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What gadget will technology ‘kill’ next?

By | May 24th 2009

By Kenfrey Kiberenge

Albert Einstein once reckoned technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal. The man who came up with the theory of relativity has been justified, more than half a century after his death in 1955.

There is no stopping for the evolution of technology. What was considered a phenomenon a decade ago is now obsolete. For instance, a typewriter was a must

Gone are the days telecommunication was a preserve of the rich. The mobile phone has edged out landline in personal communication.

have for companies in 1970s and so was the Video Home Systems in 1990s. Today, computers, emails, mobile phones, CDs and DVDs are the things to marvel at. The big question though is whether they will withstand the storm.

Mr George Njoroge, the managing director of East African Data Handlers, predicts any technology that is bulky, stationary and has small storage capacity is on its deathbed.

"The trend is smaller and compact. People are looking for technology they migrate with. The issue here is mobility with technology," he said, adding technology evolves every two years.


The emergence of computer has rendered the typewriter almost obsolete. But lovers of typewriters argue that it is self-contained since a computer on its own cannot print and always need electric power to function. Most people aged below 10 years now might have to read about it as part of history.

While modern typewriters are electric, the majority of typewriters for decades were manual. You could also not play games on a typewriter or access the Internet or send email, neither can it be connected to a telephone line. The only machine that could be connected was the Telex, which is also obsolete.

The computer has rendered the typewriter obsolete. Photos: Courtesy

Mr Daniel Karanja of Seda Agencies, a company that deals with typewriter repairs and supplies, says business has greatly been affected. The company, he says, has since stopped selling typewriters because it is hard to get the modern ones.

Computers have made work easier; one person can finish work that needed hundreds of people and longer working hours.

A computer can form its own logical deductions based on input from the operator, a fact Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and his Education counterpart Sam Ongeri appeared to overlook when they blamed ‘errors’ in the mini-Budget and exam results on the computer.

A typewriter, on the other hand, cannot correct obvious errors without input from the operator and presumes every action is deliberate.

These are some of the reasons the world embraced the computer, almost immediately when it was introduced.

Computers have also evolved with the latest being a threat posed to desktops by laptops. The latter now enable one to work from the comfort of their vehicles or at home.

The snail mail

In the 20th century, posting a letter was the in-thing. For high school lovers, the words used to express love through a letter were one of the major tests for the intelligence of the boy or the girl. There were special foolscaps that had been specially made with some fancy colours and writings. It is actually said most schools had letter experts who had not only the expressions but also handwriting to match and whose services were engaged at a fee.

Job applicants had to keep checking their post office boxes for interview or job appointments. If a housewife was left in the rural home and fell ill, she had to write a letter and wait for weeks on end for the husband to reply or send money. People who did not have post office addresses were considered poor and outdated.

In addition, most correspondence in companies was also made through letters. Simply put, a letter was the in-thing.

Today, the world has changed. Save for Government offices that still insist on a physical letter while requesting for information, communication has been made easy via email. The electronic technology also allows users to send instant messages using chat services. And with the setting up of the fibre optic cable, we can only keep guessing where this technology will take us next.

Landline telephones

The effects of the mobile phones have not only been felt by landline phones but also cut across almost every area.

The post office, wrist watches makers, cyber cafÈ operators and the banking industry are still licking wounds following the entry of mobile phones.

Gone are the days when telecommunication was a preserve of the rich since they could have lines installed in their houses.

In the rural areas, the unlucky ones had to trek for long distances to make calls from a public booth and had to wait for long hours for calls from their relatives.

Statistics show that Kenya has more than 15 million mobile phone subscribers. In effect, anybody wishing to make a call does not have to go through the tedious process like it was a decade ago.

Landlines have now been left to companies, although mobile phone networks are also eating up into this space. Only conservatives still wear wristwatches, since phones are usually complete with a watch and an alarm. Mobile phone service providers have also enabled their subscribers to surf the Internet and send or read e-mails from their phones.

