5 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think

#2. They Had Seismographs Around the Time of the New Testament


If you live in an area that's prone to earthquakes, volcanoes, or other ground-based forms of overkill that our precious planet likes to throw at us, a seismometer can be the only thing that stands between you and the lava-filled crevasse that just opened up under your house. Understandably, mankind's need to invent a device that could keep up with Earth's bullshit has always been pretty urgent. That's why seismometers and seismographs have been around for a while: The earliest designs date as far back as 1880.

Like every machine in the 19th century, it was powered by coal and whiskey.

That is, the earliest modern designs.

Actually Invented In ...

The year 132. No, that is not a typo.

Back then, Roman soldiers were lounging about Hadrian's Wall and the Greeks were busy building temples for Zeus. Meanwhile, in China, Zhang Heng was sciencing the hell out of the universe. Zhang was a scholar of the Han Dynasty and a borderline superhero: The list of his scientific and artistic achievements is positively Da Vincian, and he was a powerful politician to boot.

"No, dude, that topknot totally hides your bald spot."

Also, he invented a machine whose function couldn't be replicated for 1,700 years.


Zhang's seismometer was all the more impressive because earthquake studies weren't really a thing back in 132. People just kind of figured they happened because a deity was pissed off or something and there was not much to be done. Zhang Heng politely disagreed and started tinkering, because if a god was about to punish your country, you might want a warning system.

Zhang's machine was a delightful mix of science, art, and tripping balls: a big bronze pot with dragon statues watching in eight directions, each holding a bronze ball in its mouth. The dragon mouths were calibrated so that at the slightest tremor of the ground, the head closest to the source would drop its ball into the mouth of a toad at the base of the device, indicating not only the earthquake, but also the direction of the earthquake. Zhang called it his "instrument for measuring the seasonal winds and the movements of the Earth," and it fucking worked. The machine was said to be capable of sensing an earthquake that was happening hundreds of miles away.

Each of those frog mouths was just large enough to accommodate one Imperial Nut. Most history books leave that out.

#1. The Videodisc Is Older Than the Great Depression


Even if you're not old enough to be in the group that remembers the fax-machine era we mentioned earlier, you probably do remember the transition from VHS tapes to DVD. But when did the first videodiscs come about? The more tech savvy among you may point out that laserdiscs were a thing as far back as the early 1980s. But there were videodiscs a little while before that. And by "a little while" we mean "during the Coolidge administration."

Making this article the only time in decades that "laserdisc" has been seen in the same paragraph as "cool."

Actually Invented In ...


To put it mildly, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird was always a bit ahead of his time. As a child in the late 1800s, he set up a telephone exchange between his house and those of his friends, and his interest in television began as a teenager -- which wouldn't be so unusual if not for the fact that TV didn't exist yet, and his fascination started with a German book about the photoelectric properties of selenium. Perhaps he wanted to invent TV so that it could distract other teenagers from kicking his ass; the historical record isn't clear.

But if those glasses are any indication, yes.

By 1928, he was able to send a television signal clear the fuck from London to New York, which was also right around the time he was pioneering another technology that was so ahead of its time that for a minute nobody knew what to do with it: the videodisc.

John's Radio Web
Before movie night got underway, it could double as a pizza cutter.

Between September of 1927 and March of 1928, Baird made a series of recordings on standard 78 RPM gramophone lacquers using a machine he called a Phonovision. Playing back the platters yielded a 30-line video signal that ... well, that looked like shit:

John's Radio Web
If this starts to look even one iota more like the cursed tape from The Ring, we're leaving.

Five of these discs remain, and sure, they look like hell: Baird was unable to get anything going in terms of selling the video recorder/player, but he was quick to improve on the four-frame-per-second resolution and soon was producing video at a crisp 12.5.

Baird Television
On a machine that would've looked awesome in our 1920s living room.

The BBC actually began broadcasting 30-line television programs (programmes, sorry) using Baird's mechanical video scanning technology in 1929. Production switched from Baird's company to BBC One in 1932, and broadcasts continued using the same technology until World War II caused their suspension in 1939.

The whole concept of recording video to disc wouldn't reappear in the mainstream until 40 years later with laserdisc technology, and after a brief domination by DVD and Blu-ray, here we are about to abandon it again. Look, John, it was a nice try, but apparently we don't want our video on fucking discs.

Mike Floorwalker can be followed on Twitter, stalked on Facebook, or harassed on his blog.

For more ways we're actually behind on the times, check out 7 Songs From Your Grandpa's Day That Would Make Eminem Blush and 7 Memes That Went Viral Before The Internet Existed.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Why Lifelong Jobs Are a Thing Of the Past.

And stop by LinkSTORM to discover what the first real Pong was.

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