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Remember AOL disks?

If you owned a mailbox in the late 1990s or early-2000s, you know what I mean, because America Online‘s aggressive direct mail strategy probably distributed CD-ROMs and diskettes into it with irritating frequency.

More than a billion disks were mailed between the late 1990s and 2006, when AOL stopped the mass mailing. Or mass irritation. However you look at it.

In fact, the end of that era likely came without you being aware that is was, in fact, the end of an era.

But that’s how evolution is, right? One day you have to bungee-wrap your trash cans against the bands of wild animals foraging outside your cave. And the next thing you know you can’t remember the last time you saw a mastodon happen by.

Things change.

Technology evolves.

And suddenly you’re dealing with a whole different set of problems.

When was the last time you got a busy signal? Or went on (or heard of anyone else going on) a true “blind date”? When was the last time you looked up a number in a phone book? Had one of your kid’s friends call the house phone? PC World compiles a list of these and other obsolete things here.

Which brings me to the real point of this post.

The other day I unearthed the item pictured below from an old desk drawer. It didn’t seem that foreign an object to me, but my 12-year-old daughter had no idea what it was.

“Is it some kind of violin bow?” she asked.

But you guys know what it is… right? Anyone…? (Shout it out below!)



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47 Responses to Today’s Guessing Game: What Is It?

  1. I know it's a cartridge for either a printer or an electric typewriter, but I have no idea which make or model.

  2. katybeth says:

    Type writer ribbon? Maybe for one of those cool IBM select type writers that was “self correcting.”

    Right or Wrong, makes me smile to have you show up in my In-Box (always),

  3. doughaslam says:

    Definitely a printer cartridge (rather than typewriter). Probably for either a Brother or Epson printer. What do I win?

  4. Bryan says:

    Yup, it's a dot matrix printer cartridge.

    I too love your posts — thanks for writing them!

  5. Bryan says:

    Yup, it's a dot matrix printer cartridge.

    I too love your posts — thanks for writing them!

  6. annhandley says:

    You know, I was convinced it was a typewriter cartridge for my first electric typewriter… but now I'm not so sure. It just *might* be a dot-matrix thing…

    Or a violin bow.

    Or a rotary dial phone.

  7. mark says:

    Printer ribbon? Typewriter ribbon? Q32 Space Modulator?? I give up!

  8. chefvictoria says:

    inmac typewritter ribbon

  9. ronploof says:

    I once showed my son a vinyl record and asked him if he knew what it was. He nodded, took the disc, and tossed it across the living room like a Frisbee.

  10. zil says:

    I know I know!! – it's a printer ribbon – the typewriter ribbons were round and had black on the top and red on the bottom – yes, I remember and you reminded me of others – no fights in our house about the phone and Jeff and I were just talking about how we wish the kids called so we could have those friendly parent/friend chats… our kids are missing out on developing those social skills!

  11. christiangulliksen says:

    Wow, antique printing accoutrements! It's making me think of those golf-ball-shaped IBM typewriter thingies.

  12. I'll have to go with typewriter ribbon, too. I think my husband dated me because I had an electric typewriter with a corrector ribbon! (The appeal of that would really puzzle your daughter…and mine!)

  13. LeAnn says:

    It's definitely a dot matrix printer ribbon. I had one of those back in the day.

  14. David Reich says:

    It's a dot matrix printer ribbon.

    Ann, this post is showing your age. I'm a lot older than you, and it makes me feel better to see a kid like you get nostalgic too about the things from “the old days.”

  15. David Reich says:

    It's a dot matrix printer ribbon.

    Ann, this post is showing your age. I'm a lot older than you, and it makes me feel better to see a kid like you get nostalgic too about the things from “the old days.”

  16. Livepath says:

    I thought perhaps that was a Brother Typewriter cartridge… you know — the bleeding edge digital ones, that could wipe out typos?

    Ahhh the AOL discs. They were still producing them when I consulted there in 2004/5. We had always called those discs “coasters” because that's what we set our coffee on. They are filling up landfills all over this country. Lovely!

    Hey – Annie — I have an AOL Road Show 1993 shirt in my drawer somewhere. It's a bit faded. Do you think it's worth anything on eBay?

    All this talk of relics makes you wonder what people think when they dig us up in the excavation somewhere in the future. My guess: lots of eye rolling.

