“Poor Black Squares”

Afterimages of the Floppy Disk

Authored by: Matthew Kirschenbaum

The Routledge Companion to Media Technology and Obsolescence

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138216266
eBook ISBN: 9781315442686
Adobe ISBN:


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It was an obscure government report, but it contained a tidbit that went viral immediately: in May, 2016, a white paper released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on the need for federal agencies to address aging legacy systems noted (more or less in passing) that elements of the nuclear command and control system for Minuteman missiles still relied on a forty-year-old IBM Series/1 computer serviced by 8-inch floppy disks. “Introduced in the 1970s,” the author explained, “the 8-inch floppy disk is a disk-based storage medium that holds 80 kilobytes of data. In comparison, a single modern flash drive can contain the equivalent of more than 3.2 million floppy disks.” The report also included a helpful illustration depicting one of the matte black square-shaped disks with a donut hole in the middle alongside its paper slip case. 1

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