline for as long as possible. We are on fixed wireless or whatever it is called and it does not work when the power goes off. My landline still does. Being in a rural situation, mobile phones do not always have a signal so once again my good old landline still works. The old technology still works when the power goes down.

  18. Malcolm says:

    As most modern “technological developments” are simply fad driven bling, it is little wonder that they are so rapidly discarded. Those of us who consider quality and reliabilty to be more important than pocket size convenience usually just smile each time some new junk fad rears it’s ugly head, safe in the knowledge that in 10 years time I’ll still be using the same TV, amplifier & turntable that I’m looking in at right now – only they will be 50 years old the. The bling will all long be poisonous landfill by then. LONG LIVE VALVE & VINYL TECHNOLOGIES

  19. Elizabeth Woodley says:

    As one of the very much older members of the community, I am worried but also totally sick to death of hearing every day about “new technology”resulting in half the community moving around – including when at the steering wheel with zombi faces staring into a multitude of screens.

  20. Aston says:

    Construction sites still use pagers for their nurse call systems (emergency button for first aid).

  21. Brian says:

    “Hold your entire music library and then some” Really.
    Where’s the phone that will hold my 19,000 tracks?

  22. one- of- many says:

    I and many others with my condition will be somewhat devastated when landlines go. 3-5-10% of the developed world population are now electrohypersensitive, due to over exposure to radiofrequency radiation from not-so-smart meters, phone towers, cordless phones, wifi,etc.
    We cannot tolerate the radiation from cell-phones or wifi, so for us landlines are the best and often only option. Some with this condition cannot even use a computer, therefore Skype is out for them.
    Technology is great, but needs to be preceded by wisdom and knowledge about its effects. The number of people affected is growing all the time due to the microwave blanket we are all now under and the love affair of most with their mobile phones and wifi. Long term it is a very dangerous liaison, according to the now thousands of research studies and the anecdotal evidence.
    So we need to keep our landlines or find safe alternatives.

  23. neil says:

    I will be 93 years age very soon.
    Why worry things will happen and its happend before to so many Millions.Death.
    Living between 1923 and to the present time Is surely the best span of time,certainly I would not have liked earlier times,and Living in the future “Frightening”. Best of luck

  24. Alec Slamin says:

    Hi guys, an interesting series of tech articles but I would comment on one particular statement in “The ghosts of tech past” that ” there’s only so much bandwidth an internet service can use on copper line without interfering with bandwidth which needs to be reserved for voice phone calls.
    The standard landline uses only 3,100 Hz for voice calls. That is from 300 Hz to 3,400 Hz of the available spectrum.
    The limitation is not due to infringing on the voice call frequencies, but the length of the local loop to the DSLAM. The longer the distance the less the bandwidth available for ADSL use.

    Regards
    Alec Slamin
    Melbourne

  25. Doug Raper says:

    Interesting reading

  26. Tamx says:

    oh wow there is the technology, but iinet can’t even find a port in a town in regional Victoria for months when internet connections are easily obtainable in remote WA and NT.

    So we can get a telephone line here but iinet can’t connect the internet due lack of available ports – sort of defies having a landline which I was told I had to have if I wanted internet access, as well as being signed up to release iinet from any liability if a connection was not available, not that I was told that a connection would not be available possibly for months. Probably time for the telecommunications ombudsman to ask iiNet a few questions, irrespective of whether internet to some Victorian rural areas is supplied by copper network, fibre optic or hybrid fibre coaxial cable.

  27. Nicholas Elliot says:

    VCRs is a video cassette recorder has been and gone in my life time. I have to say I don’t miss them. I am glad the long playing record is still with us and I hope it continues.

  28. Robert Scott Casey says:

    Fax machines. Back to the future II showed a 2015 where there are fax machines in practically every room of the house.

    The 2015 Marty McFly even gets one on the toilet!(fact check required, my memory of this scene in the movie is a little hazy)

    Today,in the real world, many businesses still have fax machines but they largely gather dust. The ability to scan signed documents has seen them replaced by email.

  29. tony wray says:

    Hi Gina, I was thinking of the manual calculating machine that had the paper roll I have not seen one for years.

  30. John Gentleman says:

    Despite having hard-wired radios in three of my six rooms, I STILL use a transistor radio (in the bathroom while shaving or outdoors while gardening).
    It really came in handy (very very handy)during the September power outages in Adelaide.

