Monday, July 30, 2012


The other day, when I was passing by a big pile of unnecessary "trash" that my department had thrown out, I saw some things which reminded me of a bygone era.

Those bookshelves go from the floor right up to the ceiling
The first was a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica. The hard bound off-white volumes with glittering gold lettering held me spellbound for some time and as I picked up a book and thumbed through its pages savouring every word and every picture, it made me more than a little sad. It was indeed ironic that the first time I was holding a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica in my hand, it was picked up from trash. Many people would probably call the books a little old; they had been printed in 1963. I have, however, grown up in a house where books printed in 1963 would be considered fairly new. I have spent so many hours since my early childhood turning the pages of much older books that I am never unnerved by cloth-bound heavy volumes with dusty smell and silverfish crawling in and out. These books didn't even have silverfish!

I shook my head and put the book down again. Hopefully someone somewhere will find some use for this amazing collection of facts. I have outlived the era of large paper books. I have too short an attention span now to actually search things from a 30-volume encyclopedia if I cannot use Ctrl+F. Google has replaced all my reference books now. Besides, I don't have space in my apartment.

The other two things that I picked up from that pile of discarded junk were these.
All the storage that one could ask for in the early to mid-90s.

I am old enough to remember a time when I actually used that large black thing. It is an original "floppy" disk.  It could hold a full 1.2 megabytes of data and that was way more than whatever I owned in the world. It wasn't too little - an operating system, a BASIC interpreter, a folder full of BASIC programs and a few games, and an utility called Banner Mania that could print beautiful banners across connected sheets of dot-matrix paper. And I had another one to act as a backup copy. What if I needed to copy data from one to the other one? That was well, interesting, because the computers in our lab had just one floppy drive and no hard disk, and their RAM was about 640 kilobytes. One had to insert disk 1 and disk 2 alternately several times before the backup was completed.

We thought this was the height of technological advancement. You could copy all that stuff in a flat disk that could be carried inside a notebook? Wow!

A friend who is a few years younger to me and who had actually pointed out that floppy disk to me had never seen a large floppy disk. But she was familiar with the other object in that photo: the 3.5" micro floppy disk. I still remember what my father had said the first time he brought one of those home from office. "This little thing could contain the whole Mahabharata," he had said. 1.44MB was big deal in the mid-90s. In college, I used to walk around with a box of 10 of those. I would need to split up any larger file that I wanted to copy into several 1.44MB sized  parts, but that was the norm. And then, a disk containing one of those parts would refuse to be read, and I would feel like throwing the desktop down from the building.

The next few years were a blur. Floppies were gradually replaced by writable CDs, then rewritable CDs, then rewritable DVDs and finally by USB flash drives. Today, I have over 4 Terabytes of external hard disk space in my house and I feel I need more storage. I keep a 1.5 TB hard drive in my bag in place of the box of floppies. More convenient, and it takes less space too. It can easily store over a thousand Encyclopedia Britannicas, and another thousand copies of the Mahabharata as well I suppose.

Just that I don't have time to read the Encyclopedia Britannica anymore. I hope someday I will find the time to read the unabridged Mahabharata. Till then, I'll fill up all that storage with stupid videos and funny pictures from the Internet.


  1. A very nice post Sugata da. But you really used to copy data like the way you mentioned? And why did you carry box of floppies in your undergrad days when there were CDs available I believe?

  2. by the way, very cute picture :)

  3. yes you are true and the span for becoming nostalgic also becoming less as the technology is changing very fast and alongwith people, their feelings. habits and traits. You are a matured writer now. Love. Anandakaku.

  4. Sugata, I clearly remember those black square things. I used to be very intimidated by them. Much more awe-inspiring than these silly pen-drives, no?

  5. @Atreyee: In the early 2000s, the once-writable CDs were about ₹20-25 each. The rewritable ones were about ₹60. That is costly for a college student. But the main problem was that CD writers were hard to come by. In the first two years of my college only one guy in the senior batch had it and maybe one or two of my batchmates. So I could not use CDs. Later, of course, it became the norm.

    @Anandakaku: True, we have seen a very big change in technology in the last two decades.

    @Kuntala: I won't call pen-drives "silly" considering their convenience, but yes, the floppies definitely looked more "science-y" and awe-inspiring.

  6. A few months back I threw out a pack of those micro floppies (remnants from undergrad days)...I don't even have a device to read them anymore. But just for nostalgia's sake, I kept the plastic box (in which I used to carry 10 of those things just like you) and one floppy drive.

  7. @Anyesha: Yes, when I see an 8GB or 16GB SD card or USB drive, I just think how things have changed. By the way, these abandoned micro-floppy disks can be used as geeky-looking tea-coasters, and five of them can be joined to make a pen-stand. I tried that too.

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