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Tape Drives and Dummy Terminals

By Shamus
on Friday Dec 28, 2007
Filed under:
Nerd Culture


Rebecca talks about the “future” technology depicted in the 60’s and 70’s, which is filled with anachronistic (to us) devices like tape drives, blinky-light interfaces, and toggle-switch inputs. Hundreds of years in the future and they’re flying through space using technology leftover from the Apollo program.

She suggests that this should be a new form of “-punk”. Instead of Steampunk or Cyberpunk, we have some new kind of punk for 1970’s big iron mainframe-style computer tech. But what do you call this? Tape-punk makes it sound like MacGuyver, duct-taping alarm clocks to cans of cheese whiz to make cold fusion. What other name could we give to it? A name which sums up the stupid, clunky nature of the technology of the day.

Mainframe punk
DOS punk (I like this, but when mereged into a compound word it looks too much like “Do Spunk”. Doh!)
Digipunk (This would actually be more 80’s, whene everything was named “digital”.)
You-are-all-dressed-like-idiots-and-your-technological-morality-play-is-obvious-and-stupid punk? YAADLIAYTMPIOASPunk! (Not very catchy.)

Maybe some of the old-timers have better jargon. I was born in ’71, so my mid-century computer lingo isn’t really cutting it. It would be easier to come up with a name for 90’s level early internet tech, because we had heaps of cool (now dorky) buzzwords to work with.

So how about it – what would you call the 60’s and 70’s future tech if it were an ongoing genre or style the way Steampunk is today?

Comments (103)

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  1. Xiphos says:

    Flashpunk? Flash Gordon had all sorts of stuff like that. Plus, it has a double meaning with flashing lights, as well as meaning “stylish,” and implying something new, and that’s the sort of thing those old sci-fi things were about.

  2. MintSkittle says:

    I think Rebecca hit it on the head when she said it was retro, so I think “Retropunk” would fit well.

  3. Xiphos says:

    Oh, I thought of another one, StagnantPunk.

  4. Strangeite says:

    I don’t know if it needs to be called something-punk. In fact, whenever I think of that era of technology applied to the future, I think of Tomorrowland at Disney World. Even after the millions spent updating, it still has that retro feel. So my suggestion would be just Tomorrowland.

    However, if it needs to be something-punk, I propose HiFiPunk.

  5. VikingMonkey says:

    *shrugs* “That 70’s Punk”? Give me a break, I was born in ’79.

  6. Brian T says:

    After Herman Hollerith who is credited with inventing the Punch tabulating card; bettern known as the 80-column IBM punch card.

  7. Having lived through that era, and having begun getting paid for programming starting in 1974, the term we used for those kinds of mainframes was “big iron”.

  8. Uninverted says:

    Clunky Punk?

  9. Hamish says:

    How would you see this as distinct from Retro-futurism? How does this justify the suffix “punk”?

  10. Namfoodle says:

    I was born in ’68. I remember that my dad used to mess around with mainframes at work and would sometimes bring home old punch-cards for us to play with.
    Punch-card Punk?

    It’s alliterative.

    I thought the cards were pretty cool at first, but they weren’t actually that much fun to play with. Not much to do when compared to Tinker Toys and Lincon Logs.

    It’s amazing to me that they were used as an input device. I’ve got a 2 GB memory stick. I wonder how many cards it would take to hold that much data? If someone wants to do the math for me, go for it. ;^)

  11. Clyde says:


    8-track tapes were the perfect example of dinosaur technology that was ripe for extinction when better tech came along.

    In defense of those old TV shows and movies, they didn’t anticipate radical new technological changes in the short term, but that’s not easy to do. Most predicted futures either expect too much change or not enough. Sometimes they do both; Years ago, I read a book titled “Toolmaker Koan” by John McLaughlin, written in 1988 and set in 2031, with a spacefaring rivalry between the Communist bloc and the West. The space tech was far ahead of where we are now (and are likely to be 24 years hence), but the Soviets and their empire are long gone, making the book about as plausible as Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles.”

    But who would have seen the dissolution of the Soviet Union coming in 1988? Perhaps the same visionaries who would have foreseen compact discs and terabyte storage in the ’60s and ’70s.

