physical objects that have been replaced by digital objects?
October 11, 2010 12:09 PM   Subscribe

What physical objects did you used to have (or receive) that have been entirely replaced by a digital/virtual object? [example inside]

For example, I used to receive my cancelled checks in the mail each month, but that has since been replaced by digital images of the cancelled checks on a website. What other examples can you think of?
posted by whitmix to Society & Culture (83 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I can't even remember the last time I looked in a phone book for something. It's been at least ten years.
posted by Oktober at 12:10 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ever since Netflix integrated streaming with the Xbox, I've not bought a single DVD, and have been pretty active about selling off my existing collection.
posted by jbickers at 12:11 PM on October 11, 2010

CDs/other audio media. I suppose I could still play a CD in my computer, and I would still buy a CD, but only if it were smack in front of me and only for the express purpose of ripping it to my multiple computers.
posted by Madamina at 12:13 PM on October 11, 2010

Good point, but I still get physical phone books left on my doorstep every year. Multiple versions, in fact. I'm most interested in those objects that have been entirely removed from our physical existence.
posted by whitmix at 12:14 PM on October 11, 2010

I don't receive a pay check - a new pay advice is dropped in a folder on the work server and my money is direct deposited to my bank account.
posted by muddgirl at 12:14 PM on October 11, 2010

Toll tickets for turnpikes
posted by vincele at 12:14 PM on October 11, 2010

Address books haven't completely disappeared, but they're on their way out. I haven't used on since I was 13 or 14.
posted by muddgirl at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2010

I haven't received a physical paycheck or a physical statement of what was withheld/direct deposited in a long long time.
posted by mmascolino at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2010

posted by rhizome at 12:16 PM on October 11, 2010

Phone book. Card catalog at the library. CDs. Mailed bills and statements have been mostly replaced by electronic billing. Printed TV listings are mostly obsolete.

Replaced by or replicated on my (very basic) cell phone: alarm clock, wristwatch, personal address book, calculator.
posted by kyleg at 12:17 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

CDs, DVDs, dictionaries, paychecks ... all good ideas. But I'm really hoping for objects that we literally can't get (their physical manifestation of) anymore. The closest suggestion so far is probably the paycheck, but I expect one can still opt for physical checks instead of direct deposit if they want to (at least I can at my job).
posted by whitmix at 12:20 PM on October 11, 2010

I became an attorney well after this had happened, but paper filings have been largely eliminated in a lot of courts and administrative offices. For example, something like 80 percent of the documents filed with the Patent Office are digital. Digital court filings are rising, and some courts have even gone entirely digital.

Another example from the legal world: paper law reports are rapidly being supplanted by electronic databases. They're cheaper, easier to use, maintenance free, and take up no space. Many law firms have done away with their paper copies entirely.

I'm most interested in those objects that have been entirely removed from our physical existence.

Entirely removed? Telegrams.
posted by jedicus at 12:20 PM on October 11, 2010

Card catalog. That's a good one. That has likely been entirely replaced, although I'll have to research it. I know the local U still has some cards around. I wonder if they're all digitized.
posted by whitmix at 12:21 PM on October 11, 2010

Do people still write paper checks? I haven't had a check book for probably 7 years. There seems to be a trend here that most of the examples are financial-related.
posted by dead cousin ted at 12:22 PM on October 11, 2010

Physical coupons are on their way out. I see more and more people pulling up coupons on their phones or other portable internet devices.
posted by spinto at 12:22 PM on October 11, 2010

Sorry, should have have previewed, I'm pretty sure checkbooks don't meet your criteria.
posted by dead cousin ted at 12:23 PM on October 11, 2010

It may sound hackneyed, but I still have a Smith Corona electric typewriter gathering dust in the basement, along with a couple of ribbon cartridges.

