10 technologies that should be extinct (but aren't)

These obsolete technologies didn't get the memo--maybe because someone wrote it on a typewriter and faxed it to them

Got an urgent message you need to transmit immediately? Sending a telegram is likely not the first option that comes to mind. And when it's time to boogie down, you probably don't shove a cassette into your 8-track player or slap an LP onto your phonograph.

These technologies served their purpose for a while, then either evolved into cheaper, faster, better forms or simply disappeared. Yet other technologies--such as fax machines, landline phones, and instant cameras--just refuse to die, despite better digital alternatives.

Here are ten technologies that should be dead and buried, yet still cling to life.

1. The Telegraph

Yes, Virginia, you can still send a telegram, though not through Western Union. It sent its last telegraphic transmission on January 27, 2006. At the telegram's peak in 1929, more than 200 million were sent. By 2005, that number had dwindled to 21,000.

Subsequently, iTelegram took over Western Union's telex network, though you can access it via the Web. To send a first-class priority (same-day) message from New York to Los Angeles now costs US$25, plus 88 cents a word. (Plus whatever it costs to refill your meds--because who in their right mind would bother to send a telegram?) Western Union is still around too, though its primary customers appear to be Internet scam artists hoping to dupe suckers into wiring them money.

2. Typewriters

In the age of Web tablets and smartphones, typewriters are a bit like Fred Flintstone's car--strictly for cave dwellers. Yet people still buy and use them. In 2009, for example, the New York City Police Department made headlines when it spent nearly $1 million on typewriters, mostly so it could continue to use multipart carbon forms for processing evidence.

Still, the typewriter's primary market appears to be snooty novelists who claim they cannot compose on any technology introduced since Hemingway took a dirt nap. Case in point: Last December, author Cormac McCarthy's 1950's era Olivetti Lettera 32 portable sold for an astounding $255,000 at auction. (We understand that price also included a year's supply of Wite-Out correction fluid.) Proceeds were donated to the Santa Fe Institute. McCarthy promptly went out and bought another $20 manual typewriter to take its place. We guess that means there's still at least one country for old men.

3. Fax Machines

Despite advances in Internet fax services and the availability of dirt-cheap scanners, this office machine of the 1980s is still with us--more than half a million of them were purchased over the past 12 months, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. It's not just people who still wear shoulder pads and buy Cyndi Lauper albums. These screechy, annoying gadgets continue to attract realtors, lawyers, insurance companies, and others nervous about the authenticity of signed documents without an ink-based John or Jane Hancock on them.

"Their endurance is in part a testament to the failure of digital signatures that would allow us to e-mail certified copies of contracts and similar documents," says NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin. "As with electronic voting machines, there remains a level of societal skepticism over the viability of digitally certified documents."

As for the rest of you? Get over it, writes Tom Adams, VP of marketing for Protus, the parent company of online fax service MyFax.

"Fax machines are just so 1980s," he says. "If you're still using one, it's time to put it in the attic next to your legwarmers and that copy of The Breakfast Club on VHS and move to an Internet fax service instead."

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Dan Tynan

PC World (US online)
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