Floppy Disks: A Eulogy

Geek Culture

Photo © Saulo Pratti; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.Photo © Saulo Pratti; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.

Photo © Saulo Pratti; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.

I can’t remember when I last touched or even saw a floppy disk. Do you? Can we in truth say we knew the floppy disk was still alive that we might mourn its death now? The floppy disk had become an old pair of shoes, their soles and laces so worn out as to be useless, but with enough memories invested in them that throwing them out would give us pause.

I remember when floppy disks were actually floppy. I’m not quite old enough to recall the eight-inch ones, but oh, yes, I remember the five-and-a-quarter inch ones very well. My family’s first computer, bought when I was all of nine (I think) had two such floppy drives but no hard drive at all. I well recall the protective paper sleeves, the care not to bend the disk as you put it in the drive, the notch on the side that you had to cover with tape if you wanted to write protect the disk, having to pull a plastic switch to close the drive. I remember the pride I felt labeling a disk with the first Turbo Pascal programs I ever wrote. Of course, I had to write out the label before putting it on the disk so I wouldn’t damage the fragile plastic sheath. And I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time.

Yeah, floppies were pretty much a pain in the butt, weren’t they? Transporting them was always a pain because once you bent one even a little too far your odds of being able to use it again were slim to none. I remember the first Infocom game I got that required more than one disk, so partway through I had to swap them. I remember trying to — very carefully! — cut a notch into a distribution disk so I could reuse it. I remember my elementary school’s Atari 800s, whose floppy drives always sounded like they were grinding the disk into powder.

And then the three-and-a-half inch disks took over, and there was much rejoicing (yay!). Smaller, more durable, and with much greater capacity — the older, bigger, floppier ones didn’t stand a chance. By the time I was in high school anyone who hadn’t grown up with computers had no idea what a 5¼ drive was for: I recall at least two times when a student in one of the school computer labs put a CD in a 5¼ drive and, in trying to close the drive, broke the CD into pieces inside it.

Still, the memory of 3½ disks that sticks with me the most is having to install Microsoft Office on my work PC off of them. Thirty-two of them. Thirty-two of them that I had to sit there and swap, back and forth, making sure to keep them organized. For about two hours, that felt more like six. And I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to work, too.

So, do you feel like showing your age, too? What are your floppy memories? When do you think enough people will be confused by the little 3½-inch disk icon that’s so often used for “save” functions that it’ll have to be changed? And is it strange to have nostalgia for something you would never actually want to use again?

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!