Switch on the lava lamp and settle down with a sherbet Dip Dab. Today, we’re talking about why we love retro… and why it doesn’t always love us.
As we nostalgically peruse the ‘Tech Innovations of Yore’ hall of fame we’ll pay homage to previously beloved gadgets that died their death when Freddos still cost 10p, the tech that’s made comebacks more unexpected than holographic ABBA, and the stalwarts of our digital lives that have stuck around longer than the haunting memories of ’80s mullets.
An obvious place to start our walk down memory lane is the floppy disk. Kids today would laugh at the thought of a computer contraption with a maximum capacity of a single megabyte. But in its heyday the humble floppy disk loaded our documents and programs, moved information from device to device and supported us through ever-crashing computer nightmares.
While it will forever live on as the ‘save’ icon, the floppy could not keep pace with the advancement of computer science or the data revolution, and over the years has been replaced by much smaller, more spacious and sexier inventions like the CD-Rom, the USB stick, and most recently, the almighty Cloud.
And lets not forget the VCR. I for one remember the Friday night pilgrimages to Blockbuster, the argument that followed when someone used my sister’s christening video to record an episode of Corrie (case still unsolved) and learning to not look at the screen while rewinding just in case you saw a glimpse of a vital plot point.
Anyway, I digress down memory lane, the VCR may have defeated Betamax but within two decades it was replaced by a combination of DVDs, set top boxes, and now on-demand streaming. It seems ease, immediacy and choice will always win out over a soft spot for established technologies.
Moving on from the tech graveyard we arrive at the retro rebounders. Who’d have thought a pager would still be a thing?! We’ve gone through the Nokia 3310, the Matrix banana phone, the iPhone 8 and oversized Apple novelty watches, but still the pager endures as a ubiquitous piece of kit for NHS staff (who use 10% of the world’s pagers!), for lifeboat crews and birdwatchers. These diverse groups still find the pager to be efficient and reliable in time-pressured situations and poorly connected areas, and consider them more appropriate in work environments.
And as for a more broadly loved rebounder, there’s the endurance of vinyl. Hey Dad, look, the kids think you’re still cool! Despite the fact that apps like Spotify and YouTube mean we have just about every song ever at our fingertips, the vinyl is the retro tech gift that keeps giving.
Then there’s the tech that just keeps trekking on, the hardware, or software, that we haven’t found a need or way to replace. Like email, invented in 1982.
Email simply hasn’t been usurped despite the pace of technological innovation in the twenty-first century. The advent of SMS, instant and even automated messaging, hasn’t stopped the reigning king of communications on the eve of its 30th birthday.
But here’s the key difference between various flavours of retro technology. Vinyl may have risen, fallen and re-emerged as trends and tastes have changed, but essentially vinyl has never been problematic. On the other hand the persistence of a “retro” technology like email is extremely problematic. The world around us has completely changed and cyber threats which didn’t exist in 1982 are now prevalent across inboxes. Considering the amount of spam targeted at and reaching the inbox, and the ease with which email can be used as a threat vector, there’s an argument that today email is not really fit for purpose.
So how do we bring email up to speed, before it becomes irrevocably rogue? By making sure domains are configured and protected correctly, by enabling two factor authentication, and by ensuring unrecognised emails are properly filtered at the gateway, for example. Instilling the correct protocols (shout out to DMARC!) and protections is vital if email is going to remain usable in the modern age.
And on that note, next week, 5–7 June, I’ll be at InfoSec Europe 18 with the rest of the OnDMARC team helping people to stop retro going rogue on them. So if you’re going then be sure to come and say hi at stand Q140. You’ll even have the opportunity to win a Mini SNES and really relive the “good ol’ days”!
In the meantime what are the gadgets you’re glad died their death in the 80s, and which do you have still your fingers crossed for a revival? Share your thoughts in the comments below.