  12. ToadeR says:

    How about THX punk? Anyone ever see THX-1138? Futuristic world with old-school technology. Lucas’ first feature film. Of course, you might have to throw old George a buck or two for using it…

  13. Nentuaby says:

    I favor something like “togglepunk,” “buttonpunk” or “switchpunk,” since the most striking anachronism tends to be single-purpose, mechanical user interfaces.

  14. Nentuaby says:


    It’s not distinct. “-Punk” has come to be a way of designating the name of some specific style of either retro or stylized futurism. It comes of generalization from Steampunk.

  15. Mari says:

    Actually, in 1988 a fair few people saw the end of the Soviet Union coming. It was only a year later that with much fanfare the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that, the Soviet Union officially called it quits, well after it was obvious to pretty much everybody that it was nothing but a corpse.

    Also, space technology in the 1970s and early 1980s was, in fact, well ahead of where we are now in many ways. We’ve been stagnant in the aerospace industry for too long and it’s moved us backwards in some ways. There was a brief fervor when President Bush challenged NASA to come up with a specific path to move us to manned planetary exploration. The end result was that the best NASA could come up with was a modified Saturn V design…the design that took us to the moon in the 1970s! When we settled for a low-orbit reusable vehicle, we doomed ourselves to decades of stagnation in the aeronautics industry and scrapped the hopes of “sci-fi” authors everywhere.

    As far as a name for the “future” of the 1960s and 1970s, it is in fact retro-futuristic. The “punk” label just doesn’t fit.

  16. Amstrad says:

    Retro-futurism is really the long used term for the future as it was envisioned by people of the 50-70’s.

    I suppose if you /had/ to use the -punk suffix you could go with Googie-punk. After the briefly popular ‘futuristic’ architectural style.

  17. Phlux says:

    I’ll throw mine in there:


    Pinkopunk (in reference to the cold war era, and the fact that most of the people who made these movies were probably considered pinko commies)


    FOABpunk or just FOAB (future on a budget)

  18. Nazgul says:

    Punchcard Punk was the first thing I thought of too, but it’s not very catchy. What about Bat-Punk, since the TV (Adam West) Batman’s Bat-cave was perhaps the ultimate example of that huge, blinky lights, crank-the-dials-and-paper-tape-comes-out technology.

  19. Nazgul says:

    My Wavatar looks like it’s on the verge of vomiting, LOL.

  20. Mike R says:

    Maybe a little to old : VacuPunk (Vacuum Tube Punk)

  21. mookers says:

    I’m surprised nobody suggested TrekPunk yet.

  22. Telas says:

    PunchCardPunk is obvious, and is the one that will probably be used…

    LEDpunk? From all the LEDs used “back in the day”?

    Tube-punk? Not because of the “series of tubes”, but because of the neon and vacuum tubes…

    I dunno. *shrug*

  23. Davesnot says:

    DiscoPunk… RoncoPunk… ChiaPunk… PlastiPunk… HippiPunk… oh.. oh…. here it is… FunkyPunk.. or … FunkPunk.

    FunkPunk… that ain’t bad… or maybe A Very Brady Punk.

    I was born in 65… I actually set up a cassette player to enter a game into a computer (Adventure… into Apple II).. and we did it gladly… uphill.. both ways!

  24. Davesnot says:

    @ToadeR… THX was pretty cool.. but it hurt your eyes to watch it.. waaaay too much bright white..

    Say.. maybe SiloPunk for how important missle silos were… lots of gray and cement.. and blast doors.. simultaneously turned keys.. codes in safes.. big, square, blinky lights.. countdowns… steam.. Silopunk

  25. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the link, Shamus.

    Hamish: I see two reasons, one being that “retro-futurism” usually refers to the 1920s-1950s. I’m talking about the period that comes right after that, when the original Star Trek came out, that extends until mid-nineties, I’d estimate. There was a shift in how futuristic computers were portrayed about then. Instead of huge mainframes with tiny displays and a lot of blinking lights, most movies switched to huge displays and no keyboard at all, like in “The Matrix” mission control or “Minority Report.”

    Retro-futuristic is, like, Golden Age. The Jetsons. I’m talking Tron. THX-1138. Star Wars. Star Trek. The original “Battlestar Galactica.”

    The other thing is that the concepts of “-punk” are technology and society oriented, while retro-futurism is more an aesthetic sensibility.