If we're listing different kinds of paper documents that have gone away, I'm old enough to have punched a time card on a couple of previous jobs.
posted by gimonca at 12:23 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paperbacks. I read a lot of science fiction and mysteries, and I don't think I've bought a single dead-tree paperback in more than a year. While I still buy a physical book now and then, they're usually reference books or first editions of something I want to keep for posterity. But my "entertainment" reading has transitioned totally to the ebook.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:25 PM on October 11, 2010

The pencils, paper and post-it notes I used to do storyboards with has been replaced by Toonboom Storybaord Pro software.

My large plywood animation desk and plastic layout disk has been replaced by a cintiq (but that doesn't satisfy the parameters of the question, I guess).
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:25 PM on October 11, 2010

I checked with the local university (largest public university library in the USA) and they still have cards in the card catalog that are the only records for those items. They will eliminate them some day but haven't gotten it all digitized yet.

Still a good one, though. I suspect even my example of the cancelled check isn't universal.
posted by whitmix at 12:27 PM on October 11, 2010

I don't know if you're likely to find anything that has been entirely replaced by a digital surrogate. Things like paychecks, phone books and television listings, where the digital is now the norm, are probably the closest you'll get. We've only had the digital stuff for a relatively short period of time, and when you factor in poverty, cultural inertia and sheer bloody-mindedness it'll be a very, very long time before all of the old things vanish completely. There are still people who prefer abacuses to calculators.

That said, how about movie listings in newspapers? That's a phenomenon that's under attack from both sides.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:28 PM on October 11, 2010

...and the finished boards that used to be printed on paper, exist as program files or pdf documents are delivered via ftp. The industry has been doing the switch over the past few years.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:29 PM on October 11, 2010

The digital camera has displaced instant film for all but art purposes.
posted by Mitheral at 12:31 PM on October 11, 2010

Back in the early '70s, as an undergrad research asst., I used to do a lot of work with keypunch cards--creating them, sorting them--and many people's doctoral research was embedded in great boxfuls of cards. I don't think that particular technology is in use, or even existence, any longer.
posted by Kat Allison at 12:31 PM on October 11, 2010

I'd wager that the submitter isn't looking for people to name products that you yourself no longer purchase, when there is still a multi-billion dollar industry producing that physical product (this leaves out books, music, movies, writing materials and so on).

With that being said, though: In a sense, the telephone network itself is now a virtualized device, even for those with land lines. It would be extremely rare for a voice transmission to make it point-to-point without at least one analog-to-digital conversion and being carried over something other than copper wire, and then back.

Airline tickets, the old style on actual printed, official ticket stock, are pretty rare in most developed nations, but not entirely wiped out.
posted by Rendus at 12:34 PM on October 11, 2010

Letters in the mail. I still get junk mail, but it's been decades since I actually received a physical letter, written by a human being, delivered by a postal carrier.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:36 PM on October 11, 2010

Movie listings are *definitely* still in papers. And know many people with hand-written address books, myself included.

Here in Boston, subway tokens - the old system has been replaced with disposable paper tickets and rechargable cards. I think this may be true in other cities (New York? SF?) as well. So the tokens have been replaced with a physical object, but a much more generic one.

Similarly, would lost currencies (francs, lira, whatever else is in the Euro zone) count for you?
posted by maryr at 12:41 PM on October 11, 2010

Computer disks--I was moving offices a month or so ago and came across a carefully horded box of 3.5" disks with color coordinated labels stilled shrinkwrapped and tossed them. OK, I briefly thought, "Hmmm....these might be worth big bucks on Antiques Roadshow 2050," but then I came to my senses.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:42 PM on October 11, 2010

Rotary phones, with no digital dial tone.
You can still find them, but they're relics and don't work with and of the 'cable' phone options, only POTS lines.
"Blue-line" artwork for pre-press. Back in the day, when catalogues were cut and pasted with real xacto knives (or scissors) and actual paste, the final proof was circulated in 'blue-line' all shades of blue, no color - basically it was a check for layout (product was in the right order, keys to product were accurate), copy (misspellings, typos, etc), page order and the like.
That's completely electronic now - as is the old drafting-style layout desks.
posted by dbmcd at 12:43 PM on October 11, 2010

