As evidenced by our progression from the printing press (which allowed us to disseminate information like never before, and which we immediately used to disseminate naked butts) to the internet (which allowed us to disseminate information like never before, and which we immediately used to disseminate naked butts), humanity is constantly advancing technology in astounding ways (and then using it to look at naked butts). But is there anything truly new, or have we just been coming up with slight improvements in butt technology since the Stone Age? Perhaps …
Virtual Reality Predates The Vietnam War
From Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in the ’90s to today’s cat-friendly Google Cardboard, brilliant minds are continually striving toward realistic virtual experiences. And the public at large responds by virtually ignoring that shit altogether. This cycle has been going on for much longer than you think: Way back when Elvis was rockin’ the jailhouse and everyone’s grandpa still referred to the TV as the “picture radio,” Morton Heilig became the “Father of Virtual Reality” with the aptly named Sensorama — a simulator that allowed you to experience the sensation of riding a motorcycle without all the pesky accompanying coolness.
And like the Virtual Boy, there’s only one color.
The Sensorama consisted of two viewing holes beneath a hooded canopy, with air vents capable of blowing a convincing breeze through a viewer’s hair. Said viewer paid up in quarters or tokens to experience one of several short 3D films captured by Heilig on the 3D camera he designed and built himself. Available choices ranged from riding a motorcycle to driving a dune buggy to being a Coca-Cola bottle (likely not the only coke that went into that particular film’s production) to watching a belly dancer — a raunchy little number complete with the aroma of cheap perfume. The Sensorama also featured a vibrating seat, which would have come in quite handy for at least one of those films.
When discussing technology, the countdown to porn is invariably a short one.
As you’ve probably already predicted, the Sensorama flopped, and the prototype ended up rusting beneath a tarp next to Heilig’s pool. (Yeah, don’t feel too bad for Heilig. He worked as a consultant for Disney and won the Auteur’s Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974. Also, dude had a pool.) Not one to be deterred, he also invented the Telesphere Mask in 1960. Similar to the Oculus Rift that we know (and barely care about) today, the Telesphere allowed you to strap miniaturized TV tubes onto your face and be bombarded by sights, sounds, scents, and breezes. Sadly, like the Sensorama before it, the invention bombed. When Heilig’s widow recently attempted to donate it to a museum, they “wouldn’t even take it for free,” presumably due to the possibility of infecting their visitors with some sort of eyeball disease.
“Wow, it’s like you can really feel the pinkeye!”
“Portable” Music Players Predate The Walkman By Decades
That sleek smartphone cultivating toilet germs in your pants right now allows you instant access to the entirety of Enya’s back catalog, and we take it for granted. It’s so easy to forget the brick of ingenuity that was the first-generation iPod. Featuring a screen straight off the original Game Boy, this sucker provided the soundtrack for your workout routine and doubled as a free weight.
Aaron Logan/Wiki Commons
Remember when people needed a wheelbarrow to steal one of these?
And yet it looks downright clunky compared to the early 20th-century Mikiphone:
Designed by Swiss masters of miniature machinery in 1924, up to 180,000 of these early portable music devices were produced. The Mikiphone was around the size of a can of snuff, but to be fair, the device’s compactness belied its true shape when in use. Opening its tin resulted in a waterfall of tiny parts, the assembly of which required a master’s degree in goddamned Lego.
Assuming you managed to assemble it into something resembling a record player rather than accidentally building a spring-loaded fragmentation grenade, the Mikiphone could pump out as many hours of musical enjoyment as your arm could handle (it was hand-cranked, having existed well before battery-operated devices became the norm). The device’s biggest shortcoming, however (and the likely reason it was only produced for three years) is that it’s not the size of your player that counts — it’s the size of your 10-inch records.
The First Animators Were Cavemen
Animation goes back much farther than those awkward black and white cartoons wherein a shark-eyed Mickey does the hula for 20 minutes. Much farther.
When early archaeologists first discovered France’s Lascaux Cave, they didn’t pay much mind to the small grease lamps they found throughout it, gathering them up and cataloging them without noting their placements within the cave. Only when the lamps were later reconstructed did it become clear that they each threw about a 10-foot circle of light onto the cave walls — which happens to match up quite well with the size of the Paleolithic cave paintings.
Further study by experts, such as Lascaux curator Jean-Michel Geneste and his counterpart at Spain’s El Castillo cave, Roberto Peredo, revealed that the odd inconsistencies in size, placement, and anatomy of the cave paintings weren’t because early artists were “teh suck” — they just had an impressive understanding of how animation works. Combine the low-light conditions and baffling jumble of heads, limbs, and horrific fangs with the flickering light of a projected flame, and suddenly the paintings come to life.
