6 Hilarious Old Versions Of Modern Technology
The human species has gotten so good at patting itself on the back for inventing new technologies that it's a miracle we haven't evolved 10-foot-long arms. Between smartphones and smartwatches and selfie sticks, you might be tempted to think we've reached the pinnacle of technological sophistication. Not so fast, whippersnapper! Your great-grandparents had access to some of the same "innovations" we have today; they just weren't as flashy about it.
An E-Reader From 1922
Without a shadow of doubt, one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century is the e-reader. Our reasoning is simple: As great as inventions such as the Internet and 3D printing are, they don't allow you to read Taken By The T-Rex during your daily commute. There are no other reasons.
But, as it turns out, old-timey people were also able to read ankle pornography or fantasy novels about women's rights in complete privacy, all thanks to the Fiske Reading Machine, a handheld device that was apparently designed by a sadistic yet bookwormish ophthalmologist.
A man so crucial to reading smut in public, pictures of him
are printed only in 50 actual shades of gray.
It was incredibly simple to use. Using a font size that could be measured only in gnome tears, each book was printed onto a series of thin pamphlet cards. Once slotted into the machine, all the reader had to do was look through the eyeglass and, voila, reading. It was reported at the time that Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad, a weighty tome clocking in at 93,000 words, could be shrunk down to only 13 pamphlets, which is an impressive achievement considering that old-timey words were super long and slang hadn't been invented yet.
The guy behind this device, Rear Admiral Bradley Fiske, was even as cock-sure as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk when it came to talk about how his invention was going to revolutionize the world. As he described it, the Fiske Reading Machine heralded the death of the modern-day printing press, a device that, as of this writing, has survived more certain deaths than The Goddamn Batman.
"Come back once you've co-existed with the microprocessor, kid."
As you've probably guessed by now, the Fiske Reading Machine did diddly-squat to revolutionize the world of reading. For all we know, the past equivalent of Google bought him out and shuttered the company. That leaves us with only one legacy: this amazing photo of Fiske bringing every ounce of his best game to a photo shoot.
"Hey, girl. Heard you like words."
News That Was Delivered By Machine To Your Home In 1933
Even if it's been years since you picked up a newspaper or watched the 6 o'clock news, headlines have found a new way to bore themselves into our brains several times a day: social media. Our news comes so fast that the fact-checking doesn't even start until the oldest great-great-grandpa in every nursing home has heard the story.
We aren't the first generation to have access to fast-breaking news, however. Such a system also existed back in the 1930s with the advent of radio facsimiles. The brainchild of inventor William Finch, it was an ingenious way of distributing newspapers to households who possessed a large enough fortune to buy the requisite machines but didn't have enough money to pay a servant to run down to the local store.
"Hmmm ... I can buy half of a new car or have a grainy photo of Shirley Temple every morning. Tough call."
In order to receive this service, it was necessary to purchase a special printer that could both a) receive the radio signal and b) translate the signal into text/images and print the resulting newspaper. It was common practice for newspaper companies to transmit several times a day as the daily news progressed, a magnificent convenience only slightly offset by the fact that an average newspaper took six hours to print and the household machines could get their signals only between midnight and 6 a.m. So while you were sleeping off a hard day of barely getting by, your radio fax was clumsily printing the day's news ... all night long. No wonder it was called The Great Depression.
"If only there were some other way to get breaking news via radio."
Despite the promise of a more efficient way of hearing about cholera and the Dust Bowl, radio facsimiles never took off among the mainstream (i.e., the not-super-rich classes). Moreover, newspaper companies and advertisers were still wary of the technology and preferred the traditional methods. By the 1940s, the technology had largely died out, although that's probably because nothing of interest was happening in the world at that time.
Wearable Technology In The 17th Century
It's hard to imagine that there's a historical precedent for wearable technology. After all, the history books aren't exactly crammed with depictions of old-timey geeks comparing how many messenger pigeons they can fit on their arm-mounted roost or fashioning spectacles with built-in map etchings. But, as it turns out, the people of 17th-century China were all over this trend before it was fashionable.
It was, to put it simply, a ring containing the most revolutionary piece of computing technology to exist in the world at the time: an abacus. We're aware that you're probably scoffing yourself into a coma right now, but it's thought that this ring was used by traders to calculate the value of goods, meaning that it's no crazier than whipping out your iPhone in the grocery store and totaling up your spending.
There were even ridiculous deluxe models so you could be the "That guy" of the 1600s.
