Obsolete Technology in Unicode

by @edent | # # # | 6 comments | Read ~379 times.

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 (๐Ÿ†). 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.
๐Ÿ–ญ ๐Ÿ“ผ
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...

Floppy Disks

One is an emoji, the others are mere symbols.
๐Ÿ’พ ๐Ÿ–ซ ๐Ÿ–ช ๐Ÿ–ฌ
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 3ยฝ-inch disks. There's also a "soft shell" disk - which could be a 5ยผ-inch or the even older 8-inch.

CD and DVD

๐Ÿ’ฟ ๐Ÿ“€

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

๐Ÿ“Ÿ ๐Ÿ“  ๐Ÿ–ท

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...


๐Ÿ•พ ๐Ÿ•ฟ โ˜ โ˜Ž
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!

๐Ÿ“ž ๐Ÿ•ป ๐Ÿ•ฝ โœ† ๐Ÿ•ผ

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 -โ…ง - despite that empire crumbling hundreds of years ago.

The Kharosthi script vanished in the 6th century.
๐ฉ” ๐ฉ• ๐ฉ– ๐ฉ— ๐ฉ˜

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.

6 thoughts on “Obsolete Technology in Unicode

  1. mike says:

    Was it really common for people to keep their modem under their phone and that's why it merits a unicode character representing such? I remember external modems, but I don't remember them being under phones. If there's a unicode character for that, why not one for a phone receiver in an acoustic coupler? ๐Ÿ˜€

    People using Linux who can't see the Kharosthi script characters may want to look in repos for a package with damase on the name. In Fedora repos it's umph-2b-damase-fonts.

    1. rik says:

      "Was it really common for people to keep their modem under their phone"

      Yes. This stems from how they were originally implemented - they had a speaker and a microphone, and you sat the handset in it - speaker to microphone and microphone to speaker. The modem modulated data out of the computer into sounds, and played them into the microphone of the handset, and demodulated the data out of the sounds played back by the speaker in the handset back to the computer.

      1. mike says:

        It's only just occurred to me that what I've always referred to as an acoustic coupler is a modem. The acoustic coupler is just the bit of the modem that connects to the phone line. Don't think I've ever seen one in person, but I've watched Matthew Broderick use one to play global thermonuclear war. ๐Ÿ˜€ I guess if you're someone who was used to having a phone and acoustic coupler modem and that gets replaced by a modem that plugs in to the phone line directly, why not keep the phone where it is and tuck the new modem under it.

      2. Yeah, an acoustic coupler style modem. Like with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy in War Games!

  2. Katie says:

    Not so long ago (just over a decade), my son had to get tested for late-language development. One of the tests involved them showing him flashcards of extremely simple black and white symbols and getting some sort of reaction out of him. He wasnโ€™t talking, so there was a lot of miming and mimicking sounds.

    So, they showed him a bird, and he mimicked flapping his wings. The showed him a bed and he pretended to sleep. They showed him a ball and he found a ball out of the basket of toys in the corner.

    And then they showed him a phone. It was an icon of corded phone where the receiver was on top and the numbers were dialed. He stared at it, utterly confused. The tester tried to prompt him. โ€œWhat sound does this make? What would you do with it?โ€

    Finally, I dug in my purse, found my cell phone, and had her ask the same questions, which he gamely answered. The tester laughed when she realized that heโ€™d never seen a phone like this one, and had probably never seen a corded phone in use. She ended up throwing the card in the trash since she was pretty sure it would just confuse any other preschooler that walked in the door.

  3. Dan Appelquist says:

    Many of these don't seem to render in either Firefox or Safari on Macโ€ฆ? Weird.

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