Imagine animating an episode of The Simpsons like this?
We never saw it before because we were viewing them as static images lit by the harsh light of a camera flash. And because we have better things to do than sit in caves and stare at stick figures. Like sit in our homes and watch cartoons — it’s a totally different thing.
Knockoff Brands Were Prevalent In The Viking Age
Our fascination with name brands is much older than you might think. A full millennia older, to be exact. The impressively bearded warriors of the Viking Age knew that nothing lopped the heads off of your enemies quite like a designer-quality Ulfberht sword.
Despite the remaining specimens looking like something you’d throw away in Skyrim, these blades were the Mercedes of their day. Theories on how the mysterious Ulfberht managed to forge these nigh-magical blades — which boasted strength and durability unmatched by even modern carbon steel — range from the smith’s use of crucible steel imported from the Middle East (known for its remarkably high carbon content) to a happy periodic accident allowing a particular region of Europe to produce super-ore.
Of course, that’s assuming the sword in question is a genuine Ulfberht. Once the swords caught on, Vikings were scrambling after them like Schwarzeneggers after Turbo-Men. Nefarious sword makers cashed in on the craze by forging their own knockoffs — it’s now thought that the majority of the so-called Ulfberht swords surviving today are fakes. Of course, that’s easy to determine nowadays, by way of testing their chemical composition, but that wasn’t always the case. When they were new, a warrior would only find out his sword was a knockoff when it shattered in battle. Yeah, the stakes used to be a lot higher than finding out your watch was actually a Rolox when the girls laughed you out of the yacht club.
The Telephone Is Twice As Old As The Inca Empire
The world became noticeably smaller the moment Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call. And it became progressively smaller with each iteration of phone technology, as cellphones snipped our wires and smartphones greatly enhanced our ability to paste dog snouts onto photos of our genitals. Of course, that’s all the culmination of technology started over 1,200 years ago, with this gourd-and-twine telephone discovered during the excavation of an ancient Chimu site in northern Peru:
Having predated the Inca Empire, the Chimu were known for their startling advances in engineering, despite their lack of written language. Sadly, that also means there’s no way to be certain what the device was used for. Ordering adorable takeout? Summoning some ancient Peruvian Batman? Anthropologists like Ramiro Matos offer a more … educated guess: The Chimu being a “top-down society” much like the Inca (who would eventually conquer them), the device was likely used for a lowlier member of society — say, a servant — to speak with a higher member — say, a priest — without said higher member ever having to endure the disgrace of looking at an inferior human. Yes, even in their earliest incarnations, it kind of sucked to get telephone calls.
Effects-Heavy Blockbusters Predate Movies
A movie might lack a script until eight weeks into shooting and swap out the lead actors in editing, but so long as its special effects budget is up to snuff, it’ll rake in enough cash to keep the soulless gears of Hollywood turning. It’s a complaint you’ve no doubt heard before. And so did your distant ancestors, because it’s been circulating since the Victorian period, when droves of working-class folks streamed into theaters to watch “dazzling recreations of battles (including live horses onstage), floods, fires, and shipwrecks.”
The 1867 play Under The Gaslight, for instance, featured the hero being tied to the tracks of an onrushing train (he’s rescued by the heroine, thereby demonstrating that Victorians were ahead of the curve in more than one respect). The production was a smash hit in the U.S., and its playwright, John Augustin Daly, became synonymous with the special effect, making it sort of the Michael Bay explosion of its day.
Such melodramas were considered “illegitimate” theater (i.e. not the type of play that was permitted in official, or patent, theaters). By the late 19th century, however, the line between legitimate and illegitimate theater became blurred, to the point where a production such as Ben-Hur — which employed cutting-edge technology to depict scenes ranging from a shipwreck to a chariot race onstage — became the hottest ticket in the goddamned world.
Critics, of course, railed against this apparent collapse in the legitimacy of entertainment. One critic for The Times declared Ben-Hur so lacking in substance that “the best plan would really be to dispense with dialogue altogether, and to give it as a series of tableaux vivants with a little dumb-show action in between.”
And that long-dead critic unknowingly wrote the first draft for 300. He’s probably spinning in his grave right now. In extra-slow motion.
Laura H has considered her options and decided to go insane. Follow her on Twitter.
It’s Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it’s a chore to wonder if there’s even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month’s live podcast Jack O’Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.
Get your tickets here:
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