    My favorites are blinkenpunk, clunkpunk, and the non-punk names “big iron” and “tomorrowland.”

  26. DocTwisted says:

    My first thought was Cardpunk, but Punchcardpunk works better now that I’ve seen others suggest it.

    I can see now a world where everyone has a wallet full of credit and debit cards that have little perforations in them that a box at the cash register reads to process the transaction.

  27. hank says:

    I’m with you fellers.

    (Well, particularly the ones who advocated either punchcardpunk or blinkenpunk.)

  28. Alden says:

    It was common in Gerry Anderson shows, like UFO (supposed to be set in the 80s) and Space: 1999. Not that that helps find a name for it. :)

  29. datarat says:

    I’m going with Den Beste on this one. Ironpunk, as opposed to Steampunk or cyberpunk.

  30. Nathanael says:

    The one I liked most from this sample was the PunchCardPunk sugestion.

  31. Mark says:

    Having just spent the better part of the day watching 2001 and it’s associated bonus materials, I’ll forward HAL-Punk.

  32. Tavish says:

    “Punk” implies rebellion against something, somewhere. Cyberpunk is a distinctly dystopian future wherein the hackers or whatever are rebelling against The Man as embodied by corporations. Flash Gordon, Star Trek, really just have happy endings.

    Non-punk, because there are no punks here.

  33. wildweasel says:

    I’ve heard this style referred to as “retro-futurism” – mainly in things that attempt to replicate the future from the eyes of the 1960’s, like No One Lives Forever.

  34. Brian says:

    Given that the room-sized computer era began to come to an end with the first ICs, I like tubepunk as well.

    Shame about all the series of tubes jokes, though.

  35. ChuckP says:


    I also remember my father bringing home boxes of punch cards. He showed me the trick of drawing a diagonal line or lines on the stack so you could restore order if you dropped the pack…

    How many cards are in a 2 GB stick? 2GB=2,147,483,648 Bytes
    80 columns on a card -> 80 bytes/card
    2,147,483,648/80=26,843,545.6 cards
    At .007″/card, that’s a stack 187,904.8″ | 15658.7′ | 2.97 miles high…

    Back on topic, I kind of like “Big Iron”

  36. JP says:

    My choice would be Togglepunk, Tomorrowland, or BETApunk. I think “Toggle” most succinctly captures the specific technological era we’re talking about

    If anyone ever read the Vonegut book Player Piano, that is verymuch written with that kind of 50’s World of Tommorow feel. Its world is set in a Leave it to Beaver meets IBM engineering techno-utopia. I would love to see that made into a movie using that visual style.

  37. Poet says:

    Plastic Punk, or just PlastiPunk.

  38. Davesnot says:

    GlamPunk.. GlitterPunk.. don’t forget things like Logan’s Run.. Rollerball..

  39. Radhock says:

    TrekPunk is an obvious candidate. A second thought is TomorrowPunk – tomorrow’s technology today sums up the period (I grew up in it).

  40. Eric the Baker says:

    My suggestions:
    Wirewrap Punk – from a solderless method of connection
    GlamPunk – already mentioned
    ShagPunk – the era of shag carpet

  41. Boingophile says:

    For previous suggestions, I like Solderpunk, Reelpunk, and Betapunk. My own entries into this are Roddenpunk, even though I know the original series ended in 1969, but you have to admit Gene Roddenberry is a HUGE influence on the sci-fi style that followed… and Frakpunk, a Battlestar Galactica reference.

  42. MSchmahl says:

    If this were a poll, I think i wold be the fourth vote for “BlinkenPunk”. I think this captures the major aesthetic of the era. A ginormous 240×20 array of blinky incandescent (for LEDs were unknown, or weren’t as efficient back in the day) lights captures the feel of 70s and early 80s sci-fi much more than tape drives.

    “Tape-punk/Reel-punk”, “Vacuum-Punk”, “Punch-Card-Punk” and the like probably better capture the experience of people who lived through the era (which I caught on the tail-end), but I think the blinky lights most capture the popular imagination at the time.

    Drat. Now I feel old.

  43. ngthagg says:

    My vote is for VacuPunk. Here’s my reasoning:

    Steam Punk obviously refers to the age when everything was steam powered (and of course, that is taken to the extreme in steam punk fiction).

