"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again"
June 25, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

What are some technologies that have more or less disappeared, only to reemerge at some other point (or in some other guise)?

And can you suggest anything I should read about this kind of thing? (The more academic, the better).

Examples of the kind of thing I mean (I think I'm most interested in things that have reemerged in the present):

1: Vinyl records. They didn't completely disappear, but their death was widely predicted (and my hometown record store stopped selling them and renamed itself a "compact disc" store) - and today my record store clerk friends tell me they sell more vinyl than they do CDs (and the hometown record store has a big vinyl section again, and is full of "I ♥ My Turntable" t-shirts and such). Why this happened is something I should use another question on some time. It makes no darned sense.

2: Windmills. (From this to this).

3: Leeches.
posted by bubukaba to Technology (38 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
You could probably make the argument that mechanical computers would fit.
posted by auto-correct at 9:38 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Trams? Though maybe it was only in Britain that they were all removed, only to be reintroduced to several cities a century later.
posted by penguin pie at 9:42 AM on June 25, 2011


Concrete?
posted by The Whelk at 9:43 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Japan, guns.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:49 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Concrete?
posted by The Whelk

Concrete is what the Pantheon is largely built of.
Then we jump to what? Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2011


D.C. is building a new streetcar system, about a half-century after they went and tore out all the old ones.
posted by General Malaise at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2011


This is probably not what you're looking for, but it's funny-- I once saw a comic somewhere that had the 'progression of communication technology' and started with people tapping out morse code messages, then went to telephone, cordless phone, cell phone, and ended with people tapping out text messages.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:53 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Streetcar = tram, so I guess it's not just Britain.
posted by penguin pie at 10:10 AM on June 25, 2011


You might be interested in the tv show and associated book, Connections. It was a history of science show (first in the 1970s then several more series through the years) that described surprising ways that broken or underused technologies came back later to form the basis of successful inventions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


(The show can be found on Youtube and elsewhere; search for Connections and James Burke, the historian who wrote the series.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 AM on June 25, 2011


Why this happened is something I should use another question on some time. It makes no darned sense.

This is, I think, actually pretty easy to explain. CD consumers all moved to digital distribution. LP consumers remain faithful because of (a) perceptions of audio fidelity and (b) availability of out-of-print titles.
posted by mkultra at 10:22 AM on June 25, 2011


You could probably make the argument that mechanical computers would fit.

At the very least the gearing and clockwork mechanisms, regardless of whether we count it as some kind of computer.

But then the decline in civilization at the end of the Roman period saw the loss of much technology, such as concrete mentioned above. The preceding period was quite amazing: principles of the steam engine were known; hydraulic engineering was widely used, including pumps; electricity might have been discovered in some form; mass production, including the production line and deskilling was also practised to some degree; numerous other examples could be cited. Some technology loss was general, some merely local. Glass and even ceramics virtually disappeared for a period in parts of northern Europe.

Any good book about "dark ages" or civilization collapse would give an historic perspective to this, even though I recognize you're more interested in the present.
posted by Jehan at 10:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


It is common said that the medieval Arabs dutifully kept Western libraries of ancient medical texts, such as those by Galen, and possibly some math and astronomy, that were destroyed by Christians, which we only recovered after the dark ages, translated from Arabic.
posted by Brian B. at 10:40 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


3D technology comes to mind. Popular in movies the 50s with the red-and-blue glasses, then disappeared for a while; now it's everywhere from movies to gameboy systems, but in a slightly different form (I don't know anything about the tech behind it, I just know the glasses changed - or are not necessary at all!)
posted by wundermint at 10:51 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe electric cars? Cars powered by electric power were built in the end of the 19th century but never gained as much interest as it does now.
posted by OrangeCat at 11:14 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is, I think, actually pretty easy to explain. CD consumers all moved to digital distribution. LP consumers remain faithful because of (a) perceptions of audio fidelity and (b) availability of out-of-print titles.

