SRU history major connects past to present with outdated technology display


defunct film projector and viewmaster disc slides

ViewMaster discs and a filmstrip projector are just some of the defunct technology on display at Bailey Library as part of an outdate tech exhibit by Amy Brunner, Slippery Rock University history major from Butler.

Oct. 10, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Long before the days of iPads and the Internet, folks had to satisfy their daily audio/visual needs at home or the office through "old school" methods such as filmstrip projectors, VCRs and the Walkman.

To find out more about these "days gone by" technology, one only needs to place a (landline) call to Amy Brunner. The Slippery Rock University history major from Butler will more than happy to explain the technology's importance.

Brunner has recently opened an exhibit at Bailey Library entitled, "Outdated Tech." The display shares the stories of communication technology that were popular around the same time as the Ford Pinto, rabbit ears and vinyl records.

As a non-traditional student in her late 30s, Brunner said she hopes the display piques interest in extinct technology and archives.

"The average freshman was born in 1998," Brunner said. "Some of these items are tantamount to dinosaur bones to someone born in the late 1990s. It is difficulty to put myself in the mindset of an average undergrad, because I'm a Gen Xer who remembers when a lot of these things were used in classrooms.

"I hope there is some curiosity about the items and the forms of media," added Brunner. "Ideally, the response would resemble, 'Interesting, that's how it was done before PowerPoint and YouTube.'"

The display, located on the first floor of Bailey, showcases business and entertainment equipment in use between the 1950s and 1980s. It houses a 45-rpm record player; vinyl albums from the 1970s; two slide projectors; 35mm color slides; and a gray and pink LaserDisc.

The LaserDisc was a home video format and the first commercial optical disc storage medium, initially licensed, sold and marketed in North America in 1978. Although the format was capable of offering higher-quality video and audio than its consumer rivals - the VHS and Betamax videocassette systems - it never managed to gain widespread use in the U.S. due to high costs for disc players and the inability to record TV programs.

Brunner remembers her elementary school teachers using much of the technology she now features in her exhibit.

"We would have filmstrips in class where the narration was provided on an album or audiocassette," she said. "Film projectors were used for educational and entertainment films. Videotapes and VCR's were also used frequently. The high-tech part of my high school time was that every classroom had a TV that probably weighed 50 pounds and was supported by what appeared to be incredibly precarious brackets."

Brunner said the old equipment, which she unearthed from library storage, was previously used in SRU classes. She said her goal is to educate students about old technology and the process of digitalizing archives for posterity.

"All the equipment was housed in the storage area of the library," she said. "It's nice to take a look at the physical items and examine them, not only for the aesthetic but for the informational value."

Technology barriers can make the digitization of old materials a challenge, Brunner said. "Photo prints and slides must be scanned individually and there isn't a USB cord on the back of a slide projector."

Brunner said her exhibit correlates with her digital history class, taught by Aaron Cowan, associate professor of history. Brunner said she is learning how to use online tools to find trends in historical data and create online exhibits.

"Digital history is the field of using technology as a tool in historical analysis and presentation," she said. "Digital historians rely heavily upon digitalized sources, such as datasets, scanned documents and converted media for their work, which is presented online."

Brunner said her favorite gadget is the defunct LaserDisc. "I love it because it is a bridge between traditional media and current technology," she said. "It never took off in this country, but it was huge in Japan and relatively big in Europe as well."

It may be "game over" for filmstrip projectors and Polaroid cameras, but Brunner said she hopes that through her exhibit, people will get a clearer view of the "reel" past.

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