“It’s starting to look like an archeological dig around here,” observed my wife as she surveyed the remnants of our technological past strewn across the floor. Indeed, an attentive anthropologist might observe the extracted layers and infer much about this monogamous couple and their humble dwelling of a quarter century. For example, our reluctance to throw out obsolete media and assorted hardware. Okay, make that my reluctance.
It started with Julie’s decision to paint a bedroom closet. This, in itself, was an historic moment, as said closet had not received a lick of interior latex since we knocked a few bucks off our newly constructed house by doing a little “sweat equity” in 1992. The project required that we extract all of our belongings from the space, from clothing and shoes to a number of storage containers. Among the items was a pair of oblong boxes containing dozens of 3.5” floppy disks.
Ah, the 3.5” floppy disk, its true floppiness concealed beneath a rigid plastic shell. It was the marvelous, 2-sided, 1.44 megabyte successor to the 5.25”, single-sided, 170 kilobyte disk with flexible housing that really would flop like a shaken Polaroid, if that was your idea of a good time. The labeled end had two square notches, one of which could be closed to prevent the disk from being overwritten. Our collection included preloaded disks from America Online, system backups and printer drivers from Apple and Dell, and the obligatory Norton Utilities. Most of them, though, were hand-labeled volumes loaded with everything from work documents to personal letters and recipes.
Julie was the first to say, “Why do we still have these?” It was almost a rhetorical question, given the fact that she had posed it at each of the half-dozen previous discoveries of the disks. As usual, I acknowledged the absurdity while stammering a handful of lame excuses. Well, not all of them are labeled, so who knows what is on them? I’m pretty sure I have some of my writing on at least one of those disks. There are some old financial files! There’s “Prime Target” at 100% health on the last level; we worked so hard to get there!
Determined to finally toss the things without worry, we invested in a $14 USB floppy disk drive, with which I extracted megabyte after megabyte of formerly inaccessible data and stored it safely on our current computer, where it may remain as ignored as it has been for the last couple decades. The anal retentive in me (hmm…perhaps an unfortunate phrase) did not want to relinquish the disks without erasing them first. This proved to be time-consuming and of dubious efficacy. I soon learned that these storage devices that we had once treated so gingerly are quite easy to snap open, and the flimsy disk itself is as vulnerable to a pair of scissors as any floppy object.
A newer archeological layer was more extensive: a huge cache of CD-ROMs. Disc after compact disc of photos, music, video, copious work files, long-defunct games and supporting software for hardware we’d tossed years ago. A 6-disc set of Microsoft Works! A Macintosh Performa system backup! Store-purchased Office 2007 discs! Norton AntiVirus! I resisted the temptation to hold back a few dozen for potential use in unlikely future art projects, and we gained some shelf space in the process.
Once the ball started rolling on our obsolete technology purge, it merely gathered momentum. Soon I was uncovering troves of items that are unlikely to be of use to anyone for the remainder of human endeavor. Like five rubber-banded lengths of jack-plug telephone wire, one for each year since we got rid of our land line, and a spool of the stuff should I ever desire to run a phone line from our basement to the attic and back again. Or a clutch of antiquated television adapters, including a few of those charming, cylindrical, UHF/VHF matching transformers with the dual leads sprouting out the top like a pair of antennae, as well as a couple Intellivision signal switch boxes.
There was a small, plastic antenna with a round base that once performed some function for one of our early computers. A set of wires that connected the LCD display of our long-gone stair stepper to hand grips that measured your pulse. A pair of tiny infrared eyes designed to be mounted atop an analog RCA TV to do…what? Something to do with painlessly connecting all of your media devices under the command of a single remote, I think. Or selecting a time block from the primitive onscreen channel guide and having your VCR record it without the fuss of manual programming, maybe. Or did you put the eyes in front of your VCR for just that purpose? Well, it did something at some time.
Of course, there were many of the old stalwarts like red and white (and sometimes yellow) RCA cables, still useful in the age of HDMI. And can you ever have too many phono plug adaptors? I think not. These, along with a half dozen extension cords, yards of speaker wire and various USB connectors, are destined to stay. At least for now.
However, I did find one item that is truly an antique of almost no practical value, yet I insist on keeping it for sentimental reasons. It is a fairly heavy, 4” Shure shotgun microphone with a corroded metal barrel and a narrow, combination roach clip/lanyard sleeve. An improbable 37 feet of cord exits its base and terminates in a quarter-inch phono jack, and it is this cord that is the key to its significance. For the microphone was once worn at the Catholic church of my youth by Father Dunn, a stern Redemptorist priest with a fondness for intellectual sermons. Perhaps it was due to the dry nature of his speeches that Father Dunn eschewed the lectern, preferring instead to deliver his pontifications as he roamed the no-man’s-land between the altar table and the altar rail.
You can see what’s coming, right? I mean, you would think that 37 feet of cord would be enough for any circumstance. But during one legendary sermon, Father Dunn ventured farther than ever before toward the congregation, the coiled cord of his microphone unwinding into a suspended line of telephone wire slackness, until at last he took one step too many and was momentarily lassoed by his lanyard. Well, maybe that doesn’t sound legendary to you, but then you’ve probably never endured a Catholic Mass.
The rusty artifact still works – that is, technically speaking, with a degree of crackling and popping that makes it unacceptable for almost any purpose. But that’s beside the point. Yeah, I’ll concede to the disposal of old floppy disks and CD-ROMs. You can take away my telephone cable and UHF/VHF matching transformers. Heck, I might even give up my speaker wire. But nobody’s allowed to take away the microphone that once choked a priest. That’s the kind of added functionality you just can’t buy these days.