Someone on the Straight Dope Message Boards started another one of those 'what will those whippersnappers be confused with next?' threads. There's a huge age range on that board; I think a couple of the regular posters are up in their 90s, and there are more than a few 13-14 year olds around. Every once in a while, the old-timers go round robin and trade tales of things that were obsolete before the new kids were even born.

I recognize a lot of the stuff the oldsters are talking about. I was born in 1981, which is right on the cusp between Generation X and the Millennials, and I grew up in a very nerd household, so I had early experience with a lot of classic gizmos that other people might have missed. I typically geek about a generation older than I actually am -- occasionally amusing, like the time I answered someone's question about kinescopy on the abovementioned message board, and was promptly mistaken for a middle-aged Corporation STelE.

I'm just old enough to remember when gas stations still had to specify which pumps had unleaded gas. (Leaded fuel is still sold for some applications, mainly avgas, but was phased out of consumer gas supplies almost entirely by the early 1990s.) Cars had radios -- regular transistor radios, not the satellite kind -- instead of CD players or even tape decks, and you had to roll your own windows down with a primitive cranking system, which also provided an extra awkward chunk of plastic jamming itself into the side of your leg as you were trying to sleep squashed against the door. I was in junior high before we got a car with an alarm, mainly because I was in junior high before we got a car anyone would want to steal. Not much resale value in a used Sentra.

I remember our first cordless phone (huge, clunky, with an telescoping antenna, and sound quality that fell somewhere short of 'tin cans and string'). I also remember US West being our phone company -- we moved to their area just after the Baby Bell divestiture, when they were still Mountain Bell, and a few years later they switched to doing business under the parent company name. If you have ever had... dealings... with Comcast Cable, then you might be interested in knowing that they studied under Darth Telco up there. We had shitty telecomm service and inscrutable billing practices in Arizona decades before the national cable internet people made it into an art form. They were eaten by Qwest Communications around the time I hit college, and so far as I know, Qwest is continuing the long, proud tradition of fucking over people who just want to make a goddamn phone call. I started phone + DSL service to an apartment once and cancelled it a few months later when it became apparent that not only did the DSL service not really work, but the phone company was incapable of figuring out how to dun me for the same amount of money in any two consecutive bills.

My parents were enthusiastic media pirates way before it was cool. See, we had a VCR and a Blockbuster account. VHS tapes in those days weren't made for the consumer market -- they were made for the rental market, so new titles were priced up around $80. (The consumer format at the time was Laserdisc, whose new titles were about $30.) We had friends who copied movies pretty much the same way pirates do now with their iPhones in the theater, by pointing a camcorder at the screen and leaving it running. My father thought this method was for the ignorant and unambitious. He went and bought about $5 in parts from the nearest RadioShack and soldered together a wee little widget that hooked between two VCRs, and killed the primitive copy protection on new tapes. Voilá! Good as new! Well, less generational degradation. And the fact that VHS resolution is even worse than TV resolution to begin with. Details.


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  1. You can never defeat the analog hole!

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