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Timeline of Obsolescence

Authored by: Mark J. P. Wolf

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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Unlike “firsts”, which do not change except in rare cases where earlier instances are discovered, many “lasts” can change if old technologies are reused after a period of dormancy or supposed death, and many never completely disappear from use. For example, while the production of daguerreotypes largely declined in the 1860s, they have never died out entirely, and there are still artists today who produce them; a 2009 exhibition in Bry Sur Marne, France, featured 182 images by 44 artists, and the 2013 ImageObject exhibition in New York City featured 75 images by 33 artists. Although shellac records stopped being made soon after World War II, 78 rpm records still occasionally reappear in special releases, and although they are usually made of vinyl, there is nothing to stop a company from producing a shellac record again. Just as technologies disappear when demand for them wanes, popular demand can cause an old technology to make a comeback, such as when Kodak Alaris announced on January 5, 2017 that Ektachrome would be returning in both 35mm and Super 8 formats. Thus, obsolescence might not mean death but only dormancy, or simply a fall from dominance that ends mass production and widespread usage. Below, undated entries appear at the beginning of the entry for each year, whereas dated ones are listed in order of occurrence. I would like to thank Jason Curtis for his help in making this list, and more information on some of the technologies mentioned below can be found at Curtis’s online Museum of Obsolete Media (, an excellent resource with over 525 samples of obsolete media in the museum’s collection.

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