I wandered through an antique store today. There were lots of examples of long out of date technology, but I was especially taken by the Edison cylinder players.
I seem to have a complex emotional reaction to these machines. On the one hand, of course, I look at them and I think “how quaint”. After all, they predate even phonograph records, which are stackable and therefore far more practical.
On the other hand, the Edison cylinder is the very first of its kind: A way to reliably record music and speech so that it can be listened to later.
It is the most primitive and therefore quaint example of sound recording, yet also the most far-reaching and brilliant break from everything that had come before. A physical manifestation of the very first moments of a brand new future.
I guess that’s true of the very first example of any truly disruptive technology: Lenoir’s engine, the Fleming Valve, Shockley’s transistor, Sutherland’s “Sword of Damocles”. By today’s standards they seem weirdly primitive.
Yet such artifacts are, in fact, the very definition of the cutting edge: The precise moment when everything changes.