Social networking sites can also be accessed from the phones, thereby limiting visits to cyber cafÈs.

In the same breath, people prefer calling or sending an SMS (Short Message Service) to their loved ones to posting a letter. And the advent of mobile phone money transfer services — Safaricom’s M-Pesa and Zain’s Zap — has sent the banking industry back to the drawing board. For instance, M-Pesa boasts five million subscribers, which is far above the number of account holders in any local bank.

VHS tapes and players

What put Video Home Systems at a disadvantage to DVDs and VCDs was its bulkiness and cost. To start with, the size of the VHS player is almost three times bigger and heavier compared to DVD and VCD players. The aesthetic value added to a home by the latter two is also incomparable. The same case applies to the VHS tapes, which need a big space for storage, yet its memory size is the same as that of a VCD, while a DVD can be three times bigger.

On the other hand, the average cost of a VHS player is Sh8,000 while you can obtain a VCD player for as little as Sh2,500. An ‘empty’ VHS tape will cost you Sh500 yet with Sh6 you have a CD that you will use for the same purpose.

In most homes, VHS players have been condemned to the back of the cabinets with VCD and DVD players spotting the living rooms.


Audiocassettes have suffered the same fate as VHS tapes. CDs are the order of the day and anyone wishing to listen to good music must have a CD player. Only a few musicians are packaging music in cassettes, nowadays. Most people are actually using ‘home theatres’ which have just the CD and radio compartments. And even when a person buys a radio with a cassette compartment, it is rarely used.

Big memory and size have given the CD an edge. While a cassette can store a maximum of 16 songs each running for three minutes, a CD can accommodate up to 180 songs. In addition, the same space that stores four cassettes can accommodate more than 20 CDs. The latter can also be used in a computer while a cassette can only be used on a radio system with the specified compartment. Granted, it appears that CDs have taken a special part in the lives of most Kenyans and only time will tell what else will annex it.


It is official: the flash disk has superseded the diskette, also known as the floppy disk. With a capacity of 128KB (kilobyte), the floppy disk could not cope with the USB flash drives with a storage capacity of up to 128GB (gigabyte).

"You cannot compare the two. For instance, you can store a software on a flash disk which you can’t with a floppy disk," said Njoroge.

Some flash disks allow one million write or erase cycles and have 10-year data retention. They have a more compact shape, operate faster, hold much more data, have a more durable design, and operate more reliably due to their lack of moving parts. Additionally, it has become increasingly common for computers to be sold without floppy disk drives. USB ports, on the other hand, appear on almost every current mainstream PC and laptop. Of late, jewellery-like flash disks have been produced making it possible for people to use it for both a storage and artistic value.

Unlike, the floppy disks, the flash disks are not susceptible to computer viruses, which make them handy. At this rate, the diskette is in its sunset days.

The transistor radio (Medium Wave)

Remember those days when a radio had to be set at a particular direction for better reception? Days when a person standing between the radio and the direction of the airwaves would interrupt reception? Well, that is history.

With the entry of frequency modulation (FM) into the market, most Kenyans have forgotten the tedious process of tuning a station. Tuning in to a radio station is simple — at times remote controlled — since all one needs is an antenna. Save for state owned radio stations such as KBC English and Kiswahili service — which are also on FM — all other radio stations have not bothered to use the Medium Wave. Kenyans now enjoy better reception of radio airwaves.


Although the Walkman is still popular in rural areas, the same is nearing extinction among urbanites. The audio cassette player was popular towards the end of the last century as it introduced a change in music listening habits, allowing people to carry their own choice of music with them.

But since the introduction of the iPod, MP3, MP4, polyphonic mobile phones and now iPhones, the Walkman is under threat. The latter are smaller, portable and can store many songs. In September last year, the iPod was the best-selling digital audio player series. More than 173 million pieces were sold worldwide, barely five years after its launch in 2003. Some iPods can take up to 1,000 songs at time.


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