Computer disks

The "D" in CD stands for Disk.
posted by muddgirl at 12:44 PM on October 11, 2010

Day planners and date books for me. I keep my calendar synced across all my PCs and iPhone.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:46 PM on October 11, 2010

Oh and they're not completely gone anymore but I'm always surprised when I can't find a damn pen at my desk. I rarely use them at all, I pay invoices electronically I even sign contracts using a scanned image of my signature in PDFs and Word docs.

Half the time if I need to write down a phone number I have to open up a text editor.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:49 PM on October 11, 2010

even my example of the cancelled check isn't universal.

To the best of my knowledge, the banks keep them. So while you may get a scan of them linked in your online banking, there is a physical check someplace still.

And as for card catalogs, this varies from library to library. The library in my town has no card catalog and has in fact purged all of their cards. The library up the road has a card catalog which they still use. Many libraries have a hybrid system where there is an online catalog but the card catalog is still available with warnings that it is not current. And, just to be a pain, I still have a typewriter, write and receive letters, write paper checks, use printed coupons and read dead tree books. I'm not trying to be contrary and people who know me know I am not an human anachronism, but the difference between urban and rural reporting in this question may be significant.

My contributions to the actual question

- dictaphones and microcassette players
- answering machines that plug into a wall with cassette tapes
- mimeographs and other non-photocopier reproduction techniques
- rabbit ears tv antennas in the US [there is no more broadcast tv]
- carbon paper [see: typewriter]
- stock tickers, and other forms of punched tape used for storage
posted by jessamyn at 12:49 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Slide rules.
posted by spasm at 12:51 PM on October 11, 2010

I've used a card catalog in the last six months (along with a dictionary, CD's. paperbacks and phone books) but I haven't seen a library lending system that wasn't digital in a long time. The sort where you would have a little cardboard pocket for each book you could borrow you would have to hand over then the librarian would take the corresponding catalog card out of the book, date stamp it, the file it in your ticket in trays in chronological order.
posted by tallus at 12:56 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think that [punched cards are] in use, or even existence, any longer.
punched tape used for storage

It's not exactly the same, but there are still lots of voting machines that use punched cards. And of course a Scantron is effectively the same thing. Oh, and lots of stores use 'loyalty cards' where holes are punched out to indicate that purchases have been made, leading to a reward once a certain number of purchases has been reached.

And evidently there are weaving shops that still maintain the punch card systems for their looms.
posted by jedicus at 12:56 PM on October 11, 2010

I don't use CDs for data storage/transfer either. I mostly send/transfer files via regular email if they are not too big and by some file transfer service (i.e. You Send It) if they are. Or, I might use a USB stick but I'm not even using those so much anymore, either. I back up to the web, etc. Just got rid of a bunch of blank CDs as well.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:57 PM on October 11, 2010

camera film and floppy disks are close, but you can still get them and use them. rotary phones are gone but have been replaced by physical objects, not virtual ones. rendus is correct in that if it's still being mass produced then it doesn't qualify, so address books, phone books, CDs, DVDs, printed movie listings in the paper are all out.

keypunch cards certainly work, although I was thinking of items that went out of fashion in the last ten years or so. it gets complicated if you consider old computer technology. one could argue that a USB key, a physical object, is the new punch card.

thanks for all the suggestions so far: i really appreciate it! i'm still thinking there are items that have been entirely replaced, but clearly it's not an easy question!
posted by whitmix at 12:58 PM on October 11, 2010

Slide rules.

