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Ask Slashdot: Educating Kids About Older Technologies?

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the welcome-to-your-new-privy dept.

Education 208

ProgramErgoSum writes "Horse carriages, vinyl records, telegraphy, black and white television are all great examples of technology that held tremendous sway decades ago and eventually faded away. Other systems such as railways and telephony are 'historical,' but have advanced into the current age, too. I think not being aware of the science behind such yesteryear technologies (or their histories) is not right. I feel it would be most beneficial to encourage kids to explore old technologies and perhaps even try simple simulations at home or school. So, what websites or videos or other sources of information would you reach out to that teaches the basics of say, telegraphy? Or, signalling in railways? Etc. etc." Do you (or do you plan to) educate your kids about any particular older technologies?

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Might as well teach them Latin (5, Insightful)

ohieaux (2860669) | about 8 months ago | (#46066939)

Actually, it's not a bad idea. Many of our modern technologies have roots in these old technologies.

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067001)

That's primarily my line of thinking on the subject. Should I have children I would try my best to educate them on both new and old technology. I've lost count of how many times I've seen people re-invent the wheel out of sheer ignorance. There's also the matter that a lot of what separates those of us that can use and maintain our technology properly are only able to do so because we've learned the technology it was based upon.

Hipsters are particularly ignorant of history. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067219)

What you're saying is very true, especially when it comes to hipsters. I'm mainly talking about the hipsters who've weaseled their way into the software development industry over the past few years, but I think it applies to most hipsters in general.

They're concerned with "the now", and nothing but "the now". They don't care about the past, because to them it's all "old hat". They don't care about the future, because they only care about what's "obscure" or "ironic" at the present.

Just look at how these hipsters do software development. Ruby is basically just Perl. The differences are quite cosmetic. The same goes for web frameworks like Ruby on Rails. All of its ideas were implemented in one form or another using Perl at least a decade earlier. The only reason Ruby and Ruby on Rails seem like novel ideas is because their proponents aren't aware of anything that happened before 2004.

And then there are the NoSQL hipsters. They're a funny bunch! They don't realize that their NoSQL ideas were first implemented in the 1960s. In fact, their ideas are inherently the first step in the development of database technology, when one comes from knowing nothing at all. The rest of the industry reached that point in the 1960s, and had moved on to real databases by the 1970s. The hipsters, due to their ignorance of history, just don't realize that they're 50 years behind the times.

History is important. Smart people understand this, and thus study history. Hipsters, on the other hand, are not smart people. They hate history. That is why they repeat its mistakes time and time again, but are so ignorant that they think they're doing something "innovative".

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (1)

pigiron (104729) | about 8 months ago | (#46067033)

...and how to program in LISP!

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (2)

ohieaux (2860669) | about 8 months ago | (#46067107)

...and how to program in LISP! )

You forgot to close the parentheses.

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (1)

pigiron (104729) | about 8 months ago | (#46067143)

OK then:


Re:Might as well teach them Latin (1)

fisted (2295862) | about 8 months ago | (#46067287)

OK then:


You again forgot to close the parentheses

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (3, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 8 months ago | (#46067083)

Not a "bad idea", no. But - how do you choose, and how much do you teach? Horse drawn carriages, for instance. How many people realize how MANY kinds of horse drawn vehicles there were? How closely do you want to examine the suspension systems of each class of carriage? The wheels? The braking system? The harness?

No, I'm not being facetious here. Or, not entirely, anyway. Carriages were pretty complex back in the day. Wheels broke, the tongues got damaged, harness had to be maintained full time. A significant portion of the population earned it's living by building and maintaining the various wagons, carriages, and coaches.

Today, we take pneumatic rubber wheels for granted. How many of us could build or repair, or even properly maintain a wheel from centuries ago? []

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (4, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#46067267)

But - how do you choose, and how much do you teach?

The best way is to let your kid choose. Kids tend to be interested in things that are relevant to their own lives. I doubt if more than 1% would be interested in "the technology of horse drawn carriages". If you try to push that kind of crap on them, you are just going to sour your relationship. You can try to nudge them in a certain direction, but mostly you should let them find their own path. Anyway, I gotta go, my 10 year old daughter is teaching herself OpenGL, and she wants to ask me some questions about matrices ...

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (4, Interesting)

TarPitt (217247) | about 8 months ago | (#46067111)

Understanding the 19th century telegraph system helps understand our current global internet.

I found "The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers" a fascinating read, amazing what was done 150 years ago.

Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article:

The book describes to general readers how some of the uses of telegraph in commercial, military, and social communication were, in a sense, analogous to modern uses of the internet. A few rather unusual stories are related, about couples who fell in love and even married over the wires, criminals who were caught through the telegraph, and so on.

The culture which developed between telegraph operators also had some rather unexpected affinities with the modern Internet. Both cultures made or make use of complex text coding and abbreviated language slang, both required network security experts, and both attracted criminals who used the networks to commit fraud, hack private communications, and send unwanted messages.

We had e-commerce (code books for secure banking transaction via telegraph), hackers, and skilled technical workers with their own language and culture.

Telegraph operators even had their own equivalent to cell-phone text message abbreviations.

Re:Might as well teach them Latin (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46067365)

Telegraph operators even had their own equivalent to cell-phone text message abbreviations.


