What do you miss from the past?

One question that’s coming up in in writing the innovation book is this: when has an innovation taken away something from your life that you valued?

For example: I used to love making funny answering machine messages. But now my wife and I have cell-phones. Few people call our home number anymore. The joy of having a shared message, a shared way to greet people, and the fun of making silly messages together, is gone.

Cell-phones are good – but just because they’ve progressed us in some ways doesn’t mean they haven’t left some good things behind.

I’m looking for examples of how innovations have eliminated things you miss, for any reason (I mean, I still miss rotary phones for some strange reason, so nostalgia counts).

Reasons you might miss something:

  • It was actually better than “the innovation”
  • It had some good qualities the innovation doesnt have
  • The older style appeals to you
  • The older thing is more reliable or durable
  • It reminds you of good things (memories, times, people) the innovation doesn’t

Have any examples? I’d love to hear ’em. Please name the new thing, the old thing, and why you miss it. thx.

21 Responses to “What do you miss from the past?”

  1. Scott (admin)

    btw: I’m cool with examples from software. Say, you loved version 6.0 of Word or something, but haven’t enjoyed a version since then (but explain why).

  2. Kevin

    New thing: MP3s, online music, etc.
    Old thing: LPs

    I miss buying LPs, I miss reading the liner notes, and I really miss the history that came along with them. EMusic, the Apple Store, etc. are good ways to find and acquire music, but for me, it’s one dimensional.

    LPs were something I could hold in my hand. You had to take care of them. If they developed a pop, you always remembered where and when it happened. There was real satisfaction in playing a recording so much that you literally wore it out – maybe it’s the similarity to real life that was appealing, the reminder of impermanence, or knowing that it wouldn’t last that forced you to absorb what you liked and not bother with what you didn’t.

    To get the music, you had to go to a record store, and going through the LP in a store was a lot more fun than on a computer. The social context was what made it fun, the stuff you found along the way, and not just the music.

    Most importantly, I could remember exactly where I bought each LP I owned, who I was with when I bought it, why I bought it, and what was going on in my life at the time. When I look at the cover, or listened to the recording, all this stuff comes back. I just don’t get that with downloading music. For me, this matters, and I really miss it.

  3. Greg

    – Knobs on faucets and paper towel dispensers in public toilets.
    – The action of striking a match to make a flame
    – The audio mating call of a modem connecting
    – Kicking the handle on a urinal or public toilet
    – Video game controllers with only one or two buttons.
    – Lego sets without no special pieces.

  4. Mark Denovich

    I first thought of music too… I second everything you say about albums. I also miss the mixtape. I didn’t make them, but my girlfriend made me a few that I really liked. Seems a lot more handcrafted than emailing me a playlist.

    You can’t slam hang-up a mobile phone…

    Flippin’ through the channels is no fun. First you have way too many channels to go through, and since most channels are digital, you don’t have the same channel to channel speed. Tivo is fantastic, but it kills the shared experience of watching something “live” with everyone else. (I wouldn’t want to go back though… I just wish I could zip through channels when I’m bored.)

    Haven’t sent or received a good letter in a really really long time.

  5. Kevin Connor

    Vintage Lego sets for sure! I remember well how much satisfaction there was to be had on those weekends with my friends when we got together to build our latest creations with the hundreds of tiny lego pieces we had.

    The imagination and creativity needed to ‘make’ something from today’s legos leaves much to be desired. The preformed large-pieced designs of today do not allow children or adults for that matter to think for themselves and really make something from their own imagination.

    I can certainly attribute some of my lust for design to my many lego sets from my childhood.

  6. Martijn Gorree

    I miss the old Click-keyboards. Its the sound they make. Although the new keyboards are ‘better’, i do miss the sound and feeling of those old noisy keyboards.

    Also, matrix printers. They too have a great sound. We’ve had one for a long time, and I remember playing with the tear-off sides of the paper.

    Those new devices are boring, they all sound the same (some are just silent). Where’s the fun in that? The matrix printer and click-keyboards are the ones that ‘stick’. I’ve had countless other devices, but those oldies I will never forget.

  7. Divya

    How about reading? I love the feel of books on my hands – lying on the bed, flipping through and back and using bookmarks to mark the pages I left at.

    Reading on the PC just does not give that feeling. The bookmarks do not have the cartoons which the paper ones have ….

  8. Steve

    Courtesy? Patience?

    But if those are too obscure, I miss having to go to the library. Of course, I can still pick up and go whenever I want to, but that means I don’t ever do it because there’s no time.

    In Ye Olde Dayes, though, having to go … was a nice excuse to get to go.

  9. Rami Kayyali

    – Analog volume knobs because they gave me fine control
    – “Dumb” cellphones because they never crashed and they looked cool
    – Regular sneaker, because they can’t make you run faster
    – Healthy junk food (ok, that’s an oxymoron)
    – TV channels that close at night!
    – Web 1.0, but not animated GIFs and whatnot, just the good ol’ Web

  10. Anna Farmery

    Oh this shows my age..
    Handwritten notes rather than an e-mail saying “Thanks!”
    Customer service rather than automated message systems
    Wooden tennis racquets! – the modern sports equipment in tennis, golf takes away the skill and makes it more boring
    TV that had great comedy shows rather than reality TV
    People speaking! Rather than on a computer or even worse in a pub where conversations are now impossible

    I really am not that old…..but just feeling that way.

