Mike Elgan: 10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010

Make the world a better place. Just say no to dumb tech.

Some old-and-busted technologies die gracefully of natural causes. Pagers, PDAs, floppy disks -- they're gone, and good riddance.

But other obsolete tech lingers on, even though better alternatives abound that are easier, cheaper, higher quality and much more efficient.

Here are 10 dumb technologies we should get rid of in 2010:

Special report: Looking back at 2009, ahead to 2010
Special report: Looking back at 2009, ahead to 2010

1. Fax Machines

The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago. When someone says "fax it to me," I always feel like I'm being punk'd. A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.

Documents that are faxed usually start out in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally, it must be converted into a paper format. You insert the document, and the fax machine scans it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

The modem plays the noise over the phone line. At the other end, another fax machine also has a modem, which listens to the sounds, and converts them yet again into a digital document, just before it prints it out on paper. Now the data in the document has to be converted somehow into a digital format -- either scanned or typed in by hand.

The document almost always begins and ends in digital format. But during this epic journey, the document is digital four times, paper twice and sound once.

The mass delusion that perpetuates this obscenely inefficient technology is that paper "hard copy" is somehow more legitimate. In fact, gluing a copy of someone's stolen signature to a document, then faxing it, is the easiest way mask a forgery because of the low quality of fax output.

People, let's stop the madness. Just e-mail it.

2. 'Cigar lighter receptacle' plugs in cars

The idea of building cigar/cigarette lighters into car dashboards originated in the 1920s. The technology was perfected in the 1950s. Decades later, the automobile industry is still building these weird sockets into cars, but now usually without the actual lighter.

As electrical outlets, dashboard lighter ports are dangerous, unreliable, underpowered, inconvenient, unsightly and expensive. They require that you purchase a special plug and/or adapters, which add clutter to your car.

All cars should have standard household electrical outlets, with the converter built in. Or USB ports that can charge gadgets. Or both.

Almost nobody smokes in their cars. Almost everybody carries phones and gadgets that need power in the cars. Sheesh. How obsolete can you get?

3. WWW

The original idea with Internet addresses is that a prefix would identify the type of service provided. So, for example, www.apple.com identifies Apple's "World-Wide Web" servers, and ftp.apple.com points to the company's offerings available via the "File Transfer Protocol."

Network administrators get to choose whether an address technically requires a "www." But browsers fill it in for you even when you don't type it.

That's why saying "www" as part of an address, printing it on business cards or typing it into your browser address box is always unnecessary. We stopped using "http://" years ago, and it's time to stop using "www" as well.

4. Business cards

Speaking of business cards, why do we still carry around 19th-century "calling cards"? When someone gives you a business card, they're giving you a tedious data entry job, one that most people never complete.

There are several alternatives to business cards, all superior. If the meeting is arranged by e-mail, include contact information in the invitation and reply as e-mail signatures, attached vCards, links to contact Web pages or some other electronic form.

Besides, you should always learn in advance what you can about people you're going to meet, and that's a good time to enter their contact information. And if you just run into someone, and exchange contact information, it's best to do it by e-mail or some other means on the spot, with cell phones.

Adding someone to your contacts should involve double clicking or, at most, copying and pasting -- not data entry.

5. Movie rental stores

We're now two revolutions away from the heyday of driving to Blockbuster, standing in line, renting a video and driving home. Movies are nothing more than digital files. You can download them, or get them on disk by mail. Driving? Standing in line? For an electronic file? Come on!

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