The plow is technology too (2)

rolfwind (528248) | about 8 months ago | (#46066941)

A lot of basic farming came from (or was first invented) in China too. There was a good documentary on all this on the History channel but be damned if I can find the title.

So what's with the focus on the 19th century and it's communication/travelling tech?

Just wondering.

Re:The plow is technology too (3, Interesting)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 8 months ago | (#46067029)

Invented in Central Asia, most of it. By proto Indo-Iranian peoples, often on territory subsumed into modern China, because of historical conquests of the Mongols.

Sinologists always have a China first and central bias - with plenty of "evidence". They always need to distort the meaning of the term "China" to do so.

It's like claiming that Stonehenge is a feat that demonstrates the long history of English engineering prowess.

Re:The plow is technology too (3, Insightful)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 8 months ago | (#46067049)

It's like claiming that Stonehenge is a feat that demonstrates the long history of English engineering prowess.

Like when they got the feet and inches mixed up and ruined the Spinal Tap concert.

Re:The plow is technology too (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067189)


Except that it was built by the Britons some 3000 years before England even existed...think learning about history might be a good idea for you

Re:The plow is technology too (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 8 months ago | (#46067477)

I think that was his point.

Re:The plow is technology too (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 8 months ago | (#46067867)

Weren't even "Britons". Those were "Brythons" a Celtic people related to inhabitants of Roman-era Gaul, with modern descendants in Wales, Brittany and Basque country.

Stonehenge is pre-Celtic.

Re:The plow is technology too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067061)

an actual documentary on history channel. Now that is ancient technology.

Re:The plow is technology too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067169)

That's not ancient technology, it's ancient aliens!

Re:The plow is technology too (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 8 months ago | (#46067209)

Ancient Aliens is on H2 IIRC

Re:The plow is technology too (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 8 months ago | (#46067063)

The plow is still in use, as are most basic farming techniques (albeit in a form that early farmers wouldn't recognize). The summary specifies technologies that have mostly or entirely faded away, which happens to be (in large part) 19th century communications/traveling tech.

Re:The plow is technology too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067241)

So how did plows work before they had engines? Animals like horses and oxen, work best by pulling things, but a plow works best if its in front of the vehicle, especially in heavy snow. It might not be so bad if the snow is only an inch thick.

Re:The plow is technology too (1)

CronoCloud (590650) | about 8 months ago | (#46067675)

they're referring to the farm plow, which is towed behind a tractor, rather than the "snow" plow.

I can't do it daddy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46066945)

This controller doesn't have the sticks, and there's only two buttons!

Re:I can't do it daddy! (2) (245670) | about 8 months ago | (#46067115)

Two buttons?!? You spoiled brat. My first gaming console had one button. And I was glad to have it!

Re:I can't do it daddy! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067183)

One button? ONE BUTTON?! My first console had a piece of string, a cup and a ball!. And that's the way I likes'd it.

Definitely (2)

caffiend666 (598633) | about 8 months ago | (#46066963)

People need both common ground and unique perspective. Some things everyone should know (what does that square icon for save really mean). Other things, we need each person to come at things uniquely (a system where all of the components react the same is a broken system, eg computer viruses on shared standard systems). It's easy to find inspiration in old technology which applies to technology today. EG, Tesla motors took an old forgotten engine design by Nick Tesla and implemented it in the modern age.

I will expose the kid to as much as they have the attention span for. Probably teach each kid different things. EG, one kid will learn basic even though it is outdated. Another will learn one will learn logo even though it is outdated. Both will learn HTML.

My God... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46066983) mean to tell me that the Save icon was designed to look like a physical item?

Re:My God... (2)

jones_supa (887896) | about 8 months ago | (#46067035)

I guess it will gradually be replaced with a little cloud icon.

Re:My God... (2)

tepples (727027) | about 8 months ago | (#46067167)

I guess [the floppy disk icon for "commit changes"] will gradually be replaced with a little cloud icon.

Is the world ready for that sort of spiky hair [] ?

Re:My God... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 8 months ago | (#46067237) mean to tell me that the Save icon was designed to look like a physical item?

Bad plan. I've seen many people click on that icon in an attemt to open their document, only to overwrite it with the default new blank document.

Unnecessary (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 8 months ago | (#46066993)

I wasn't taught about "old" technologies when I was young and I can't say I missed out on anything. There might be a few moments of interest when an under-20 is confronted by (say) a typewriter, but that's about as relevant to today's "kids" as a music-box or valve radio was to me. Yes, these things exist, but they've been superceded and their relevance is long gone.

Re: Unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067037)

Just wait until the infrastructure-failure. How many people can raise food (without technology) or fix a car without a diagnostic computer, or smelt iron, or hunt (after they've blown thru their ammo) . Thank God for the Amish!

Re: Unnecessary (1)

Ralph Siegler (3506871) | about 8 months ago | (#46067491)

nonsense. hunting uses very little ammo, decades of supply can fit in a box in a closet. no need to smelt iron, plenty of otherwise useless iron (and many other metal) things will by lying around after infrastructure collapse. somehow humans managed the growing of food without technology more complicated than tool to dig, for millenia. I can do it, have done it.