Allow me to introduce you to the E6B, a circular slide rule still used today by pilots. However, they are being supplanted by electronic versions.
posted by jedicus at 1:00 PM on October 11, 2010

OK a thing we really can't get at all anymore that I used regularly at one time would be a mimeograph. I don't see offices with Telex machines anymore either. Typesetting machines. The wax machines that applied a thin layer of wax onto the back of type and graphic elements to layout for a print job.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:04 PM on October 11, 2010

just to remind, i'm still most interested in those items that haven't just dissapeared, but those physical objects that were replaced by virtual/digital objects. the cancelled check that you used to get in the mail every month was replaced by a digital version you can access on the web. the digital version isn't a physical thing, it's a virtual thing. i can't hold it in my hand.

jessamyn had some good ideas, like the old answering machines with tapes, but that's been replaced by a physical answering machine with digital memory. camera film has been replaced by a compact flash or SD cards mostly, not virtual objects.
posted by whitmix at 1:12 PM on October 11, 2010

Enigma devices for encryption?
posted by Andrhia at 1:12 PM on October 11, 2010

Polaroid film is extinct except for one group trying to revive its manufacture.

How about garters and stockings being replaced by elastic socks?
posted by lhall at 1:19 PM on October 11, 2010

Plastic flowcharting templates that programmers used to draw flow charts with pencil on paper. There was a green one from IBM that every programmer in the 80s had. I just came across mine in a drawer yesterday.
posted by rjs at 1:20 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since they still make buggy whips and sweet-ass sextants, I'm not really sure you're going to be able to get a satisfactory answer. There is always going to be a retro person who will pay for the old way, so does Etsy Alchemy disqualify?
posted by rhizome at 1:27 PM on October 11, 2010

ris: Disqualified by the existence of Visio.
posted by rhizome at 1:27 PM on October 11, 2010

jessamyn, of course there is still broadcast TV, and some of us still use 'rabbit ears'.
posted by TDIpod at 1:29 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

At my work there's an old fashioned Bundy clock on the wall with forty year old paper cards still stamped with working hours left in its "in" and "out" receivers.

I've had to explain what it was ("you know how people say 'I'm on the clock, or off the clock?' That's the clock") a few times.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:30 PM on October 11, 2010

Mechanical adding machines.
Mechanical cash registers.
Analog car radios with a mechanically operated tuning slider.
Those "digital" clocks, showing time in XX:XX format, where the numbers were actually little flipcards behind the screen.
Addressograph machines (they were used to print mailing labels for publications; the label data was on metal cards with raised lettering that had to be filed in drawers in the correct sequence and then run through the machine).

Speaking of which, here's a nifty device that's actually the opposite of what you're asking: a mechanical device that stubbornly clings to a niche market in spite of all digital innovation disruptions: the Original Wing Mailer, made by Chauncey Wing's Son's in Greenfield, Mass. since 1894. It's still used at many newspapers and mailing shops for short-run mailings where it's just not practical to set up the fancy mailing equipment. It's a gem of mechanical engineering — used to be solid brass but not quite anymore. I've seen them at antique dealers, but Chauncey's family is still selling them brand new, and they will service anything they've ever made.
posted by beagle at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2010

jess - "rabbit ears tv antennas in the US [there is no more broadcast tv]"

Not true. I get my rabbit ear goodness from a digital conversion box.
posted by ducktape at 1:39 PM on October 11, 2010

Again, they are still manufactured (probably?) but slide carosels and overhead projectors have mostly disappeared in the last 10-20 years. They've been replaced by Powerpoint and...whatever you call non-overhead projectors that just project a monitor.
posted by maryr at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2010

The day I downloaded my first book to my iPad via Amazon Kindle, I said, "So, looks like I'll never buy a paper book ever again..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2010

Scuba divers should still know how to read a dive table, but dive computers are more accurate and provide a much more helpful form of the information.