  31. Bruce says:

    Oh the good old days. I could identify modem chipsets by their handshake. Reinstalling Dial-up networking in my sleep.
    ISDN office networks locked up because someone wants to send an Email with 600M of wedding photo.

  32. Brian says:

    I thought the fax was probably the most important and interesting of the now defunkt technology. But not a mention.

    Regards

    Brian

  33. Fatman0z says:

    Hey you forgot vinyl records? Went away and are now back with a vengance!! Biggest sales for 20 years in the last 12 months. You get so much more than your digital download for the same price, and most new release give you the digital download as well.

  34. Robert Dew says:

    The signs that technology has gone rampant.
    I have seen the transistor introduced along with the silicon chip circuits.I can remember when the CSIRO thought that they could place 1000 transistors on a silicon chip this is now old technology. The first mobile phone I broke open for a look I realised that I was still an old technology fellow at 71 yrs old.

  35. Shane says:

    Hi Gina / maybe the good Ol Fax machine slipped h der the radar here 😉

    Many people are still clinging onto the old tech but will find with the death of modems and analog POTS technologies, there’s fewer places to plug these in, and fewer still people who are advertising a fax line for receipt of them..

    Pretty soon I think we’ll see them join their ancestor the teletype in tech heaven.

  36. Jack says:

    I disagree – I still carry a pager around with me pretty much 24/7 – and so do most volunteer and career emergency service members.

  37. Angel says:

    I don’t mind changing technologies but the landline should be available, even through the nbn. Landline is still available when the power goes out. Got 2 phones one is hooked up to the power point as it has an answering machine and the other directly into the phone socket no answering machine. When the power goes out I can still use the phone hooked up to the phone line and is best for emergencies but cannot use the other phone. With the nbn you cannot use the either phone at all even the battery back up system doesn’t last for long hate to have the power out for more than a few hours.
    NBN maybe a good thing (although read more bad stories than for it) but for emergencies it is not!
    All for the landline :)

  38. George Lancaster says:

    I am currently looking for a transistor radio as shown in your pic. I find them useful in the kitchen or at the barbie. Also I do not have to worry about my personal details being hacked!

  39. John Taylor says:

    How about the slide rule and log tables. I guess many of you would not even know what they are for (they do complicated multiplication and division). I still have mine, but calculating is now done in Excel. Then there’s pounds, shillings and pence. Oh what fun we had calculating monetary amounts manually!

  40. Brian Reilly says:

    i joined westnet many years ago, after issues with telstra. then to netspace, before being taken over by iinet, then tpg. we started with dialup, then adsl, now nbn. i guess you get what you pay for. we went for 100/40 down/up and despite a few setup issues, which took a few weeks and emails to the TIO, things have been relatively good. the downloads are usually very good, but we still have issues with the iinet router, it is single channel 2.4ghz wifi and is not very good through 2 walls. that is being replaced by a decent router this week. iinet should offer a decent AC wifi router, instead of the TG-1, or at least a tier of better ones, other than the basic unit. otherwise have always found the help desk very good. hope this continues, if not, there are always other ISP’s to choose from people.

  41. Ivan says:

    George, you can still buy small transistor
    radios at some of the dollar stores.

  42. Joseph Provenzano says:

    I guess I became a iinet customer much later than a lot of people who have written in. What made me change to iinet was that they offered naked adsl. I think I was one of the first South Australians who signed on to naked dsl. 8 years and 5 months later I can not fault iinet. And for those that have had phone line issues. Do call their help line. They are second to none. Just a brilliant company that has not lost touch with its customer base even though it was purchased by TPG. During the 8 years and five months the service issues I have encountered are three. One was my long phone line that was faulty the other two were Telstra’s issues. Good on you iinet you truly have a great company. Hope that it remains a great company. Last month I had a speed issue. iinet support worked endlessly in finding the issue. Technician dispatched. You gave me a new modem, gave me a months worth of credit and another 18 dollars for the time I was off line. Even though it was not your fault. Telstra should have fixed the pair of wires over 10 years ago. When in those days I was with Optus. I have persuaded many of my friends and family to join you lot. Because I have never looked back at the rip off deal I was getting from the other large provider. Hoping to be with you for as long as you remain the company you still are. Thanks iinet.

  43. Alan Wills says:

    Doctors still use fax machines due to them being more secure to send private and confidential patent information.