Re:Unnecessary (4, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | about 8 months ago | (#46067109)

A big advantage of the "old" technologies is that you can get them running with household items. It's impossible to built an integrated circuit at home, but it's quite feasible to build a steam engine. I learned a lot about technology by servicing my bicycle. I had a very old typewriter which was build on a completely different principle than the usual querty keys, it had a pointer which mechanically connected to a cylinder with the letters and only one key which caused the cylinder to hammer down on the carbon ribbon and the paper. Just to see that there are many different solutions to a given problem greatly increases your understanding of technology. So yes, I think you missed out greatly. All you had was magical black boxes which somehow did what you wanted them to do.

Re:Unnecessary (2)

melkhorn (1663445) | about 8 months ago | (#46067199)

No, you can't say you've missed out on anything, because you don't even know if you've missed out on anything. Also, "relevant" (which the OP doesn't mention), is about as easy to pin down as "intuitive." I think perspective is what history brings. Your comment has convinced me that it is necessary.

Valve Radio (1)

tepples (727027) | about 8 months ago | (#46067205)

[A typewriter is] about as relevant to today's "kids" as a music-box or valve radio was to me.

Case in point: "Valve Radio? Is that what Gabe N. is giving us on the Steam Machine instead of Pandora or Spotify?"

Yes, these things exist, but they've been superceded and their relevance is long gone.

Typewriters' relevance continues today. The QWERTY layout was originally designed to alternate keystrokes from the sides of the keyboard. In the old days, this alternation helped the type bars not jam; nowadays it creates more distinct corners for swiping soft keyboards to recognize.

Re:Valve Radio (1)

Ralph Siegler (3506871) | about 8 months ago | (#46067527)

a machine to print on paper by mechanically striking metal blocks on paper through ribbon is relevant? no, it is not. typewriter has no relevance, persistence of most its key layout (which actually has been altered on electronic keyboards) doesn't imply typewriter as device is relevant any more

Re:Unnecessary (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 8 months ago | (#46067257)

The thing about old technologies is that many of them are less interesting for what they did than they are for how they worked.

Typewriters, for example, are interesting chiefly for their mechanics and "human interface" characteristics.

Carriages are very interesting for their wheel and bearing technology, suspension, (often) lightweight construction, and so on. They may also be interesting for their relationship with horses. They are less interesting for their actual transportation use. (Brakes were invariably simple friction brakes... not interesting at all, really. Kids use the same technology in their backyard-built go-carts.)

Re: Unnecessary (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067525)

One of your problems is that you don't know what you don't know.

more generalized... (5, Insightful)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 8 months ago | (#46066995)

i think your asking a more basic question then you may be aware...

i think if what your saying is "should we try to instill into our children a general interest in history so that they may come to understand the powerful forces and the geniuses that have lifted this world out of superstition, poverty, starvation, and disease?", i think most would agree.

if what your saying is that "son/daughter, i think you should really play Pong instead of xbone for this month so you can come to understand the roots of modern video game technology", well, not so much (at least for me).

Re:more generalized... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067135)

think if what your saying is "should we try to instill into our children a general interest in history

That much is sufficient.

Re:more generalized... (2, Insightful)

hendrikboom (1001110) | about 8 months ago | (#46067323)

The schools tend to teach history in terms wars, royalty, and loyalty to country.
I won't pretend that understanding the dynamics of conflict isn't important.
But the history of technology is an extremely important part of history that's usually given short shrift.

-- hendrik

Re:more generalized... (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 8 months ago | (#46067407)

i think if what your saying is "should we try to instill into our children a general interest in history so that they may come to understand the powerful forces and the geniuses that have lifted this world out of superstition, poverty, starvation, and disease?", i think most would agree.

I think the word you're looking for is "perspective" to understand that things generally are like they are for a reason (good or bad). Two really good TV series for this type of thing were Connections [] and The Day the Universe Changed [] , written/hosted by science historian James Burke [] .

A more sci-fi example would be from The Wrath of Khan [] :

  • Spock: The prefix number for Reliant is one-six-three-zero-nine.
  • Lt. Saavik: I don't understand.
  • Kirk: You have to learn why things work on a starship.
  • Spock: Each starship has a unique command code.
  • Kirk: To prevent an enemy from doing what we're attempting. Using our console to order Reliant to lower her shields.

Of course it's important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067009)

Older technology is a part of human history, and necessarily a part of human culture. We have to remember that learning is not all about knowledge, it is also about critical thinking applied to that knowledge. If we fail to teach subjects that we deem unimportant, we are neglecting to give our children a complete perspective from which to perform critical thinking. The subject of outdated technology is just one example that applies.

Not really necessary... (1)

Jhon (241832) | about 8 months ago | (#46067011)

"Do you (or do you plan to) educate your kids about any particular older technologies? "

I was never taught how to knap rocks in to spear heads so I don't really think it's necessary for me to teach my kids how vacuum tubes work.

That said, my kids are pretty curious on their own. My daughter at age 10 modified a gear kit to turn a spiral in a tube to dispense dog food on a timer (not for real world applications, but for a science project) and built a circuit to set off an alarm when her drawer is opened -- granted, that started out as a kit, but she learned a bit and modified the alarm to be louder and the photocell to be more sensitive. She's also a fairly steady hand with a soldering iron now, too.

My son is more interested in how to work things rather than how things work, if that makes sense.

