Where the Future Goes to Die

From: Terry W. Colvin (fortean1@frontiernet.net)
Date: Mon Jun 12 2000 - 20:55:49 MDT

New York Times Magazine
June 11, 2000

For the past four years, a group of writers and researchers has compiled
the Dead Media Project, an online archive of obsolete technology started
by two science-fiction writers, Richard Kadrey and Bruce Sterling. "The
future arrives through novelty," Sterling says. "We recognize a new period
by its technical accomplishments. But the character of everyday life is
also influenced by the absence of things." Kadrey adds: "We're probably
generating more dead media than at any other moment in history. This is
the golden age of cool junk. To understand this is to think differently
about where we are and where we're going." Herewith, a brief sampling of
the working list.

RAMELLI'S BOOK WHEEL: The first workstation for scholars, this
16th-century machine was for "anyone who takes pleasure in study,
especially those indisposed by gout." A scholar could stand in front of a
Ferris wheel-like device from which eight lecterns holding books were
suspended, and, by spinning a series of gears, bring a lectern and book of
choice up right in front of him.

THE CAT PIANO: Originated in Brussels in 1549, designed to be played by a
bear. Inside the instrument were 20 cats, each with a cord tied around its
tail. As the bear pounded the keys, the cords were pulled -- yanking the
cats' tails and causing them to meow.

THE TELHARMONIUM: A mammoth electrical generating plant and distribution
system, invented by Thaddeus Cahill at the end of the 19th century,
designed to provide music over telephone lines. The telharmonium's signals
tended to overwhelm telephone switching systems and cause them to blow

THE ZENITH PHONEVISION: For 90 straight days in 1951, Zenith broadcast
Hollywood motion pictures to families, to be watched on their televisions.
A coin-operated box, placed on top of the TV, retrieved decoding
information over the phone line and unscrambled Zenith's broadcast signal.
But viewers watched 1.73 movies per week, not enough to justify a
continued commercial venture.

AMERICAN MISSILE MAIL: In 1959, the postal service, in conjunction with
the U. S. Navy, experimented with this new form of mail delivery. "Before
man reaches the moon," an official was quoted as saying, "mail will be
delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India
or Australia by guided missiles." History proved differently.

THE SCOPITONE: A precursor to the rock video, a coin-operated,
large-screen visual jukebox introduced in France in 1963, showed brief
16-millimeter films of the era's pop stars. Extinct by 1968, "a victim of
slot machines, racketeers and censorial prudes," according to Request

THE SONY HANDYCAM: Released in 1998, some versions of Sony's Handycam came
with infrared technology that allowed "night shot" mode. Sony recalled the
product after it was discovered that, when the special feature was used in
daylight or a lighted room, it could see through clothing.

IRIDIUM SATELLITE PHONES: They promised to communicate "with anyone,
anytime, virtually anywhere in the world." The subscribers didn't come; $5
billion was lost. Eighty-eight satellites will plunge smoking into the

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)
< fortean1@frontiernet.net >
Home Page: < http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Stargate/8958/index.html >
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