  17. farayikambarami says:

    It is a printer cartridge and I must say that in this part of the world this sort of cartridge, though quite endangered has not entered the list of extinct gadgets….

  18. Ed Martin says:

    Wow, haven't seen one of those for ever. It is for a dot matrix printer. I think I even have one of the refill ribbons you could put into the cartridge when it dried out. Anybody remember doing that? Messy, especially if the ribbon started to unfold, but cheaper than a new cartridge
    Thanks for reminding us what we're missing

  19. Beccy says:

    OK so this reminded me of when the girls I helped a sick friend out by getting her recently inherited car inspected. There we were riding down 95 with the girls rolling the windows down and up with the hand crank. They thought that was the coolest thing they had ever seen…after of course I explained what it was…

    PS. Happy Birthday!

  20. annhandley says:

    I get that.. a girl with a corrector ribbon is HAWT! ; )

  21. annhandley says:

    The whole concept of a hand-crank car window is completely foreign… that little bit of obsoleteness belongs on the PC World list along with rotary phones, etc.!

  22. annhandley says:

    Yeah, well.. it *WAS* my birthday yesterday. So there you go.

  23. Skyle says:

    Ha ha omg–I've seen this before, it's a dot matrix cartridge?!

    Fun post Ann, thanks.

  24. tonyfaustino says:

    I haven't looked at any of the other comments so here's my guess. It looks a lot like one of those printer ribbons from an old dot matrix computer. Something tells me it was from the old Epson line. Ok, I'm submitting my comment now and going to scroll down to see if I even came close …

  25. markcampanale says:

    As always – wonderful post! My IT dept has one of these as a 'trophy of the fallen'!

  26. Joe Cascio says:

    It's a typewriter or printer ribbon cartridge, right?

  27. tonyfaustino says:

    How cool. Happy Belated Birthday Ann!

  28. Ha ha. I should go down to the basement and unearth some things…

  29. Joe Cascio says:

    The appropriate prize would be that pristinely useless item itself.

  30. Nice! I could have used one of these last week when I was scrounging for junk, helping my son make a robot costume for Halloween. It would have worked nicely alongside something called a “floppy disk drive” that I ripped open for parts.

  31. mickey says:

    it is a typewriter ribbon.

  32. annhandley says:

    Floppy what? What's that? ; )

  33. David Slatter says:

    Ah, the generation gap- I remember showing my kid a punch card and explaining I had used them to write computer programs (yes I was a geek in a former life). My daughter said “why would you need to write a program when you could just download it from the internet”.

  34. julieroads says:

    Wow – my first thought was a three hole punch…apparently I'm very wrong.

  35. Stuart says:

    You're all so very wrong … it's quite obviously an eye makeup application device for Goths. Or is it a pull out clothes line, but only for black clothes? Or is it a new ruler thing for measuring around corners? (don't panic, i do know what it is really)

  36. I'm going with: Inmac Black Fabric Dot Matrix Printer Ribbon, Model 2000. High tech stuff for it's time. [I'm an engineer, I love these things!]
    Check out the cool story on Inmac – remember them?

  37. CatPurry says:

    Looks like a printer ribbon to me. Gosh, I guess they are obsolete. Seen any 8″ diskettes lately? I remember when they were the newest geek claim to fame.

  38. It's an electronic typewriter or dot matrix printer ribbon. Where's that white tape corrector cartridge that goes with it?

    Can you believe I used to actually carry my old electronic typewriter to my college journalism classes rather than have to hand-write my in-class assignments (or use the ancient manual typewriters)? I guess I was craving a laptop even back in the day!

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  40. JamieLee says:

    Ann – I'm a day late to the party, but just had to stop by to tell you how much this made me smile. I thought I was all that back in college when I had one of those typewriters with the digital readout in the teeny tiny window. Oh, the memories. Wow. 😉
    BTW – happy belated!

  41. bDot says:

    Ann, Along with all of the great guesses from your loyal followers, I'm wondering why no one mentioned you should clean your desk out a little more often. I guess every 20 years or so works for you. I think I lost a sock there a few years back, have you seen it?

  42. Penny says:

    I think it's a cleaner for an 8 track tape.

  43. riteshpatel says:

    Showed off as typewriter to my 17 yr old who declared 'Wow, instrant printing”. Amazing

  44. Hahaha!!! That's hilarious!

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  47. Printer ink cartridges says:

    It is a ribbon for ink..Old school printer or typewriter.

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