Re:Not really necessary... (4, Funny)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 8 months ago | (#46067173)


Sometimes I almost hate kids. My youngest son taught himself how to solder, I guess he was about 11 at the time. Nice neat soldering work, unlike the clumps and globs that I do. "Mommy, Daddy, look what I can do!" Mommy says, "That's great son! Honey, why can't you do that?" Grrrrrr . . .

Another twelve years later, I've gotten over that. Now, when I need something soldered, I just give it to the kid. He likes showing off, so it's kinda win-win.

And, you should see my welding. I simply do NOT have a talent for making molten metal flow where it needs to go. Basically, I just stab the electrode where I want the filler to go, build it up as far as I can, then grind away all the ugly. Smack the finished product with a hammer, if it doesn't fall apart, I pretend that it's a good weld.

The kid? He has almost no experience, but makes nice pretty welds that need almost no grinding.

Did I mention that sometimes I almost hate kids?

Re:Not really necessary... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067389)

My dad is an expert welder and he's smart, once even a competitive chess player, yet by chance he is not as smart as me, not even close. Then I can not weld at all, he tried to teach me but it didn't work out. But he is very pleased that I'm not welding for a living, but damn, he hates me for being smart.

Re:Not really necessary... (1)

Ralph Siegler (3506871) | about 8 months ago | (#46067535)

but welding, soldering, brazing, those are still current skills used in current technology. just as mixing and pouring concrete it's still how many things are made.

They'll come to it if/when they desire (1)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | about 8 months ago | (#46067013)

We invoke the past every time we use one of those old maxims like 'turn up the volume' (implying the physical act of turning a knob) or 'you're like a broken record' (referring to a stylus on a record player stuck perpetually in the same groove, replaying and replaying the same sounds). Kids almost always infer the gist, and if it matters enough they'll ask for a more specific meaining. Think about the last time you heard someone say that someone was "pulling out all the stops" to achieve something. Did you immediately think of a mighty pipe organ, about which that line is meant? Probably not, so it didn't matter to you. No harm done, so no need to research pipe organs unless you really want to.

This time its okay to *not* think of the children, but just let them come to you. Also make visits to museums a fun thing for them.

Re:They'll come to it if/when they desire (1)

Jhon (241832) | about 8 months ago | (#46067075)

"We invoke the past every time we use one of those old maxims like 'turn up the volume""

Off topic, yes, but I'd like add that my wifes side of the family are immigrants and either naturalized Americans or residents on their way to citizenship. I hear daily the slaughter of many old sayings like the one you cite. Like "turn up the noise".

Some of it is language translations on the fly. My favorite is when my wife is angry and she wants to say something like: "Thats it! PERIOD!" What she ends up saying is "That's it! POINT!"

Now back on topic. You are right -- I do end up explaining a lot of idioms and where they derive to my kids. Or sometimes I need to explain why there is a glass TARDIS out in the middle of nowhere (old phone booth). I got a belly laugh when my daughter asked me that...

Evolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067015)

How do you teach evolution without mentioning the Dinosaurs and other fossils in general?

Older tech is actually easier to understand, that's why it was invented first. Unless you're just instructing future consumers of black boxes from supermarket.
These days, even some of my coworkers don't understand computers very well, and I'm a software engineer. They don't know about ferrite memory, and they don't know the difference between static and dynamic RAM, they don't imagine writing bits as sound on a cassette tape. They skip the whole layer since it's too complex.

Re:Evolution (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 8 months ago | (#46067051)

They don't know about ferrite memory, and they don't know the difference between static and dynamic RAM, they don't imagine writing bits as sound on a cassette tape. They skip the whole layer since it's too complex.

Too complex? Modern technologies are way more complex.

Re:Evolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067457)

Too complex? Modern technologies are way more complex.

Yes, that's what I'm saying. They skip the whole layer of new tech because it's too complex. Had they learned from the 'old tech' it would be much easier to get to the meat and perhaps they would not avoid the whole subject.

Is this for real? (2)

doctor woot (2779597) | about 8 months ago | (#46067041)

I feel it would be most beneficial to encourage kids to explore old technologies and perhaps even try simple simulations at home or school. So, what websites or videos or other sources of information would you reach out to that teaches the basics of say, telegraphy? Or, signalling in railways? Etc. etc."

Seriously? That's it? Just "I think" without even an attempt at justifying that statement? What difference would it make in a kid's life to learn about older technology?

It's already hard enough to get kids interested in education, and adults pushing their ideas of what's important onto young students with no regards as to the relevance the "education" bears to the kids' lives is why. If I ever have kids I'm leaving it up to them to decide what they find interesting, and will do whatever I can to educate them on it, even if it means I have to learn a bit about it myself. I certainly wouldn't force my kids to learn about something as arbitrary as older technology.

Re:Is this for real? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 8 months ago | (#46067641)

Since when does somebody have to justify their premise to ask for advice?

And I happen to agree with them - old technology has the advantage of being duplicable - give kids an erector set and they can re-create a carriage and suspension system and actually have a chance of understanding all the mechanical principles involved. Ditto something like analog phones - the basic electrical circuit involved is *simple*. It lets kids come to understand the principles of physics and engineering that underlay modern technology in it's simpler applications. You can then build upon that later as their education advances. It also provides perpective for the trajectory of technology - if things continue on as they are then the pace of technological advances in their lifetime will make the ones we faced look positively glacial. Good to get them thinking in terms of how far things can come in a short time from an early age.