  11. Pawel Brodzinski

    Two things:
    1. Pointed by Martijn above – keyboards. I still have one, but I almost don’t use my PC station any more. Laptops took away the feeling I had with my old keyboard. But even if I wanted to buy another one like that it would be impossible – now they make them to look fancy, to be ergonomic, to have all those jezzy buttons.

    2. From software area – Winamp 2.x. It mainly played music. It wasn’t polished, but was extremly usable. Then version 3 came which looked nicer had new features but it wasn’t my old, well-known music player. Now it plays video, rips music, burns CDs… Even they call it a “multimedia player”. I’m not alone here – I still see Winamps 2.x on many desktops.

  12. Tiff

    Polaroid cameras — there is something deeply satisfying about committing to a shot and watching the image develop slowly, with the photographees gathered around to see how it turned out. Instant digital screens remove the role of chance in a great photo, and allow everyone to self-edit. I don’t like my impluse to ask the photographer to re-take the shot if I’m unsatisfied with the photo. It can be argued that it is still possible to rock polaroid cameras today, but it’s the people who’ve changed — photos are no longer a chance slice of time.

    Also, for the vintage lego ethusiasts, Lego released an ad campaign not too long ago that *nails* the imaginative spirit we’re all nostalgic for: http://www.thefwa.com/adworld/adlego0606.html

    They’re delightful images in their own right.

  13. Blaine Collins

    Things I miss:
    Drive-in movies
    Disc jockey discretion regarding playlists
    Blue jeans becoming worn/tattered from wear
    Wooden crates that held a case of cola bottles

    Things I don’t miss:
    Writing checks for retail purchases

  14. Dan


    I appreciate a modern car’s comfort, handling, speed, safety etc, but I miss the simplicity –
    a radio with 3 buttons not 37,
    the total absence of annoying beeping sounds when opening the door with the lights on or starting the car without wearing the seatbelt,
    windows that open all the way,
    an exterior that was made for good visibility rather than fancy design,….

  15. Mike

    I miss glass pop (cola/soda/whatever you call it in your part of the world)bottles. :-) It just doesn’t taste the same coming out of a plastic bottle.

  16. Scott M

    Wow, I must be lacking the notsalgia gene, because I can’t think of any old technology that I miss. Everything today is better than when I was younger.

    -LP’s – they take up too much room, get scratched, and aren’t portable.
    -I never slammed a phone to hang up. Guess I avoided conflict so much I didn’t need to.
    -True, you can’t flip through channels as fast as you used to. But why would you need to when cable comapnies give you a search option and a menu?
    – I never had a lego set
    – The only ‘click’ keyboard I remember was attached to a dumb terminal. I can do so much more with my current computer I don’t miss it at all.
    – DOT matrix printers had terrible quality and were way too loud for my tastes. I’ll take a laser printer anyday.
    – I loved the library, but I love the Web even more.
    – I still read tons of books. When they come out with a cheap e-book reader, I’m all for it. I’m no slave to paper.
    – I love automated customer service because I can call any time of the night, rahter than only during business hours. Talking to human beings takes too much effort.
    – I take pictures to capture a moment in time, not for some warm and fuzzy feeling of holding an slowly developing object in my hand. And who needs to edit photos anymore. With cheap menory, you can keep ALL of your bad photographs.
    – Drive in movies – I thought it was cool when I was a kid. Now that I’m an adult, I like to actually WATCH the movies I paid for, not listen to the chatter of the family with 20 kids in the parking space next to me. Give me Netflix anyday!

  17. Marek Rafałowicz

    I miss the feeling of community between people brought toghether at the isolated place like mountain hut or a camp. Now, with everyone holding mobile phones it is almost impossible to achieve anymore, most of the people tend to be still connected to their everyday live all the time.

    Marek Rafalowicz

  18. Anant

    I miss waiting for someone, when they are late and not knowing if they are going to be late by 10 mins or an hour. It’s different now, with dates/ppl calling up to tell you that they are going to arrive in another few minutes. Back then I would wait and think, sometimes make a hate list about the person , and think about new rude things to say.

  19. Martijn Gorree

    I have another one. Software this time.. instant messengers.

    ICQ 99b was great. After that, ICQ went downhill, adding feature after feature and many crappy advertizement features. A true casualty of featuritis. I held on to the old version for quite some time, but eventually I made the switch to MSN Messenger (yeah I’m european).

    Now MSN Messenger was also great, but its been on the same track as ICQ lately. I really don’t need any MSN-today crap or useless tabs, buttons, or doohickies nobody ever uses. The only thing I want is a simple app in which I can connect to my friends. That new MSN Live Messenger piece of crap really takes the cake. I installed it for my girlfriend and it imidiatly pissed me off with its ‘new and slick UI’ where trying to change the any preferences requires a MCSA.

    I’ve switched from messenger last year after the insisted I install an upgrade. I’m now using Gaim, which is not exactly a great piece of work. But it works and “most importantly” gets out of my way. Just like the old MSN Messenger (v4/v5) and ICQ 99 did.

    Anyway it feels like I’m being bullied into switching to the competition. I’m now waiting for GAIM to ‘flip the switch’ and turn into crapware.

    P.S. Sorry for the somewhat ‘late’ comment, but I’ve had a run in with Messenger again and I just had to vent a bit. This seemed like the place to do thinking it might be relevant.

  20. Scott (admin)

    It’s all good – as the book is still in progress, late comments help as much as the timely ones do :) thanks all!



  1. What do you miss from the past?…

    There’s a really interesting question posted over at the Berkun blog, asking readers to comment on the things that they miss.  Here’s an excerpt:
    [W]hen has an innovation taken away something from your life that you valued?
    For example: I …

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