Last week, I tweeted
I am looking for examples of technologies that were deployed in a widespread way and reversed, so that the earlier technology resumed its pre-eminence (or nearly). (Like what if we abandoned mobiles and went back to landline phones). Can we wind the clock back?
I was thinking of transport cases, which a number of commenters suggested, like streetcars (trams, LRT) which were once dominant in cities, and then faded in importance, and are seeing some resurgence, but nowhere near original levels. Concomitantly autos in central cities, after decades of growth, are now losing mode share. But these have not gone all the way back to the status quo ante-auto.
Perhaps there were other situations we could point to.
This was a surprisingly popular tweet (110 comments to date, well above average). I have not linked to the original poster, though you can track it down through replies to the Twitter link, but to be clear, these are not my ideas. Since Twitter is a mess, I have distilled and organized them below.
These do not constitute endorsement, more as prospective cases to evaluate, in some cases I have comments. This is more than enough cases for someone to write a dissertation on.
I am not clear how many of them hold to the original request of being fully reversed and the technology before the technology being restored. Also I would not say these reverted cases are necessarily failed technologies, in that they persisted in many cases for decades or centuries. And of course, technologies never really die, but they do fade away.
The ones I really like (in that I think they are really good fits to the question) are bolded.
- Gunpowder in feudal Japan [link – Noel Perrin, Giving up the gun]
- Chemical weapons
- Anti-personnel land mines
- Nuclear power [still a lot of it, and is replaced by renewables rather than fossil fuels]
- Leaded gasoline
Food / Agriculture
- Full fat products and real sugar vs low fat and sugar
- Butter vs. Margarine (But see link )
- Slow Food movement
- Organic Foods
- Coke/New Coke
- Ovens/microwaves/ovens [microwaves still seem really useful to me]
- Baby formula
- Frozen/Fresh juice,
- Macro breweries
- The return to Instant Coffee
- High fructose corn syrup
- Paper Ballots/ Electronic voting / Paper Ballots
- Voter suppression (though this is extremely cynical, many places are reinventing the tools of suppression)
- Vinyl records
- Pre-lit Christmas trees
- 3D Movies
- Lobotomies (not really widespread though)
- Shock therapy (not really widespread though)
- Withdrawn drugs (link)
Information and Communications Technologies
- Writing/No Writing/Writing (e.g. Greeks)
- MS Windows Vista vs. XP (etc.)
- Laptops in the classroom
- Ebooks vs. Physical books (link)
- Browser plugins (Flash/no Flash / Web VR)
- Over-the-air/Cable TV/Over-the-air (HDTV/Freeview)
- Two-way radio (walkie-talkie) / Cell / Two-way radio (in select applications)
- The rise of Emoticons/Emoji to replace words
Appliances and Household Goods
- Electric Can-openers
- Electric blankets
- Dryers/Clothes lines
- Wall-to-wall carpeting
- Chamber pots / Roman plumbing /chamber pots again until 1800s
- Paper bags/Plastic bags/Paper bags
- Gas ovens (fire) / Electric ovens / Gas ovens
- Analog watches/Digital watches/analog watches/smart watches
- Copper/Aluminum/Copper for electrical wiring
Chemicals and Materials
- CFCs (though replaced with different technology than went before)
- Smoking (replaced by the technology of not smoking)
- Lead paint
- Coined money
- The re-emergence of home deliveries, especially food.
- The rise of EVs (but EVs were hardly a dominant technology c. 1900-1915) [link]
- Trails / Roman road building / trails (until mid 1800s European roads were of lesser quality than those almost 2000 years previous)
- No aqueducts/Aqueducts/No aqueducts/Aqueducts
- Large ocean-going ships in China [Zheng He]
- Double-hulled transoceanic vessels in Hawaii
- Single use rockets/Space shuttle/single use rockets
- Concorde/SST/Tupolev Tu-144 (but SST was never really widespread, less than 1% of aviation market share)
- Cycling is making a comeback, especially bikesharing (still really small market share in North America and Australia, but in China this seems a big deal)
- Trolleys/LRT is making a comeback (also small market share)
- Time machines. They were everywhere for a few years until someone went back and killed the inventor. Now we have none.