Yes, but most directly with computers (1)

Davy Jones (3486433) | about 8 months ago | (#46067045)

History is very important, and I want to teach them as much as I can about world history and technology. In the case of computers, they will be able to learn hands on as I am building a collection. I'm limiting myself to ones that have displays / keyboard input / etc., but it will cover a huge variety of architectures and operating systems. I'm not sure how I feel about letting them have access to the internet at a young age, but I want them to learn about the evolution of computers, and also enjoy some great games from time to time.

Re:Yes, but most directly with computers (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 8 months ago | (#46067153)

Teaching them about the 'history of computers' is going to get them nowhere, and perhaps even stunt their growth. Where their fancy iPad came from is not relevant information to 99.99999% of the people out there. How to use what they have, is.

Knowing how to code in assembler on a Z80 is totally worthless for a child today and has no value. Teach them where the oil is in their car, how to cook dinner or fix a light switch, ( or if they are really young, to keep quiet and stay off my lawn ) something of actual value.

Re:Yes, but most directly with computers (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46067377)

Maybe not so much Z80 specifically. But I think there's logic in starting out with a SIMPLE assembly language on a simple architecture before jumping into something as horrible as x86. That said assembly language is useless to 99% of the population anyway. But if the kid is seriously interested in computer technology then go for it.

Dont bother (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 8 months ago | (#46067047)

They don't care, cant relate, nor do they really need to. Once you get to college age, then 'history' becomes more relevant, but younger kids, it really isn't.

Too much information.. (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 8 months ago | (#46067053)

... to learn. Looking back on my own life as a kid, I was fascinated with technology and not much else could come in the way of that. Kids develop their own interests and it's really against the laws of nature for every person to be interested in the same things and the same values. Each kid builds their own reality from a combination of genetics and environment, it's largely out of your control.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. People, like horses, will only do what they have a mind to do. It's the same reason you can't get everyone interesting in politics.

well ... (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 8 months ago | (#46067079)

... Christmas Eve on Sesame Street gave me the chance to educate my children about typewriters :)

(Cookie monster thought that the round spools of ribbon looked like cookies, so he ate them.)

not necessary (1)

Ralph Siegler (3506871) | about 8 months ago | (#46067091)

they can see obsolete things at museums, like the cylindrical wax records I saw and and heard demonstrated. Any basic scientific principles can be taught with current technology, no need to forage for old junk or simulate such. Horse carriages and buggy whips, scanning CRT with one color of luminecent coating, telegraph key sending dots and dashes? They're not coming back, even were global economy to collapse for decades we'd not go back, we'd know better ways once recovery was possible.

"Historical"? (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 8 months ago | (#46067099)

When did we start considering the railway as a "historical" technology? In many parts of the world it's still in wide use, unlike other "historical" technologies, like VHS, 8Tracks, telegrams and typewriters.

Re:"Historical"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067215)

I'd say pretty much everywhere else in the world that isn't the US has a sane railway system, used daily by bilions of people.

Re:"Historical"? (1)

Ralph Siegler (3506871) | about 8 months ago | (#46067609)

"sane" has no meaning, that's just opinion. 1.5 million US citizens commute to work ea on a train and the fact is USA is expanding that. Ridership increasing year by year where I live, I've joined the party and been riding an electric train to work for 18 months now....

Re:"Historical"? (2)

ColorTheory (897257) | about 8 months ago | (#46067399)

Notice how the wheels roll down the track. On each axle, the wheels are rigidly attached, and the wheels are slightly tapered. If an axle gets a tiny bit off center, the wheels roll on different circumferences, which steers that pair of wheels back to the center. In a turn, the axle steers itself off-center by the same mechanism. Ideally, the wheels don't slip in a turn any more than they do on straight track. The flanges are a backup system.

If you watch a train, tidbits of science and engineering are in view. You can smell the cars marked Molten Sulfur. When locomotives pull a heavy train uphill, watch for the nozzles squirting small amounts of sand for traction. Listen to the horns and hear the Doppler effect.

It is not necessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067119)

Do you (or do you plan to) educate your kids about any particular older technologies?

Not really. I might babble about old technologies in daily discussions if they pop up in my mind, but I do not see a clear need to systematically educate kids about them.

Old technology is okay, obsolete is not (1)

Sigma 7 (266129) | about 8 months ago | (#46067127)

It is okay to teach someone old ways of doing tasks. Such ways might not be optimal, but may function if the new method doesn't work right now.

It's not okay to teach someone obsolete ways of doing tasks. Such ways have been superseded for a reason, and there's no reason to keep them around anywhere other than a museum.

Obsolete technology is obvious. You can let them know they exist, but it's never worth the effort to teach them.

Re:Old technology is okay, obsolete is not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067211)

that makes no damn since, old technology is obsolete or else it would not be old technology it would be current technology

Re:Old technology is okay, obsolete is not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067817)

Not necessarily, obsolete just means that it has something better than it already and it makes no sense to use it for anything new. Pin and tumbler locks are certainly older than electronic locks but they are by no means obsolete. Advantage covers a lot of aspects remember, so even technology inferior in many other ways can still hang on if warranted for the application.

