The term “Wayback Machine” is a droll reference to a plot device in an animated cartoon series that appeared on the groundbreaking animated Rocky and Bullwinkle Show  in the early 60’s, as Peabody’s Improbable History.

Lead characters Mr. Peabody (a professorial dog) and nerdy kid Sherman routinely used a time machine called the “WABAC machine” (pronounced “Wayback”) to witness, participate in, and, more often than not, alter famous events in history.

The 91 four-and-a-half-minute episodes always ended with atrocious puns (an American Asterix).

Rocky and Bullwinkle is known for quality writing and wry humor. Mixing puns, cultural and topical satire, and self-referential humor, it appealed to adults as well as children.”

The New York Times, 1989

It especially appealed to those of us child-adults who ‘came of age‘ during its heyday (1959-1964).

It influenced me tremendously.

But that’s another rant…


Quirky Factoids from an earlier time

I was already working in the interactive arena – with international clients –  when the IBM PC first appeared on the Market in 1981.

  • Many of the first pre-Web interactive ‘browsers‘ resided in the “trivial” gamebox systems of that moment in time.
  • I worked professionally during a period in which both broadcast TV and digital computing vied for ownership of the term “programming“.
  • I was doing independent  video long before YouTube and was in cable before there was anything called MTV (remember that?)
  • I patiently explained to my early interactive clients that  – although computers and TV screens looked alike – they actually weren’t.  But would be … soon.
  • I saw digital display screens first grow and multiply on the desktop … then shrink and morph into fashion accessories.

I am a repository of dead languages: Technologies come and go.  Fundamental needs remain.


Teletext: What it Was

1981-1989: The early 80’s saw the “first wave” of investment in consumer-oriented interactive online digital services, known at the time as “Videotex”.

The most “Web-like” of the new digital media applications were the online wired services. The connection of Videotex made it possible to offer a range of highly interactive market services.

There were also a range of slightly less interactive – but still highly dynamic –implementations of this exciting new platform in additional market areas, all of them employing what we would today call a “browser“.

Broadcast Teletext

One way to deliver mildly interactive information to the public was to embed the digital pages in the unused Vertical Blanking Interval (VBI) of a Broadcast Television channel, which could then be extracted and displayed when needed.

This technique is similar to how we do “closed captioning” on TV.

For Example: NBC Broadcast Teletext (1983)

For Example: WETA (PBS) (1981)


Another variation of Teletext was to fill an entire Cable TVchannel with digital pages that could be retrieved by a specialized “reader” device. Though it offered limited interactivity, cabletext allowed immediate access to thousands of pages of information a digital magazine via your settop cable box.

For Example: Time Teletext Cable Magazine (1983)

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
— Arthur C. Clarke



Artists give Teletext a new purpose

Glad to see that “The Museum of Teletext” has captured a moment in technology forThe Eternity Portal. The contemporary artist’s implementation of a ‘retro’ medium provides a unique set of new insights. Perception – like History – is based on Perspective.


It offers a simple, but very accessible User Interface, don’t you think?.

Ahhhh… memories…

This Winky Dink kit was a “career appropriate” ITP graduation gift from my buddy, Anne McKay who worked with me on the Bryant Park Redesign Project.





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