That said, you still need to know the underlying physics/biology to understand what the computer and the dive tables are telling you in the first place.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:43 PM on October 11, 2010

The uniforms worn by elevator operators. The lanterns waved by caboose engineers. We still have uniforms, elevators, lanterns and caboosi (ha!). But as jobs these are so small if existent that they are re-purposesd uniforms and lanterns.
posted by eccnineten at 1:57 PM on October 11, 2010

Jesssamyn is as close as anything could be. Yes there is still broadcast TV and yes people still use rabbit ears, but what is gone, and has been replaced by something digital is ANALOG BROADCAST TELEVISION.
posted by Gungho at 2:15 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

LORAN ( an analog radio navigation signal) has been replaced by GPS.
posted by Gungho at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2010

faxes? Meaning, the physical output of a facsimile machine.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:25 PM on October 11, 2010

faxes? Meaning, the physical output of a facsimile machine.

The tax forms I've been asked to fax to my freelance job say otherwise. A lot of offices still use them extensively.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:32 PM on October 11, 2010

Given that a lot of the pre-digital stuff doesn't break down / rely on other pieces as much, it's really hard to come up with anything thats been 100% eliminated. Your cancelled check example doesnt even work since you can opt to get those in the mail still.

Lots of things that have been _nearly_ eliminated, but since there are still people who don't use computers (worldwide there are a lot of them), most things are still going to have an analog / paper / physical option. Unless it's something so optional that people without computers just don't get it.

So I think it would have to be some sort of niche product / luxury item that's migrated to the digital world. Can't think of one myself...
posted by wildcrdj at 2:48 PM on October 11, 2010

GPS units and Google Maps, etc. are slowly killing the road atlas, I think. I know when I got a GPS I never looked back.
posted by Menthol at 4:04 PM on October 11, 2010

Oh, I know, telegraphs.
posted by Menthol at 4:06 PM on October 11, 2010

- rabbit ears tv antennas in the US [there is no more broadcast tv]

That's news to me! I don't watch much TV, but when I do, I use a pair of rabbit ear antennae to pull in the digital broadcast signal. (It goes through a converter box on the way to my 20-year-old television set.) As Gungho says, what has been replaced is the analog signal.

As with the other examples that have been offered, there are probably some exceptions, but in most libraries (in developed nations) I believe library checkout cards have been supplanted by digital records. You can still find the physical cards in their pockets in the backs of many books, but they're not actually in use for tracking circulation.
posted by Orinda at 4:15 PM on October 11, 2010

Slide projectors? Or, for that matter, the overhead transparencies that teachers used to write on with markers -- have these been supplanted entirely by powerpoint yet?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:03 PM on October 11, 2010

Or, for that matter, the overhead transparencies that teachers used to write on with markers -- have these been supplanted entirely by powerpoint yet?

No, there are tenured professors stuck in their ways who still use transparencies.
posted by jedicus at 5:26 PM on October 11, 2010

This is hard.

All I've got that's been completely replaced are library book cards. Not library cards, like the ones you keep in your wallet, but the cards that the librarian would stamp with the "three weeks from now" date and slide into the little pocket inside the cover of the book.

Some older library books still have them in there, but the dates are all twenty years old.
posted by Leta at 5:48 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Food stamps. They're all EBT now.

(You can still send telegrams, if you desperately want to, but they're expensive and inefficient and THEY CAN DO PUNCTUATION which totally defeats the purpose of sending a telegram STOP)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:17 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Also I am watching broadcast TV at this moment. With rabbit ears, even. We have a fancy digital antenna for one TV but just the old rabbit ears for the other. They work fine.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:19 PM on October 11, 2010

Yes, slide projectors are dead, Kodak stopped making them in 2004. I'm pretty sure the minor brands died well before that.

(You can still get E-6 slide film, but Kodachrome is no longer made, and processing for K-14 ends in December.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:33 PM on October 11, 2010

It's probably been said, but Linotype machines and various other physical things that used to go into laying out a newspaper. It's all via InDesign or Quark now.
posted by inmediasres at 9:09 PM on October 11, 2010

Milk bottles!
posted by lhall at 9:14 PM on October 11, 2010

Porn magazines.

