Outdated Tech References

I’m reading a book published in 1998. In the early part of the book, some characters were fumbling with how to use a VCR. It instantly transported me to my middle-school and high-school years. I have strong memories of watching videos on a VCR in class. The teacher would roll in a giant cart containing a TV, the VCR, and a whole bunch of wires. From our seats, we would watch the teacher fumble to connect the VCR to the TV, plug everything in and hit the buttons in the right order. Usually there would be a few helpful tips from the students such as “press the button with the triangle on it – just one triangle.”

This book is full of old tech references. The VCR, the poor quality video with grainy images, and my favorite, the fax machine. Even that strange, fragile fax paper that curls is part of the book. Incidentally, that fax paper doesn’t last a long time. I know from experience because I used to find it a lot when I was cleaning out old files. What feels even weirder to me is how we used to function without cell phones. The book only references old-school car phones. I also couldn’t help wondering how different the story would be with updated technology. Or if parts of the story couldn’t, or wouldn’t, happen if the characters had smart phones.

I often have this thought thinking about Seinfeld. Even today, Seinfeld references are still valid, though I wonder how many episodes wouldn’t exist because of today’s technology. A few that come to mind are the episodes when:

  • Elaine has to save seats in the movie theater
  • they all miss the movie because there’s confusion about which theater to go to
  • they wait for a table at a busy Chinese restaurant

I’m sure new episodes with modern technology would take their place, but it’s still fun to think about.

Technology advances quickly and we adapt to incorporate it into our lives. My generation was the last to grow up with both analog and digital. It’s fine for me to read older books with outdated tech references. I know what they mean. However, I wonder what that will be like for the newer generations. Will it make these books unreadable for them? Or will they fumble through the books using their smart phones to Google all the outdated tech references?

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