Websites or videos?! (1)

AJWM (19027) | about 8 months ago | (#46067161)

Come on, man, that's just replicating the problem you're trying to solve.

The basics of telegraphy are dead simple: Build an electromagnet by wrapping some wire around a nail, add some kind of spring or rubber-band mechanism to a piece of steel so that it clicks when the magnet is turned on or off, add a couple of batteries and a push button (momentary) switch. Et voila, a telegraph. If you don't want to build the electromagnet yourself, buy an old-fashioned doorbell or buzzer from your local hardware store, and take the cover off to show the innards.

You can do interesting things with wire and iron filings to demonstrate how a current generates a magnetic field, too, which is the basis of all that tech.

Hands-on experiments are the way to go. Videos don't "prove" anything about the real world any more than they prove cartoon physics is real. Gets the kids more actively engaged too, rather than just passively watching. (Even "interactive" web sites are still mostly passive, you can't try something the programmer didn't think of.)

Victorian Internet (1)

AJWM (19027) | about 8 months ago | (#46067223)

By the way, if you're more interested in the social effects of e.g. telegraphy technology rather than the science behind it, I heartily recommend Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet [] .

Re:Websites or videos?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067235)

right. I plan to use a way to teach a kid, according to generations of nuns.

How things work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067207)

Try searching on How stuff works or
Or look up "How Things work" books in the library. There is a 23-26 book illustrated version (pictures). And older line drawing versions 3 - 5 book.
The online ones that works the best for me are:
Or you could get a broken version and tear it apart.
If you want to learn about horse and buggy I would go pay the Amish for a tutorial.

It's not about the technologies (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067233)

It's about the people, the circumstances they were in, the tools, knowledge and resources at the time. Teach the kids about how people were the same back then and how and why things were invented. Teach them the truth: just because you're smart and invent something doesn't mean success in life (Armstrong), being a liar, thief, sociopath and shameless self-promoter often leads to success (Edison, DeForest), etc...

Make it a "living" process, take away all post WWII technology and ask them how you'd do electronics. Physics is still the same, learning about electrons, energy levels, thermionics, etc. is still relevant. You're not too far off when you learn about solid-state physics.

There really isn't that much technological progress in the last few decades. Nothing like electrification, interstate highways, air travel, was back then.

2 Ways... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067245)

There are 2 ways that I have used...neither of them was all that successful.

(1) Have them build the ancient technology and use it. Before they can learn to shoot daddy's AK, they need to be able to build and use their own bow. Before they can get a cell phone, they need to learn to use a ham radio, and pass the licensing exams.

Boy scouts are really good at #1.

(2) Take them to a museum. (As a kid, all I learned at the railroad museum was that they were big, scary things.)

History or Science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067247)

Is "The Ascent of Man" [] still available?

Stupid Article (-1, Troll)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 8 months ago | (#46067251)


All education is about older technology. This is a discussion about nothing, which I suppose is ok and will generate a lot of discussion about "my favorite old time memory" --- but I don't see a "news" angle here.

Plus, by strict definition, the question is redundant because all education has to be about the past (even if the near past).

Re:Stupid Article (2)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 8 months ago | (#46067263)

Clarity: Education has to be about something that has already happened or was already discovered.

Candles (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067253)

God, one thing really pisses me off about ALL (almost) historical dramas and documentaries, and this is how LIGHTING TECHNOLOGY is laughably shown to be 'candles' for ALL periods before the invention of electric lighting. And this actually includes most depictions of the period when gas lighting was state-of-the-art.

The modern candle isn't even an ancient invention, for heaven's sake. And the various solutions to the problem of illuminating dark Human living spaces represent some great forms of practical engineering. But as far as the mainstream media is concerned (INCLUDING so-called educational cable channels), the lamp never existed, only candles.

Or take documentaries about how non-Western people built anything. All of a sudden, you are told that people had no better skills than cavemen, and perfectly obvious techniques like scaffolding didn't exist back then.

Even our very recent history (the last two centuries) is shown in VERY inaccurate ways. The Great Victorian Engineers (all over the world) achieved miracles WITHOUT the use of electric power or the combustion engine. But their methods are almost never depicted, because the visual media is almost always a creation of 'ARTY' types, whose understanding of engineering history is around zero.

And how many here, for instance, are familiar with the MECHANICAL computing devices that were widespread before the spread of microprocessor based electronics onwards. I mean, TV has endless dramas set in the 40s, 50s and 60s, but you will almost NEVER see state-of-the-art equipment being used in those dramas. It gets worse. When a TV show is set in the late 1950s or early 1960s, any TV set watched by the actors will be of an early 1950s design, because of the WRONG cliche that TV before 1965 meant watching a tiny round picture.

How many people here know that the earliest telephone services offered DIRECT LIVE connections to the local theatres, so telephone owners could listen (by subscription) to theatrical performances as if they were in the actual audience? How many times have you seen such a thing depicted in a TV show? Try NEVER.

In truth, engineering is NOT about respecting history, unless the historical record of engineering actually still teaches something useful. Engineers are highly pragmatic. Engineering is of the NOW. There is a near infinite amount of engineering curiosities from the past, and the investigation of any part of this history tends to be more intriguing than useful. And good engineers lack false sentiment.

