Rewind: Analog nostalgia and the days before digital domination

obsolete stampRemember when you went to HMV and bought your first CD?

Your children won’t.

I was surfing Reddit during one of my lecture classes (terrible of me, right?) when I stumbled upon an interesting post. Reddit is a social news website where users post interesting links or can pose a question for the online community to answer and discuss. Here’s the question that I could not stop thinking about:

“Today my 5 year old niece asked me why my smartphone makes that [shutter] sound when I take a photo. I suddenly realized she has never seen a physical camera in her life. Reddit, what things did you have to explain to kids that make you feel old?”

analog cameraAs an MIT student, this question hit home with me. What social practices or technologies have started to become obsolete? I’ve already come to terms with the fact that any offspring I have probably won’t ever have to wait for their photos to develop, or blow into an N64 cartridge to get it working.

But what about the conventions that we’re so used to that we’re barely aware of? Why is the “Save” icon a floppy disk, when they’ve been obsolete for years? We can probably remember when we used them, but will younger programmers think that the symbol is outdated? Am I perhaps too nostalgic about a plastic square?

The answers to this Reddit question were both cute and eye-opening. Users posted comments such as “my nephew, 4, tries to use everything with a screen like a touchscreen.” Others had to explain to their kids why we call it “rewinding” a movie or “rolling down” analog phonethe car window. One user described a child who had suggested they connect a wire to the home phone to save batteries; he didn’t know that corded phones ever existed. How times have changed.

Has it been that long since the era of VHS tapes and corded phones? Are certain terms and phrases in our language now completely outdated? It blows my mind that even though the iPad was only released two years ago, children are already growing up viewing touchscreens as the norm. More posts on the Reddit thread discussed how children barely a decade younger than us couldn’t recognize objects our parents depended on: how a classroom of kids thought that a pocket watch looked “futuristic,” how girls didn’t know what Maroon 5’s song “Payphone” was about, or how teenagers have never heard a busy signal on the phone–only voicemail.

These may seem like gaping holes in young people’s knowledge and logic, but in reality some of our conventions just aren’t necessary anymore. We live in a world where dictionaries are basically obsolete: we just Google any word we don’t know. And how many of us know how to mail a letter, when nearly everything is digital? This overturn of tradition is already underway, but it still seems shocking that the younger generation will never be as excited about a touchscreen as we once were.

Our world keeps on changing, and some things that seem very obvious to us won’t be relevant to the next generation. We have to ask ourselves what becomes obsolete with every technologicfloppy disksal advancement, and if those items and ideas are worth holding on to.

You can check out the Reddit post at


Kevin Chao is a nostalgic MIT student who will blame his bad marks on his Reddit-cation.

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