I spotted an article from the 17 July 2009 on the Times website on places where you might not expect obsolete technology to have held on.
For example, says the article, the NYPD spent $432,900 on typewriter maintenance last year (and nearly $1 million the year before). They use typewriters to fill out forms – for seized property mainly – and for backup in case a catastrophe takes the digital side of the force off-line.
I completely agree with this idea, it’s a very good one. I’ve got into the habit of often filling out forms on my typewriter because it’s capable of black capitals and it’s neater than I could previously manage. I also typewrite the addresses on my postal envelopes.
Other technologies in the list include tapes (audio cassettes) which are used in prisons in the US because CDs are often banned because they make such effective weapons if shattered. The story reports that cassette sales to inmates is one of the few growth areas in a physical media music industry that is in decline.
Another example is the telegram – something I admire as an event more than as a means of communication, just imagine if the Queen sent you a text on your 100th birthday? This one is very interesting from a legal perspective because in the USA if you send a telegram with some juicy piece of intellectual property to anyone, even yourself, you can use the date and time on the telegram as evidence in a copyright trial. This is a good stop gap measure while you are waiting for any formal copyright processes to be completed. It is also a useful means of extremely quick recorded message delivery, useful for contractual purposes.
One final point for me microfiche. I think microfiche is one of those products that are fun until you have to use it. I quite like, now and again, reading the newspapers from historical events and these are now generally only available on microfiche simply because of the size savings. That sort of interesting and different way to spend an afternoon in the library would very quickly lose its charm if I needed the information, and particularly if I needed it quickly. Keyword search may not be perfect but you’d miss it if it was gone.
I think that technology is only obsolete when it is no longer useful to you. Typewriters, audio cassettes and microfiche are all perfectly effective at what they do, they were replaced because the alternatives had benefits but that doesn’t mean they stopped working at the same time.