From the hum of an old car’s engine to the galunk! of a fictional plumber’s fireball, sounds have an amazing ability to transport us back in time. Even just a two-second pop is often enough to bring back powerful memories of people, places, and objects from the past.
Outside of our minds, however, sounds have a far less reliable lifespan — especially within the realm of technology. As electronics evolve, so do the sounds that go with it — and many of the dings, beeps, and hisses burned into our brains will hold no emotional connection to the teens of tomorrow. Some of them may already be meaningless to the 20-somethings of today.
So crank up your speakers, put on your finest curmudgeonly sweater, and get ready to mutter incomprehensible insults about “those darn kids these days” and how easy they’ve got it. Here are 20 memorable tech sounds that are well on their way to being forgotten.
1. The floppy disk anthem
Who could fail to remember that comforting cluckety-cluck of a 5.25-inch floppy chugging along in a drive? You could practically count the clicks until Oregon Trail would be ready for exploration. These days, of course, high-capacity flash drives and cloud computing have helped make those giant slices of square-shaped storage all but obsolete. By the time today’s toddlers are adults, the 5.25-inch floppy will be an unfamiliar relic of an ancient-sounding time.
2. The modem’s music
The brief tone. The dialing of those magical numbers. And that screech — by God, that screech. It’s musical, really, starting with a single beep and expanding into cascading harmonies of mechanical song. Then comes the satisfying bursts of static, with their climactic rush that screams out: “Sweet success, baby! We’re in!”
For many of us, the sequence brings back warm memories of bulletin board systems and slow-as-molasses (but exciting as imaginable) dial-up Internet. For future generations, it’ll likely be little more than an irritating noise.
3. The Windows serenade
Love it or hate it, there’s a good chance that fanfare-like sound signaling the start of Windows 3.1 is forever etched in your egg-shaped noggin. Or how about that airy little ditty that greeted you upon bootup of Windows 95? The various tones of Microsoft may not always bring back the sunniest of memories (Vista, anyone?), but they sure are hard to forget.
4. The mail man’s call
The cry of the AOL mail man was damn near ubiquitous in the 90s. For future generations, it’ll be about as familiar as those blasted “50 free hours” disks we used to get sent every seven days.
5. The Nokia boogie
It was the ringtone before there were ringtones — the predecessor to an infinite array of annoying pocket-based serenades. And here you thought your co-worker’s Kanye song was bad.
6. The busy signal ballad
Between call-waiting and speech-based signals (“The number you are trying to reach is busy…”), the soothing sound of a busy phone is something you rarely hear these days. Unless it’s sampled in a future Puff Daddy song, odds are, it’ll be just another random tone to tomorrow’s teens.
7. The dot matrix jam
Today’s printers might actually work — well, most of the time — but boy, do they lack the vocal prowess of their predecessors. The bone-crunching sound of the dot matrix is one of the most immediately recognizable noises in yesterday’s technology. What other sound, after all, so deafeningly conveys the message: “Hey, buddy: Get ready to fix a paper jam”?
8. The slide projector shuffle
It may very well be the quintessential sound of boredom: the unforgettable click-clack of a slide projector shuffling through its slides as someone shows you a bunch of images you have no interest in seeing. Ah, the memories…
9. The mimeograph mix
Before copy machines, offices and schools relied on mimeograph machines to make far more manual (and potential messy) duplications. While the smell of the mimeograph may be the most memorable sensation, the sound of the system rolling and sliding leaves a one-of-a-kind imprint all its own.
10. The TV sign-off song
In today’s 24/7 world, it’s hard to imagine a time when televised entertainment wasn’t always available. But not that long ago, TV stations signed off at the end of each broadcast day, sending out a friendly “nighty-night” message and playing the national anthem. These days, we just have to settle for “Jerry Springer” reruns and ShamWow infomercials.
11. The VCR’s voice
“Be kind, rewind” isn’t the only tape-related artifact that’ll be lost on future video-watchers. From the sound of a VHS (or beta) tape loading into a deck to the high-pitched hum of a video shuttling forward or back, the VCR is loaded with aural memories that are all on their way to extinction. One of those sounds, of course, is the godawful noise of a tape unraveling — and I don’t think any of us will miss hearing that.
12. The film projector’s march
There’s nothing quite like the calm hum of a running film projector. While projectors certainly aren’t ancient history yet, the advent of digital video puts them square on the endangered species list. So take in that sound in all its ratty-tatty glory; it won’t be long before it’s little more than a memory.
13. The rotary phone rock
Back when we were kids, junior, we had to dial phones with our cotton-pickin’ fingers! Our hands got tired, sure, but we soldiered through it. Why? Because that’s all we had, that’s why! You silly hooligans and your fancy-schmancy cellular telemachines. Poppycock, I tell ye. Dadgummed poppycock.” (Lecture given in the year 2022 by someone who inexplicably talks like he was born in 1922).
14. The pay phone jingle
Don’t tell Lois Lane, but I’d be willing to wager a quarter that most teens today have never used a pay phone. That jingling sound of your coin falling in or some change dropping back out? It’s a relic of a time fading behind us.
15. The operator’s ode
Quick: When was the last time you actually dialed “0” on a phone and spoke with a human operator? Odds are, the answer is (a) a long time ago, (b) never, or (c) what the hell is a human operator?
16. The radio tuner’s tune
Static. A high-pitched squeal. Talking. More static. A little music. That’s the unmistakable sequence of an AM radio dial being manually tuned — something bound to sound completely foreign to a 12-year-old in about 10 years.
17. The cash register chorus
Aside from Pink Floyd jam sessions, the sounds of the old-fashioned cash register ringing up and cashing out are becoming increasingly sparse these days. Sure, we’ve got the beep-beep of the barcode scanner, but a digital beep can only have so much character.
18. The Polaroid’s pitch
Digital cameras may emulate it, but that real click-scroll combo is an already rare occurrence. Shaking it like a Polaroid picture, however, appears to be alive and thriving.
19. The old-school video game vamp
Sorry, Mario: Video games haven’t always had soundtracks. Listen to the sound — and equally important, the relative quiet — of Atari’s original Pong game, and you’ll see how eerily strange it now seems.
20. The typewriter’s tenor
Typing on a computer keyboard is just inherently less musical. Click. Clack. Click. Clack. RRRRRING!!!
Author JR Raphael occasionally makes typewriter noises with his mouth (and he wonders why no one wants to sit near him). You can find JR on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook — or at his geek-humor getaway, eSarcasm.com.