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Ageless Technology

By Greg Harris

Technology Gems in Our World

Greg's AGELESS TECHNOLOGY. Two simple words yet I don't think I've ever put them side by side. In fact, isn't this expression an oxymoron? If there is one thing that seems consistent about technology, it's that it ages quite quickly. Engineers, of course, just can't leave good enough alone, apparently having never heard the advice, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And yet there are a few technology gems in our world that are just as impressive today as they were years ago.

I raise this topic because this month we'll retire an ageless technology. How can you retire a technology that's ageless? Read on and I'll tell you about a technology that is 30 years old, equally as impressive today as it was back then, yet it's being discontinued. Do you think you know?

For my money, old-fashion telephone technology can't be beat. The ability to pick up a phone and call anywhere in the world continues to amaze me. Yes, there have been improvements to telephones. I've seen the rotary dial eliminated (although I sort of miss that feel of using a dial), the endless tangle of cords won't be missed, and of course I love the ability to screen unwanted calls. But at its core, telephone technology is as impressive today as it was a hundred years ago. How many other technologies have survived the test of time?

To qualify as "ageless technology" in my mind, the technology should be fundamentally the same today as it was originally, must still be as technologically relevant as it was when first invented, and must still be fascinating (hey, it's my article so I get to make the rules).

I can't think of many technologies that meet this criteria, but when I think about NASA's Space Shuttle program, I think it is clearly "ageless technology." The Space Shuttle is scheduled for its final mission this month. The program retires after 30 years, 135 missions and having sent 356 people into space. I'm personally still in awe of a machine with about 2.5 million moving parts in its three main engines that can deliver a human into space in a mere eight and a half minutes. In my book there is no better example of ageless technology.

While I'm convinced that there are few ageless technologies, there are even fewer that have been scuttled when the technology is still viable. I'll miss the Space Shuttle program and the sense of adventure and discovery that it brings to all of us. I can only hope that it will be replaced some day by an equally ageless technology.