A short meander through some of the more obscure miscellany within Unicode. Languages hang around far longer than there are native speakers, and symbols get reused and repurposed (🍆). Here are some of the delightfully old-fashioned symbols hidden in your thoroughly modern smartphone.
Long before solid-state drives, we used to record data on long thin strips of magnetic tape.
I’m sure there’s a hipster somewhere who only listens to Kraftwerk on C90 cassettes, and claims that the image quality on Twin Peaks is superior on NTSC VHS tapes – but these have all-but died out now.
If you’ve ever watched an old episode of the original Star Trek, you’ll be familiar with this, the Tape Drive:
I’ll bet there’s a 3D printed one you can hook up to the GPIO pins of your Raspberry Pi – but tape has bitten the dust. Much like…
One is an emoji, the others are mere symbols.
💾 🖫 🖪 🖬
Commonly used as a “save” icon, even though the iMac first killed off the disk drive in 1998.
You get white and black “hard shell” disks – more commonly known as 3½-inch disks. There’s also a “soft shell” disk – which could be a 5¼-inch or the even older 8-inch.
CD and DVD
Not quite as obsolete as the magnetic tape – but not far off.
1F4BF is supposed to be a generic “optical disc” but is usually depicted as a CD. Just for fun, there’s a separate Optical Disc Icon which is not an emoji:
I suppose we should be grateful that HD-DVD and LaserDisc didn’t make the standard. Which brings us on to…
Some people charitably call this a disc-cartridge. But, no, the official name is MINIDISC. For those too young to remember, Sony’s MiniDisc was a proprietary, and inconsequential foray into digital music delivery.
If you are that young, you may be blissfully unaware of these two pieces of technology:
Pager and Fax Machines
📟 📠 🖷
The pager was never really a consumer item in the UK – not the way it was in the USA.
The fax machine is sort of a Shibboleth for everything wrong with an organisation. If you want to be scathing, insinuate that their company still relies on fax machines.
Fax also retains the rare distinction of being one of the few Unicode symbols which is represented by a whole word.
We’re getting more modern…
🕾 🕿 ☏ ☎
To most people, telephones aren’t a handset which rest atop of a base with touch-tone buttons. Rotary dial is extinct. For extra archaic points, there’s also a telephone perched atop a modem.
As for that receiver… There’s FIVE of them!
📞 🕻 🕽 ✆ 🕼
An emoji receiver, two regular receivers in different direction, a symbol to say there’s a phone nearby and, of course, a receiver with a page coming out of it. Back to bloody fax machines!
Finally, not quite obsolete yet, but there is a”clamshell” style flip-phone:
As a special bonus for making is this far through my digital spelunking, here’s the symbol for “telephone recorder”
No… I don’t know either…
Nothing is lost forever
Unicode is a repository for human communications. Some of the letters, languages, and scripts are going to die out. We still have Roman Numerals -Ⅷ – despite that empire crumbling hundreds of years ago.
The Kharosthi script vanished in the 6th century.
𐩔 𐩕 𐩖 𐩗 𐩘
But it is still there, in countless books, inscribed on coins, hewn into the living rock. And now preserved in Unicode.
Our toys and fads and emoji will fade away. This is not a cause for sadness, but rather joy. Joy that someone in millennia hence will be able to feel slightly closer to their ancestors by understanding our primitive pictorial language.