All the posts from Bruce Sterling’s Dead Media project of 20 years ago have been collected and released as a free 921-page ebook.
Back in 1995 Sterling offered a “crisp fifty-dollar bill” to the first person to write and publish a project he and Richard Kadrey had dreamed up — a handbook “about media that have died on the barbed wire of technological advance, media that didn’t make it, martyred media, dead media…”
Such as: the phenakistoscope. The teleharmonium. The Edison wax cylinder. The stereopticon. The Panorama. Early 20th century electric searchlight spectacles. Morton Heilig’s early virtual reality. Telefon Hirmondo. The various species of magic lantern. The pneumatic transfer tubes that once riddled the underground of Chicago. Was the Antikythera Device a medium? How about the Big Character Poster Democracy Wall in Peking in the early 80s?
But somebody else would have to do it, explained Sterling, because “[we], after all, are just science fiction writers who spend most of our time watching Chinese videos, reading fanzines and making up weird crap.”
When nobody stepped forward (big surprise) Sterling appealed for help collecting stories and notes about dead media. These were hosted at Deadmedia.org and eFanzines’ Bill Burns was one of the participants. Burns described an example of dead media in USA Today’s 1997 story about the website:
The notes illustrate something often lost in today’s relentless barrage of technological hype: Innovations that were once the latest and greatest can vanish without a trace.
Who remembers the Regina players that once filled homes, bars and hotels with music? A cross between a record player and a music box, they were 20-inch metal disks that interacted with tiny sprockets that in turn twanged small tone bars. The players required no electricity, merely a good strong arm to crank them up.
“They lasted from the 1890s to about 1912,” says Bill Burns, an engineer on Long Island who collects them. “All the popular tunes of the day came out on these stamped steel or zinc disks. It was an entire industry.” Gone without a ripple, in the wake of the phonograph.
[Thanks to Bill Burns for the story.]