As you might notice in the above picture, the abacus wasn't suitable for anyone blessed with human fingers (that is, everyone). With the frame measuring in at only .5 inches by .2 inches, the beads were no larger than .03 inches and were able to be moved only if the user had a hairpin on hand. But, speaking personally, we can't wait for the modern-day version from Apple, which is region-locked and allows you to calculate the value of goods bought only from iTunes, as well as transmits all calculations directly to the NSA without telling you.
In-Car Navigation In 1932
If we were to tell you that in-car navigation has been around since the early years of the 20th century, you'd likely respond by calling bullshit because a) there was no such thing as GPS, b) only a select few were able to afford cars, and c) no one had any money, so flashy car accessories were always beat out by food and polio medicine on everyone's list of things to buy urgently.
The Iter Avto was invented in 1932 by a car company from Italy for one purpose: to "guide you by the hand showing you in your travels with impeccable accuracy" (sic), according to a translation of an advertisement. As pretentious as that description might sound, it was backed up with an impressive system for the time. Inside the car was a box that contained a scroll map of the route that the driver needed to take. As the car traveled along, the scroll -- thanks to a system that connected it to the car's speedometer -- would automatically move and provide the driver with an up-to-date location.
With the benefit of not erasing all of your Victrola tunes whenever you updated.
As you'd expect, the map also provided the driver with any useful information about the forthcoming area, like whether they were near a river/railway/hotel/mafia execution site, allowing them to take immediate action if necessary (keep driving/keep driving/sleep/drive away quickly, respectively).
The only real drawback to the Iter Avto was that it relied on the driver to create a map scroll listing the route, as well as all possible dangers, which really undermines the point of having a system that guides you through them. This might be why we're able to find a ton of information on the device but no information on its demise, as if one committed a terrible crime and humanity collectively decided never to speak of it again. Although, to be fair, that region probably had bigger things to worry about at the time, so we'll cut them a little slack.
A Google Street View Equivalent In 1979
And, hey, speaking of map technology that was around earlier than you thought possible, here's proof that Google Street View -- everyone's favorite source of unintentional hilarity -- was invented three decades before it became standard by MIT, a school whom we're now sure is the stateside equivalent of Hogwarts, because seriously have you seen how similar this is.
Admittedly, this innovative technology only allowed people to explore the streets of Aspen, Colorado. See, the aim of this project wasn't to completely future-steal Larry Page's shit; it was to create an interactive map of the town that would allow local residents to explore the streets, view historic photos, and listen to interviews with other residents. In scenes that resembled the making of a blockbuster explode-fest action movie, this involved rigging a ton of cars and students with cameras and setting them loose on the streets.
And seeing as how their "safety rig" was instructions to try to balance on the icy roof of a moving station wagon,
we're guessing "loose on the streets" included limbs and bowel movements.
After filming, the footage was stitched together using computer wizardry to create the Aspen Movie Map ... essentially, Google Street View: Aspen Edition. Just like in Street View, users could travel along the roads in any way they liked, rotate the camera, and check out the (no doubt freaked-out) townspeople, and read business listings.
As far as we can tell, the Aspen Movie Map contained no accidental nudity and crimes-in-progress, so it never really basked in the limelight.
Patent Trolls In 1879
If there's one thing that highlights how impressively brilliant-but-fucked modern technology is, it's the existence of patent trolls: terrible, soul-sucking reprobates who file vaguely termed patents explicitly so they can sue companies who eventually actually invent something that infringes on their bullshit even slightly.
As seen here, interacting with the concept of innovation.
It's comforting, then, in a twisted, schadenfreude-esque way, that our ancestors also had to deal with these guys. That said, they had the option of challenging them to a duel and settling ridiculous legal disputes in a split second, so we're kinda envious.
One of the earliest-known patent trolls was a devious swine known as George Selden, an engineer with a fetish for reading patents. He shot to infamy in the late 19th century with the "Road Engine," a design for a horseless carriage back in the days when no one was interested in making them. Yet. Selden, therefore, filed his patent in 1879 and, through skillful manipulation of the rules concerning patent filing, managed to delay the process of granting it until 1895, when automobile manufacturing was the hottest new career in town.
A career that, and we cannot stress this enough, he never once held.
By doing this, Selden ensured that no one else would be able to patent his idea and, also, no one would be able to create a workaround. Whenever a car manufacturer created a new model, Selden would often claim that the design infringed on his design and, oh wouldn't you know it, this whole problem could go away after a swift cash injection. He would later be described as the bane of the automotive industry and, while we were pretty harsh on patent trolls during the opening of this entry, it's hard not to root for the man who caused Henry "An Actual Nazi" Ford a headache.
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