This market is not entirely old faithfuls because there is a resurgence of production by at least a few sludge/drone/doom metal bands such as Thou. I was asking a friend of someone in that band why these very educated and technologically adept kids were making LPs and he said vinyl is "cool" now, and people prize their record players along with their manual typewriters. (There is some kind of law: Things don't become "cool" until your parents and grandparents have thrown out all of their old stuff.)
posted by Anitanola at 11:15 AM on June 25, 2011


Laser pointers! Just as soon as people realized they weren't all that cool, they reemerged as cat toys.
posted by Webnym at 11:36 AM on June 25, 2011


The Apple Newton was a tablet that failed. Now its finding success as the Apple paid.

I believe earlier consoles like the SNES had modem jacks for online connections, but nothing ever came of it. Now online gaming is very big.
posted by blunt_eastwood at 11:58 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bread and Circuses
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:06 PM on June 25, 2011


The concept of using limes to prevent scurvy was famously lost for a long time.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:25 PM on June 25, 2011


To go with the first answer, the mechanism used a camshaft? that allowed for gears to slip - a technology that didn't reappear for almost 2000 years.
posted by ldthomps at 2:27 PM on June 25, 2011


The steam engine
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 2:43 PM on June 25, 2011


The Stirling engine. Almost two centuries old. Brilliant design, amazingly efficient, but low power density and slow to respond to changing demand/conditions. The internal combustion engine won out for vehicles, the steam engine (or more precisely, the steam turbine) won out for industrial applications. Now the Stirling engine is making a comeback in green energy niches, such as solar thermal plants.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:17 PM on June 25, 2011


The CueCat. Handheld barcode scanner from the late 1990s meant for advertising: you'd use it to scan special barcodes in print ads into your computer, and the CueCat would take you to the barcoded website. The scanners were given away for free with lots of press fanfare and preceded to fail spectacularly, partly out of privacy concerns, partly because it was too much hassle to take your magazine to the computer and plug in the (wired) CueCat to scan the barcode in when you could just type the URL in half the time.

Nowadays smartphones have QR code scanners that take you barcoded websites within the phone itself. And the millions of unwanted CueCats have turned into a thriving secondhand source of cute, cheap, scanners used for personal libraries and other collections.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:57 PM on June 25, 2011


Network Mainframe serving apps to a dumb terminal.
>
Desktop Personal Computer
>
"The Cloud" Which is just a mainframe serving apps and files
posted by Thorzdad at 4:15 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Letterpress printing
posted by clearlydemon at 5:44 PM on June 25, 2011


Military horses and mules
posted by Tom-B at 6:07 PM on June 25, 2011


Phage therapy
posted by Tom-B at 6:11 PM on June 25, 2011


Biochar used to enrich soil, a method utilised for centuries by Amazonian tribespeople and recently rediscovered and promoted as something of a 'magic bullet' solution to climate change.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:27 PM on June 25, 2011


Fax machines never quite took hold because of the expense of the technologies involved then became ubiquitous by the '90s but are now on their way out again.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:21 PM on June 25, 2011


Flint knapping largely disappeared for centuries, reemerged when flintlock firearms became common, and then disappeared again once firearms moved to percussion ignition.
posted by zombiedance at 10:50 PM on June 25, 2011


Two worthwhile books that are specific to the history of sound and image technologies are Kittler's Gramophone, Film, Typewriter and The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction by Jonathan Sterne.
posted by umbú at 6:24 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Color photography dates back to the 1850s and Gorskii's from ~1910 (http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/08/russia_in_color_a_century_ago.html) are really good quality but color didn't catch on until after Kodachrome came about in 1935.
posted by Skwirl at 6:46 AM on June 26, 2011


Aren't a lot of these technologies from the 90's (CueCat, online gaming, tablet computers) simply technologies that took a little while to catch on?
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The microcar, such as the BMW Isetta, a style of car from the 1950s that seems to be the ancestor of current Smart cars and other tiny cars (I saw one of these BMWs unearthed on Storage Wars yesterday.)
posted by jayder at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2011


D.C. is building a new streetcar system, about a half-century after they went and tore out all the old ones.
posted by General Malaise at 2:51 AM on June 26 [+] [!]


Portland did this a few years ago.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:48 PM on June 26, 2011


Underfloor heating - quite common in Roman villas, and then pretty much unheard-of for ~1500 years.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:06 PM on June 26, 2011


Underfloor heating never went out of style in Korea :)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:10 PM on June 26, 2011


« Older Verizon Customer Service Salaries   |   Capture NYC for free Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.