The best education for a child is informing him/her that engineers are largely 'timeless' and therefore in any period an engineer would not be so different than now. So, while depictions of past engineering methods are usually laughable, the actual truth would be people finding and using the most common sense solutions, with the skillsets being treasured, respected, and taught to like minded enthusiastic people. Just because the arty writer/painter types of the age ignored the engineer (meaning that we lack good historical depictions) , just as they do today, does not mean that the engineer was any less skilled, dedicated, or resourceful back then.

Show your kid the Antikythera mechanism, and teach him/her that according to the lousy historians/archaeologists, such a thing was utterly IMPOSSIBLE until a real-life example proved to be undeniable. No writer wrote, and no painter drew any depiction of any engineer working to the skillset of the Antikythera mechanism builder, across the multiple centuries when such engineers existed, and were solving problems of this level of sophistication. Therefore, historians and archaeologists stated definitively that no man had such engineering skills during that period- total bulls**t. A lack of so-called primary sources simply reflects the fact that engineers lack the ego to leave the same form of records that arty-type wasters do.

When Man was first building the complex structures of antiquity, long before we have decent written records, some men were first class engineers with first class mathematical skills not unlike the engineers of today. Alphas are auto-emergent, unlike betas who need a system of formal education. All non-dysfunctional societies will produce alphas, who will automatically seek to acquire state-of-the-art knowledge. If the society is structured and ambitious, these alphas will be able to recruit and train the betas. The activities of the engineering alphas and betas will be 'dark-arts' to the vast majority of other people at the time, educated or not, and treated as 'black box' functions to be appreciated and exploited, but rarely worthy of record.

Re:Candles (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about 8 months ago | (#46067741)

A little stringent, but I'd agree. Except on the idea that ancient engineers had mathematical tools such as we have today. Artists may not record engineers, but mathematicians record themselves in their exchanges and publications. We can trace the advance of mathematics back over 4000 years, and it has become FAR more powerful in that timeframe. There may have been other great peaks of mathematical knowledge that were reached and then lost in time before then, but at least for the last 4000 years we have a pretty decent idea of what state of the art mathematics meant for our cultural ancestors.

For Really Young Children... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067281)

There's an alphabet book [] themed with "retro" items.

openttd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067295)

OpenTTD -- available at -- is a FOSS train simulation.

(Non-electronic) DIY keeps old tech alive (1)

HTuck (3403007) | about 8 months ago | (#46067303)

One thing about non- electronic DIY projects is that they force you to become familiar with the older technologies. I don't think we should be setting up websites or school courses to teach kids things like, 'before mobile phones there was the telegraph'. The shame is not that kids are losing touch with old technologies, but that they don't get the benefits of producing something with their own hands-- which would incidentally require the use of those old techs. Make kids communicate without mobile devices and they will rediscover the 'old' science behind telegraphs. And tell them stories about AG Bell and Edison, and they will learn the history behind telegraphs. Websites and new school curriculum won't accomplish this; people learn from other people. Old tech and science can be kept alive by simply building something with your own grand/kids.

James Burke TV series 'Connections' (4, Informative)

canatech (982314) | about 8 months ago | (#46067315)

Somewhat related to what your asking.
A ten part series on how some present day tech got here.
The shows don't delve deeply in to how it all works, but interesting none the less.
It may spark an interest in older technology.
Many things that were once only available in a lab I can now recreate in my garage.

(Children's) Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067345)

There are many books for children and not so young as well, with very detailed pictures, art and historical images. Technology and its principles, historical and current infrastructure and life in general can be found beautifully and precisely illustrated. Go to a well equipped book store, ask some specific questions and be prepared to order to store.

Tin cans, string (1)

SpankiMonki (3493987) | about 8 months ago | (#46067413)

I once taught my son how to build a tin can phone. At the time, he knew about cans (somewhat old tech) and he knew about string (really old tech), but he didn't know about tin can phones. He played with that thing with his friends for quite a while after that.

FWIW, he plans on studying engineering when he goes to college next Fall.

(funny thing is, that primitive toy we built all those years ago might be the only "wired" telephone hes ever used)

Finite amount of time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067431)

1. Kids today know very little about current technology and school systems are 20 years behind (for example, computing science is not even a required subject and it will probably take another 10-15 years before it is so in the US. In contrast, in the larger centres of india, before graduating high school, it is mandatory to already have knowledge of 2-3 programming languages behind you.

(Note: if you disagree with 1. because "kids today know lots because they are on Facebook, Twitter, and play lots of games, then you know so little about technology that you don't even know what technology is - I'm not talking about being a software user).

2. Teachers in general have no idea about current technology and it is difficult if not impossible to bring them up to date. It feels great to talk about what you know, so if what you know is completely outdated then this is what you think is important to pass onto the next generation - be self-aware of this very human trait.

It's not that technologies from the past may not be useful for kids to know, it's that it will be 100,000 more useful for them to know today's technology so this is where energy should be placed. Instead of stroking your ego by recanting what you know about vinyl records, learn something current and teach this to the kiddies (like programming simple programs on a computer in a simple language - something we could have been doing in the school system in the 80's). There is only so much time so use it well.

