Sitting on my desk in my office in the University of Rochester Chapel is a fine example of early 20th Century Technology. The Bates Stapling Machine, Model B. Before the invention of those preformed stacks of staples that you load as a single unit into the modern stapler, the Bates Model B. made its own staples from spool of brass wire that attached to the back like a roll of toilet paper attaches to the wall. Once attached, the spool was good for 5,000 staples, give or take. One my desk at home is an identical Stapler. One of these my parents bought in their youth. The second one I bought on ebay for about $25. I also have two spare spools (last manufactured in the 1960s but still available as “new old stock” on ebay for about $7 per spool. This dude will even re-spool the old ones for you. Both of the Staplers have the original spools on them. I have never had to replace them. If I do, I am confident the two new spools I have, will last the rest of my life.
I also have three manual typewriters, I write with a fountain pen, and I shave with a shaving soap and a brush. I have a balance weight scale in my kitchen for measuring coffee and things that need to be measured. It’s from England and the weights are in grams. Do I need to say that I drive a car with a stick shift?
When Apple announced this week, that it was removing the audio jack from the new version of the iPhone, I will admit that I felt a twinge of nostalgia. In 1970, I was 10 years old, and I put up 20 hard earned dollars which were matched by my parents and I bought a cassette tape recorder. I was enchanted by this magical technology and loved to record “radio programs” and variety shows in which I was often the host, guest, and musical entertainment. My sister made occasional appearances as well. That tape recorder had an audio jack that would have been right at home with today’s earbuds. It was a world of vinyl records, telephones with dials that were attached to the wall, and radios that picked up a few AM stations. The only form of instant message was a kiss.
So I suppose it was time for Jack to go the way of Floppy Disk, dial-up Internet, and those cool cranks on the front of your car you would use to start the engine.
And in spite of the social media outrage that we saw last week, I am sure that within a few years, most people will think of the audio jack as just a quaint relic, if they recognize one at all. That doesn’t mean we won’t miss its beautiful simplicity, its graceful functionality, its ability to perform just one function and to do it incredible well. And if you get a longing for a time when there were still a few things that didn’t need to be recharged, reloaded, or recycled constantly, well, stop by my office. I’ll have a pair of wired speakers plugged into the headphone jack of a classic AM radio. They’ll be sitting on my desk next to the Bates Model B still making its own brass staples from a half-full spool of wire as it approaches its 81st birthday.
Because although the wheels of progress never stop turning, it’s worth remembering that some of the old stuff can still be useful. If or when the warp drive ever kicks it, you’ll be glad you kept an impulse engine up in the attic.
Here's a poem about my Model B.
Bates Model B Stapling Machine
bits of tape
Don’t ask about
Enough to say
lives were held.
from the spool
through the body
to the jaws
into single threads
just big enough
to keep everything