    If all else fails the Amateur Radio service will still get through with voice and data; if all other communication fails look for a house with radio antenna.
    Alan VK4NA

  44. Illawarrior says:

    Some dinosaurs have theIr place. I will be hanging on to my land line as long as possible, as it works during power outages. When watching espionage/conspiracy movies, they often have to resort to old analogue technology to save the world. Anything digital and connected is hackable.

  45. Paul Price says:

    Reel to reel tape machine, although the community radio station I volunteer at has 2 of them still. Hardly ever used, but sometimes used.

  46. Andrew says:

    Pencil and paper, lol.

  47. Grandad says:

    Still trying to program my VCR ….

  48. Grandad says:

    When I got dial up connected my phone bill went from 2 calls to the local pizza shop to 350 calls using dial up ….

  49. David says:

    I still love my transistor, I can listen to the news while out walking out of mobile reception areas

  50. Artgeoff says:

    The transistor radio is absolutely essential to hear announcements during emergencies (they come via ABC AM radio, remember), especially when electricity fails!!!

    Don’t njump the gun, guys

  51. Mark C says:

    Loved my Palm Pilot back in the day.

  52. Gordon Lawton says:

    In the recent South Australia black out we were thankful for the old fashioned telephone which kept working and of course the transistor radio to keep us upto date. We are getting NBN in a few weeks time, does this mean the old telephone will no longer work?

  53. Norma Smith says:

    Yes Gerry. I recall the valve wireless. My father (a cabinet maker) made a beautiful one and I can still see it in my mind’s eye.Used to listen to The Lion Family, and Around The Horn, and such like.(UK shows of yesteryear!!)

    Fax machines and pagers are definitely not defunct.Although I am 75, I only retired from full time work last Nov, and was at a large Sydney hospital. The medical staff there still used pagers. Fax machines were very much used by all staff.

    I agree with ‘One-of Many’re Electromagnetic Radiation from power towers.Although you can now buy an item to ‘protect you’ (and that’s debatable as to whether it works or not),sickness from long term use of items like cell phones, still has to be researched.

    Your comment TAMX struck home. Been there and done that!! I spoke with iinet about being connected to the internet when I moved to a retirement village in VIc. (I wanted to retain my email address.) No problem I was told. In fact I checked this out at least twice, and I have the emails to prove it.They checked the location I was moving to and it was absolutely ‘no problem’.Rang to arrange connection when I moved, only to be told that they had no ports.I had a new line brought in by Telstra (at my cost of course)and was connected.I could not go via the existing landline because that was linked to a PABX line (which I had told iinet about before I moved)As well, even though I was told that I could remain on my basic plan which I had in NSW, that was not the case. In fact even one higher would not have give me any joy it seems, so I now pay an additional $30 a month.(Not forgetting that I also pay for the existing landline too.) My annoyance was that the staff (2-3)who dealt with my original query about moving, did not have the knowledge to impart correct information in the first place. Ok, I have got over all that now, but…….!!

  54. joffa says:

    i am ‘old school’, although open to suggestion, (only if it seems viable sugestion). What i have (and are) witnessing so far since about the new millinium (y2k) is NOT viable in any way shape or form. No modern technology from what any creature on this planet with half a brain could see is or has been produced, constructed or developed is any good at all………end of story…. and life as we know it. WHY, oh yes that’s right …… consumerism, greed, MONEY. It’s not about replacing old with new, it’s just about ‘selling’

  55. Peter Cohen says:

    If you have problems with power outages a standby supply for the low current devices is easy to arrange. Why keep a landline when it costs more?

    Whai I would like to enjoy is a modern fibre to the home imternett connection like other modern countries.

    By the way I am75 years old and still working with my business marketing industrial remote controls.

  56. Alan Brown says:

    In answer to Ramona

    There is someone who has been with iinet longer than me. Just coming up to 21 years.
    Never had a problem and if there was it was always sorted quickly.
    Can’t find a better deal than the one I am on although its a pretty old deal.

  57. Rob T says:

    My employer sent me to Japan in 1984to keep up to speed with scientific instrument technology(employer’s business). Fax was just easing out telex as the preferred method of national and international communication.At multistory offices in Tokyo, I saw faxes being sent between floors instead of paper copies carried by “gofers”.
    I told my employer of this and we had our first fax machine that week. Goodbye Telex and the telex operator.

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