We in the US are falling so far behind and we don't even know it (did you know that the level of technological sophistication of the AVERAGE US BACHELOR'S DEGREE GRAD is about the same level as the AVERAGE JAPANESE HIGH SCHOOL GRAD?) Read: OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills from: (or just skip that read and say to yourself "USA #1" like all of us are accustomed to doing)

Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm (BBC) (2)

Wulfrunner (1213776) | about 8 months ago | (#46067439)

The following series are great for both children and adults. Fantastic production quality, packed with factual information, but lacking the terrible sensationalism typical of American documentaries. I challenge you to watch even a single episode and not learn something awesome!

I used to teach a technology related course at a local college, and I liked to show an episode of the 6-part BBC documentary Victorian Farm [] to show students how advances in technology during the industrial revolution had a massive impact on day-to-day life. Off the top of my head, I can remember seeing demonstrations of technologies like basket-making, clamps, black-smithing, steam trains, horse-powered machinery, straw-plaiting, etc.

The same group of academics who did Victorian Farm were part of the 12-part BBC series Edwardian Farm [] . There are cool technologies like early fish farms, brick kilns, tractors, automobiles, vacuums, bicycles, leather-making, stoves, mining, fertilizer, pesticide, wool mills, etc.

There's also the 8-part BBC documentary Wartime Farm [] which is a recreation of the English farmer's life during World War II. Technologies like canning, paraffin range cooker, electric clothes iron, and linoleum flooring are just a few of the things covered in this series.

There is also a 12-part documentary with the same people called Tales from the Green Valley [] but I haven't seen it and can't comment though it's probably also really good.

My interest vs. Theirs (1)

ClayDowling (629804) | about 8 months ago | (#46067463)

I have a significantly higher interest in older technology than my kids. But my workshop is always open to them, on the off chance that they're interested in learning hand tool woodworking. Of course, that's not really old technology. It's still the way that fine furniture is made. It's just that they're unlikely to see solid wood furniture outside of our house. Unless you've got money to spend, you'll be buying the termite vomit from Ikea or Value City.

Yes Younguns.... (1)

rueger (210566) | about 8 months ago | (#46067489)

Um, if you're suggesting that those "young people" don't know about vinyl records you're pretty much so far out of the loop that you likely don't have much to offer.

But hey, what do I know, at 58 years of age... []

Understanding animals w/o understanding evolution? (1)

scorp1us (235526) | about 8 months ago | (#46067547)

It seems to me that working from the abacus to a modern day computer through evolution would promote a greater understanding and eliminate the "magic" of things. Otherwise we're too likely to dismiss things as too complicated to understand (god) and put them on some untenable pedestal.


Yesterday's Technology is Tomorrow's Innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067569)

I think it's an excellent idea to teach children about antiquated technologies, often such technologies can be exciting and relatively simple DIY projects that can artistically incorporate elements of the old technology in modern contexts, also should something happen to knock us back into the dark ages, those who know how to recreate old technologies out of whats laying around will certainly be valued over those who can't even manage to open a can of peas because their Sharper Image electronic can opener doesn't work anymore.

Basics of the physical world (3, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 8 months ago | (#46067579)

Kids should get some basics on where things come from. How steel is made. How farming works. How electricity is generated and distributed. How cars are made. Where tap water comes from, and where sewerage goes. How houses are built and what's inside the walls.

At the micro level, they should learn basic electrical circuits, basic gears and mechanical linkages, basic hand tools up to an electric drill, and basic woodworking up to building a box or birdhouse.

Not Z80 programming.

Infrastructure is mandatory. Nostalgia is optional.

Science museum/center (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067605)

Take your kids to the nearest science museum, they've got all these technologies + more on display. Kids can touch or interact with many of the displays which is much better than passively watching a video. Take them there once a year or two, as they get older they'll absorb different information.

If they get really into something specific like telegraphy, then you can search the web for more info.

Build it! (1)

SoftwareArtist (1472499) | about 8 months ago | (#46067701)

Don't just simulate them. Let them work with real tools. For example, it's really easy to build a telegraph. This could make a fantastic class project. Divide them into small groups, and have each group build a working telegraph key. Connect them up in pairs, give them a Morse code chart, and have them try to send messages to each other. Now hook them up to a central switchboard and teach them the basic principles of networks and switching mechanisms. Finally, explain how "the internet" is doing exactly the same thing as the network they built, just automated and on a bigger scale.

Adventure and victory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46067767)

Show them the adventure. Then have (easy) classes on how to make one of each. The carriage could be a small one. Maybe just a working model kit. Using wind-up "animals". It would be PI do use small live animals, nowadays. Unless it's cockroaches in a science class, of course. :)
"Demo" garage-version telegraphs and gramophones can be made with ... nails or needles, cardboard, plastic bottles, wax or resin ... even clay. "Recordings" were recovered from ancient clay pots that were inscribed in a spiral automatically (apparently) with an iron "spike".
Don't stop there. Remember the first "optical telegraphs", in Europe.
There's even more options "out there".

Oh, I'll Teach 'Em (1)

multimediavt (965608) | about 8 months ago | (#46067899)

Do you (or do you plan to) educate your kids about any particular older technologies?

HA! They're going to learn them all whether they like it or not, and everything is going to start with "Back in my day..." and end with "...both ways, uphill, in the snow!" Dag nabbit!

Teach them about .... (1)

PPH (736903) | about 8 months ago | (#46067905)

... analog cell phones.

Back when we used to be able to make a call even miles from a tower.

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