Even well established softcore like Playboy is loosing circulation. It's all moved to the digital realm.

I am sure for curious 13 year olds, there is no more finding porn stashed in the woods, or someone's dad's porn magazines. It's all been replaced by search engines and websites.
posted by fings at 9:29 PM on October 11, 2010

Milk bottles!

Still can get half-gallon whole milk bottles (glass) at Whole Foods.
posted by skypieces at 10:09 PM on October 11, 2010

Hard-bound encyclopedias have got to be on the way out.
posted by skypieces at 10:10 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you limiting this to the US? If not, you're going to be hard pressed to find ANYTHING that fits your requirements.
posted by bardophile at 2:00 AM on October 12, 2010

To explain what I was saying a little more, you will find that many things that have not been used in the US for decades are still used in the third world. There are still offices in Pakistan using typewriters and yes, carbon paper. I think you can still send telex messages, too...
posted by bardophile at 2:02 AM on October 12, 2010

Supermarket rewards programs like green stamps are now something that is centrally tabulated. Those and food stamps [despite the fact that both of them have an associated card] were the closest thing I could come up with.
posted by jessamyn at 7:42 AM on October 12, 2010

Can you even buy actual, paper US T-bills, treasury notes, etc...? US savings bonds for individuals exist in paper form (i.e.: I, EE/E, and HH/H) but I'm not sure you could actually obtain, say, a 3-month T-Bill in physical form.

In the same vein, according to this USA Today article from May 2010, while paper stock certificates haven't been completely eliminated, most companies will charge a hefty premium to issue paper certificates and some companies have simply stopped (including Intel, Tiffany, and Sears).
posted by mhum at 8:41 AM on October 12, 2010

Milk bottles!

Those have not been replaced digitally.
posted by maryr at 11:25 AM on October 12, 2010

I still have cookbooks, but I no longer clip recipes from newspapers and magazines and stuff them in a manila folder. Instead, I read them online, email them to myself, and put them in a searchable email folder.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 11:47 AM on October 12, 2010

The only example I can think of is race/event sign-up forms. I heard about an event today that the ONLY way to sign up is on-line. There is no paper form.
posted by rw at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2010

The Science Citation Index used to be a big pile of books published every year listing the journal papers published in that year and who they were referencing. Now it's a big digital database integrated into Web of Science (and so much easier to use!). Wikipedia says there are a few parts of the index still printed, but the majority of it just isn't made as a physical object any more (and I expect most current science students have no idea this used to be in print). I imagine there were other indexes once published on paper too (including other subject areas) but now it's all digital.

Many actual journals are also being replaced with online versions also, but we're probably a little way from the replacement being complete.
posted by shelleycat at 6:19 PM on October 12, 2010

Film, for the general consumer (obviously pros and hobbyists do still shoot on film)

Video and DVD in broadcast - I work in commercial clearance and ad agencies used to send everything to us by videotape, then DVD, and since 2009 everything's been submitted to us digitally. It seems hard to believe that we used to have to wait for a courier to bike round a DVD until we could get it onto our system.

I think it will be some time before newspapers and books are completely replaced by digital versions, but catalogue shopping is quickly going that way. The few paper catalogues I get will point me online for the full range. I think they're still popular with the generation that's not comfortable/used to shopping online, but not for many.

Cash, for many people, and travel tickets. I have a swipe-card for all my transport needs in London and it always seems quaint when I go somewhere that deals in paper tickets.

Public library catalogues. I've never had to use the card system to look things up, but now my reservation notices come to me via e-mail and not by post.
posted by mippy at 7:29 AM on June 10, 2011

But I'm really hoping for objects that we literally can't get (their physical manifestation of) anymore. The closest suggestion so far is probably the paycheck

By this do you mean the payslip or actual wages? Payslips are still in paper form mainly in the UK.
posted by mippy at 7:30 AM on June 10, 2011

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