CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Smart Home

Remembering the analog home

Instead of talking about the digital home today, I thought it might be fun to relive the days of old and help us all develop a greater appreciation for the "digital" in digital home.

Instead of talking about the digital home today, I thought it might be fun to relive the days of old and help us all develop a greater appreciation for the 'digital' in digital home.

Analog clock
Analog clock Ayende

Some people have asked me what the digital home is and what makes it up. Sometimes I'll go with the obligatory, "Well, imagine a home that's full of the most advanced technology money can buy. And in the process, imagine your home making your life just a little better. That's the digital home." Other times, I'll try a more direct route: "It's the epitome of the tech revolution that we're all a part of." Sometimes I'll get approving nods, while other times I'll look at a confused face from a person who asked a simple question and didn't get an answer at all. Well, in response to those confused faces, I want to highlight the way things were and help show everyone what they're missing.

The digital home is the exact opposite of what I'm about to talk about.

So, without further ado, feast your eyes on some analog and old-time tech goodness.

The digital clock's precursor: The analog clock

If you're reading this on your computer right now, chances are there is a clock in the top right or bottom right of your screen. What does it say? What time is it? Pretty easy, huh? Now imagine a world where the digital clock is gone and the analog clock is the only means of telling time. Sure, you may have an analog watch on your wrist and you probably know how to read it, but isn't it easier to just read the time instead of trying to figure out where two hands are placed on a circular dial? I certainly think so.

The watch I wear everyday features those hands, and many of the clocks in my home are still analog. But for some reason, I still come back to the ol' digital to see what time it is; not only is it more convenient, it's easier--and I like easy.

The iPhone predecessor: Rotary phones

Rotary phone
Rotary phone

Remember these old phones? You remember, you have to stick a digit into a hole and spin it around to register a number. Once that number registers, remember that weird static noise that would sound after every rotation? Creepy.

The rotary phone is one of the devices that I can still remember growing up. The handset was attached to the base and if you were really lucky, your family owned an extra-long phone wire so you could go elsewhere with it. The days of portable phones were still years ahead, and while some phones offered the push-dial option, the majority of phones were still using rotary dialing.

Try to go back to the days of rotary dialing and tell me how long that'll last. If you notice when you call for tech support or any other automated answering service, the voice on the other end asks rotary phone users to go elsewhere. I'm not quite sure where they go, but some have come back and said the rotary phone abyss is the scariest place on Earth. Simply put, a rotary phone is about as useful as a sundial these days. That said, I guess there's a market for them on eBay--I've seen old phones going for well over $200.

The computer's big brother: Typewriters

Typewriter UMN

For some of the younger people in the crowd, do you even know what a typewriter looks like? Imagine having a 30-pound behemoth of a machine sitting on top of the desk you're currently using as a place to store your iPod, iPhone and new laptop, and imagine pressing mechanical keys that trigger a printing mechanism on the one sheet of paper you can load into it at a time. Oh, and when you get to the end of the line, make sure you push it back over so you can keep writing your 10-page paper.

That was life when the typewriter ruled the home. And while more advanced machines came out during the twilight of its life that allowed for error correction and automatic line breaks, the typewriter was mostly a pain to use. Not only did you need to line up the paper just so, if you were wrong, chances are you were starting from scratch. Today, you have the ability to hit backspace or delete on your keyboard and everything works perfectly. Be thankful you're not using a typewriter--trust me.

Say goodbye to the TI-83 and hello to the slide rule

Slide rule
Slide rule Wikipedia

The slide rule is basically a mechanical analog computer. It features two rules or scales with a fixed outer pair and an inner pair that slides across the rules while allowing for an open window (called a cursor) to give the user results. As crazy as that explanation sounds (I'm still not sure what this thing does!), the device was just a little crazier. The slide rule was originally used for multiplication and division, but was also used for scientific functions such as roots, logs and trigonometry. Believe it or not, it was once the most commonly used tool in science and engineering before the ol' calculator came around and ruined its party.

Just imagine using one of these things today and I think you'll begin to appreciate that $80 price tag for the TI-83+.


Vinyl record
Vinyl record Says-it

Remember those days of vinyl? Not only did it help to catapult the entire music industry to another, more ubiquitous level, it allowed for the best sound quality money can buy. And while some people still spend time watching records travel around in a circle, most have given up on it in favor of digital audio--a lossy format that isn't capable of capturing as much sound information as vinyl.

I've heard the justification for vinyl and some have even asked that it come back, but would you really be willing to give your iPod up for a rotating record that only plays one artist's songs and needs to be flipped over if you want to keep listening? Not me. I'll take the loss in audio over that in a second. And if you're really an audiophile, check out FLAC--it should give you adequate sound quality.

So there you have it--a quick list of some of the greatest products from years past. Sure, they may have been great back then, but could you imagine living in that world today, knowing what you know about today's technology? I have no problems with the past and if you put it into perspective, those products were then what our HDTVs and cell phones are today.

Given my druthers, I'd take the digital home any day.