Karthik VenkateshJan 15 2022, 14:02:32 IST
When the products die
Goldeneye (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as James Bond, features a climax scene in a deserted park in Moscow dotted with fallen statues dating from the former Soviet Union. Busts and statues of communist leaders and symbolic representations of worker power (all with a proverbial hammer and sickle) dot as Bond confronts his opponent. The previous Bond movie, License to Kill, was released in 1989 before the gruesome events of that year signaled the end of the Soviet empire. The statues in the Goldeneye were a reminder to the viewer of the changing world where ghosts of the past still lurk.
Then imagine such a garden inhabited by outdated products. In your mind’s eye, what products do you see scattered around? Audio cassette players and cassette tapes? pager? Phone directories? Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)? telegraph?
The imminent death of a vintage blackberry
On January 4, 2022, another producer joined the bandwagon. The imminent death of the BlackBerry is no exaggeration. True, he hasn’t kicked the bucket yet. But with the company announcing that it’s shutting down support for the operating system and associated services, it’s possible that many older Blackberry devices have either gone out of business or are coming there soon. The Blackberry devices that will continue to work are the ones that use the Android operating system.
Research in Motion, the company that gave birth to Blackberry, dates back to 1996 when it introduced the two-way pager, the Inter@ctive Pager 900. The first BlackBerry, the 850, was introduced in 1999 as a two-way pager in Munich, Germany. The name BlackBerry was coined by the marketing company Lexicon Branding. The name was chosen due to the similarity of the keyboard buttons with the droplets that make up the blackberries.
In 2002, the Blackberry smartphone was released. During this decade, with better and better versions of the phone emerging in the market, Blackberry stormed the market. By 2009, it captured a 20 percent market share of the smartphone market. But with Apple and Samsung making a coordinated bid to take over the world, Blackberry’s offerings soon began to falter. By 2013, the company was looking to acquire it. Her days were in the past. Corporate rejigs and other acrobatics kept things going and the vintage Blackberry continued to have a following…until January 4th!
The legendary telegraph
On July 14, 2013, the world’s last telegram was sent from a telegraph station, somewhere in India. On May 24, 1844, the age of the telegraph dawned with the transmission of the message “What has God made!” Between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. Developed by Samuel Morse, it quickly revolutionized communication. By 1851, more than 50 telegraph companies were established and operated in the USA.
In India, the first experimental electric telegraph line was started between Calcutta and Diamond Harbor in 1850. Construction of telegraph lines linking Kolkata (then Calcutta) and Peshawar in the north; Agra, Mumbai (then Bombay) and Chennai (then Madras) in the south; Ootacamund (Ooty) and Bangalore began in November 1853. William O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, played an instrumental role in their development.
A few years later, it proved nearly invaluable in saving the empire. On May 11, 1857, a letter was sent from Delhi to Ambala and then to Lahore that conveyed news of the rebellion in Meerut. It was the beginning of what the British later called the “Sepoy Rebellion” and the Indians the “First War of Indian Independence”. The telegram prompted the British to move quickly to retake Delhi and eventually crush the uprising.
Legend has it that one of the rebels, being led to the gallows, pointed to a telegraph line and shouted, “There’s the damned thread choking us!”
In remembrance of the events of that fateful May, a telegraph memorial was unveiled on April 19, 1902, in front of the new British Telegraph Office in another part of Delhi ‘to commemorate the loyal and devoted services of the staff of the Delhi Telegraph Office on the eventful 11 May 1857’. A 20-foot-high gray granite obelisk contains the words of Robert Montgomery, Deputy Governor of Punjab: “The electric telegraph saved India.”
A monument to a product, no less! A sign for future generations.
Allow yourself to go back to the ’90s or even the twentieth century. Imagine the streets at that time. Three things that were ubiquitous at that time are now gone. One Hour Photo Lab, STD/ISD PCO and Video Rental Store.
The Image Lab dates back to the time when cameras with rolls of film were the order of the day. Photography was a deliberate and deliberate activity, the outcome of which was known only when the roll of film was “developed”. Today, the smartphone has made photography an instant fun activity. Putting, checking, and posing in a loop is essential. The camera phone killed the roll of film, the analog cameras you used, and the photo lab in one fell swoop.
The STD/ISD PCO began to emerge as the first communications revolution, initiated by Sam Pitroda and C-DoT, and began to show visible results in the late 1980s. As phone connections became easier to get, “STD kiosks” started popping up all over the country. Often, these were extensions of grocery stores, photoshops, and other neighborhood landmarks. Someone popped up, made the call, and then left. They were a godsend in a country where for decades the personal telephony was a status symbol.
When the second communications revolution broke out and the mobile phone became a ubiquitous commodity, the STD kiosk became an anomaly. The mobile phone is largely responsible for the disappearance of phone directories and Yellow Pages, whose silent, unannounced deaths have occurred.
For the video rental store, the growth of cable channels and more recently, streaming platforms, contributed to this.
The strange STD kiosk or video store is still alive, perhaps – ghosts from the not-so-distant past!
On their way out?
Even as we speak, other products are also on their last legs. Consider the printed road maps that most car dashboards have and that many use to navigate the city. Digital Maps has now taken over this functionality. Printed road maps are on the highway to becoming historical monuments.
The fax machine is also moving quickly in the direction it was. Email and scanners have greatly eroded its use. Likewise, multi-volume encyclopedia collections have been replaced by online editions.
However, not all deaths and disappearances may necessarily be for the best. The gradual disappearance of bookstores and neighborhood libraries should be a concern for everyone. Well-stocked bookcases, libraries, and bookshelves were once a doorway into other worlds and possibilities. Perhaps the joy aroused by the discovery of books and writers in stores or bookshelves in the library is unparalleled. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges once said, “Heaven is a library, not a garden.”
Correlation is not necessarily causal of course. But keep in mind, however, that the gradual erosion of the habit of reading over the past two decades has been accompanied by an increasingly illiberal streak around the world and the bewildering rise of powerful men (yes, mostly men!). Food for thought?
As the products move on, their memories are often kept alive, often in interesting ways. The telegraph as a technology is really dead, but the name is still there. Many newspapers around the world continue to use it. Why Telegram is the name of a digital messaging app.
The more she changes, the more she is the sameE (Whenever things change, they stay the same). At least more or less.
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