7 Obsolete Tech Terms That We’re Stuck With (For Now)

I’m a little embarrassed in that I don’t quite know what this post is about. Or rather, I lack a succinct way to describe it. It involves technology, and terms we are trapped into using that no longer make sense, or never did. Not that I’m against their use, but I’d also love to see new terms be adopted to take their place. Anyway:

Rewind: In decades past, video and audio entertainment was distributed in the form of plastic cartridges, wherein content was contained on spools of magnetic tape. To cut the pretense, this is about VHS and cassette tapes. The process of rewinding a recently-played tape was lengthy, noisy, and in some cases actually needed a standalone device (or a pencil). It was a process so tenuously avoided that video rental proprietors had to resort to rhyming pleas and threats of fines to stimulate their customers do it.


I made product demos and everything, but somehow, it never caught on…

Fast forward to today (see what I did there?), and the term persists in a metaphorical sense. The simplest way to request a return to a previous point in a video or audio selection is to “rewind” it. The persistence of the universal “Rewind” (<<) and “Fast Forward” (>>) symbols, faithfully on either side of the still-relevant Pause (| |) button encourages the continuation of the current vocabulary, but already simpler, more accurate requests to “skip back” or “go back” are creeping into the lexicon (my personal vote is for “track back,” by the way).

But fans of rewind, fear not… as long as sewing enthusiasts (and cats) need balls of yarn, there will always be some analog item that needs rewinding.

Ring (verb): Bells, alarms, and telephones do it. There are other terms that can be applied to the former two: alarms can “buzz,” bells can “jingle,” both can “sound.” Alarms can oxymoronically “go on” and “go off.” But what can a telephone do to indicate an incoming call, but ring? It is such a natural term to use that a native English speaker will probably not even hear the verb “ring” as metaphorically relating to the literal noun from of a metal ring, but it is there. To witness it for yourself, drop a metal ring (use a thick wedding band for best results) on a hard surface. Riiiiinnnnnng.

Now that phones, use digital soundbytes in order to sound, and lack a physical “ringer,” the term has become completely symbolic. Interestingly, the creation of words like “ringtone” ensure that the metaphor will survive well into the foreseeable future.

Scroll: As a method for keeping lengthy records, scrolls were a significant step up from chiselled tablets, but started to go out of fashion as soon as bound books became economically feasible. Yet, as with “ring”, this common action used to move through a digital document lacks any other generally-accepted term. As the tablet form factor gains popularity over the more traditional desktop and laptop, the method of scrolling is taking on even more resemblance to its antiquated origins: we need to actually move our fingers, hands and forearms now.

If a passage is long enough that it goes off the bottom or side of a display screen (that notion itself is symbolic—there is nothing “off the edge” of a screen), how do you get there? Perhaps one could “page down” or “arrow down,” but those terms are awkward, and lose all meaning on a tablet.

One term that may start to encroach on scroll is “swipe, though its staying power has yet to be determined.

Phone: Denotatively, this word has always just been a colloquialism for telephone. Connotatively, the image implied by the word “phone” shifts to represent the most popular form factor, and other types of phones must be specified. In the last 10-15 years, one would assume “phone” referred to a landed, touch-tone telephone; a reference to a cellular/mobile phone would be specified. Now, the word is in transition, where cellular phone is becoming the default assumption), and hard-wired phones have become “land-lines.” Even before that transition finished, we now verbally differentiate “smart phones” from other types of cellular phones.

Icon: The word’s classical definition denotes an image of Christ, or of a saint, but the only definition even somewhat commonly-used in English is to describe a pictorial representation of a symbolic link to a file or program… and even then, most people only say it when one goes missing!

Impressive, for a word alternatively defined as “an object of uncritical devotion.” [Merriam-Webster].


Jesus Saves (his shortcuts to desktop…)

Icons are almost as old as the Graphical User Interface, but recently, software developers have been all but hostile to shortcut icons. “Tile” is becoming the preferred term, coinciding with the growth of tablet interfaces like Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Microsoft’s much-hated “Metro” interface. Many Linux environments (GNOME 3, xfce, and Unity) have eschewed icons altogether.

Connection (on it’s way to meaninglessness): In a wired world, a continuous closed circuit is required for any electromechanical device to function; therefore a “connection” requires physical contact between two or more points. This would make concepts like a ‘wireless connection’ oxymoronic, yet the word is used metaphorically.

Interestingly, the notion of a symbolic connection, as in an understanding between two individuals, is nothing new. As the world becomes increasingly wireless, the unseen-but-evidenced digital connection between our devices begins to mirror the way we, as individuals, “connect” with each other verbally, and emotionally.



After magnetic tape reels, virtually all computer storage was stored on disks. The advent of the hard disk drive made long-term internal storage viable; software began to move from floppy disks to CD-ROM; music moved from cassette tapes to CDs, movies went through VHS to DVDs. Now, whether it’s in a USB drive, flash memory on portable media player or smartphone, or a solid state drive, data storage is breaking free of the limits imposed by a spinning disk. This term won’t disappear from the language, but may well be seeing its last days in technology use.

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