Tuesday, March 12, 2019

When technology fails

Today, I'm told, is the 30th anniversary of the birth of the World Wide Web.

What a wonderful invention that was. You wouldn't be reading blog post No. 4,222 of Night Owl Cards without it. Where would I be, where would my collection be, where would my bank account be (that's debatable) without good, old WWW.

That said, I'm fully prepared if this all breaks down tomorrow. I'm ready to collect by myself with a notebook and a pen, 1988-style, when somebody pulls the plug on the internet and we can't get it back. I'm prepared because I just plain expect technology to fail.

I think many of us are like that. We rely on technology. We think technology is great. We sing its praises. But underneath it all, we're waiting for it to fail. There is a well-known and immensely popular book titled "When Technology Fails," which is one of those lighthearted disaster-survival reads. There are oft-repeated throw-away lines about technology such as, "(insert gadget name) were made to fail." People expect technology to eventually be unreliable.

I expect my computer to fail ... someday. I had to upgrade my phone after less than four years of owning it and everyone thought that was a no-brainer decision. "They're made to fail." I'm perpetually surprised when I turn on my printer and it still works.

Cars, appliances, every gadget you can imagine, we're waiting for the day for when we flip that switch and ... nothing.

That's why when people laud baseball cards of the '90s for their "technology" and "innovation," I either ignore it or look at it side-eyed. Firstly, I've never collected cards for "technology" or "innovation." That '90s stuff can be fun, but I grew up believing a baseball card was a photograph slapped onto actual cardboard with some typewritten numbers on the back. That was innovation from the turn of the century -- the 19th century -- and I was fine with it. I AM fine with it.

Besides, I know, that eventually, technology will fail.

I have an example (of course I do).

In 1993, Topps introduced the world to Finest, a brand that brought us shiny cards and "refractors" and artificial scarcity.

Refractors were a new concept and they were introduced using the phrases "refractor technology" or "chromium technology." To this day, I don't know what that is. I know what it looks like, but I don't know how Topps makes chromium or refractors. Maybe it's because I was out of the card loop in the '90s and still am not that interested, or maybe it's some trade secret, but everything I read describes those Finest cards as consisting of "refractor technology" and that's where it stops.

Finest was so popular that it quickly branched out into other products, like the still-popular Chrome and things like Bowman's Best.

The first Bowman's Best set was issued in 1994, the year after Finest came out. Recently I receive most of the '94 Bowman's Best Dodgers set from Kerry of Cards on Cards.

Here are some of those cards. One of the "fails" of this particular technology is they still don't scan very well.

I had all of these cards already as I believe I own the full '94 Bowman's Best Dodgers set, save for the refractors, which can go for too much money.

But I'm glad I received a bunch of extras from this set because a couple of my Bowman's Best Dodgers look just a little off.

That's the '94 Bowman's Best Todd Hollandsworth that I owned before getting a nifty updated one from madding. Note the ghostly spread across his face and arm and hands. Creepy. My guess is this is caused by some sort of "technology breakdown," probably similar to when Kellogg's 3D cards crack. It's a little unpleasant.

I like this one much better. I will try to prevent it from getting the same disease as the previous Hollandsworth.

Here is an even scarier one:

Chan Ho Park's face has been fully consumed by whatever toxic plague infects '94 Bowman's Best. Part of me thought that this was just the way these cards were supposed to look -- given how odd the set is to me anyway.

But nope. After receiving this card from Cards on Cards and looking around a bit, I know that this is how the cards are supposed to look, when "chromium technology" doesn't fail.

Kerry also sent me some more recent Dodger needs, actually a few more traditional-type cards.

And here's another card I needed with that "chromium technology":

I scanned this card twice, because the first scan picked up on too much dirt on my scanner, which "chromium" cards do. And that scanned image still can't capture what chrome cards are all about -- the shine.

But I accept it. Technology is bound to fail, eventually. Sometimes you get lucky. My desktop computer is going on 11 years. (Yes, it has issues, which is why there's a laptop, too -- and a work computer -- and a phone).

And I'm happy to have this approach. I've seen too many people -- usually older people -- who get much too upset when technology fails -- or at least fails to do what they want it to do for them. This is mostly about the world passing them by, and me telling them "nothing is perfect, even technology" isn't going to soothe them.

But, really, that's just the way it is.

The card technology of today will eventually be the failure of tomorrow. The best you can hope for is a few good years that people will remember fondly when they look back. Maybe you'll get lucky and be considered "groundbreaking" or "a landmark."

You know, the way people do with Finest (I don't know if anyone does that with Bowman's Best).

And the way I do with baseball cards from the 1970s ... using that technology from 1887.


  1. I'm definitely OK if it fails. I have plenty of books to catch up on. Good post and history lesson.

  2. I'd be fine without technology, especially that of this millenia. Bring on the horse and buggies.

  3. There's nothing you can do to prevent that. It's totally random.

    One of my Prizm brand cards from Panini is coming apart. The front, chromium layer is separating from the middle, and back of the card. Turns out the backside of the chrome part looks like a mirror.

  4. Damn I thought they were all like that.My Jorge Posada RC Is forever tainted!

  5. As many of us do, I work in tech support. Any technology that doesn't fail is soon replaced with something inferior by the major companies in the name of "innovation". It's not a defect, it's a feature!
    I keep telling the guys in the warehouse next to us that this tech junk is going to annoy me enough one day that I'm going to chuck it all and come work with them.

  6. I know what you mean about expecting technology to fail. When I made my giant Red Sox checklist I created multiple copies of it. Not just one copy, I kept it in triplicate. I had the google doc, a digital one in Excel, and a printed out copy. (The printed copy barely fits in a 6" binder) After a couple years I quit updating the digital Excel copy. I have kept up the paper copy mostly up to date. I still mark off cards in it but I haven't added any new pages since 2012 or so.

  7. I don't watch TV. I watch baseball cards.

  8. I suppose I try to toe the line between enjoying technology and relying on technology. I don't think my life would crumble if all tech failed tomorrow. Plus stuff like seeing miles of people waiting outside the Apple store for the latest gadget really freaks me out.