    Cyber Punk is a bit less obvious. Here’s a definition of cybernetics:

    “The theoretical study of communication and control processes in biological, mechanical, and electronic systems, especially the comparison of these processes in biological and artificial systems.”

    In other words, cyber punk refers to an age when the dominant technology involves mixing biological and mechanical systems.

    From these two examples, I think the choice has to reflect the dominant technology. After all, that’s what we’re looking at emphasizing, not other aspects of the 70s like glam, disco, or shag. Steam punk is steam punk, not victorian punk. And cyber punk is cyber punk, not . . . punk punk?

    Anyways, vacupunk emphasizes the vacuum tube, which was the driving technology behind the room sized computers.

    The only problem is that it describes the era, but not the future as seen from that era. But I think retro-futurism does the job for that quite nicely.

  44. C David Dent says:

    I liked:
    GlamPunk and ElectroPunk

    but I’ll throw in
    Punkadelic and Punkatronic

  45. Will says:

    I’d love to vote for Blinkenpunk, but I think the reference is a little too vague for a lot of people out of the know. Vacupunk would be a servicable substitue, but then again, there are a lot of dunces out there who will wonder what vacuum cleaners had to do with computers.

    That’s why I’d go with something even simpler. Bulb-punk. It covers the vacuum bulb tech as well as the bank of blinkenlights.

  46. I think it should be called Heinlein Punk, in honor of the Grand Master, who had some of the most interesting computers and gadgets ever imagined in his novels . . . if they weren’t still being programmed by punch cards. He actually predicted a lot of what computers could later *do*, he was just a little off on sizing and so forth.

    PunchPunk would be a good one, too, or TubePunk because those gigantic old computers didn’t use solid-state transistors yet, and that development was one of the things that was NOT predicted in old fiction.

  47. Will says:

    Actually, having just been through the comments over there, something jumped out at me. Rebacca mentioned that the prefix of -punk is usually the most advanced power source of the day, and mentioned electric-punk. She had the answer right in front of her. What’s the obvious and defining aspect of the entire Cold War period. Nuke-Punk. Before Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island, Nuclear Power was going to be the be-all-end-all. And you had the nuclear arms race looming over the entire era.

  48. My reply was anticipated. That’s what I get for not reading all the other comments first. I vote for Bulb-punk.

  49. Nuke-punk brings to mind Fallout style visions of post apocalyptic stuff, though.

  50. Okay, one more comment (three in a row, Shamus is going to belt me). I’m not sure it should be a “punk” at all, and the comment about power source is off the mark, I think. Why? Because of CyberPunk. What sort of power source is a Cyber, exactly? It doesn’t refer to the power source, but the most *prevalent* type of technology used in the fiction: Steam technology in the case of SteamPunk, and CyberPunk is just riddled with computerized gadgets.

    You run into another problem when you use the suffix “punk” in this case, however. The term denotes a fictional style that is dark, grim, and edgy, like Deadlands or Shadowrun. Not your usual fare for 1970’s science fiction, which was usually, well, stupid.

    Instead of worrying about punks and power sources, why not recall that was the source period of all bad cliches? I like SpaceKitsch. This works, because you can use it for just about any genre stuff from that period. SpyKitsch. CopKitsch. It works.

  51. nilus says:

    First off, IBMpunk doesn’t sound IBM enough, would have to go BluePunk or even better ThinkPunk. But those are all terrible names.

    And just as an FYI, as for anachronistic tech. I work for the big Blue devil and we still use Tape drives. They aren’t the big standing reel ones but we still use the small one to backup servers and restore build images. Sure a DVD burner would work better but all those crusty CEs wouldn’t know how to operate or fix them and what do we young punks know anyways.

  52. How about FuturamaPunk, after the original source of this style?

  53. ShadoStahker says:

    Someone suggested Roddenpunk, for Gene Roddenberry. But I think they have it backwards.


    Electropunk is a music genre. Discopunk probably is as well.

    Considering that the various punks are named for the thing that makes the advanced technology possible (Steam, Cybernetics, Magic for Magipunk/Magicpunk [yes, it exists]), I’d have to go with Tubepunk, Vacu/Vacuum-punk, Tapepunk, or PunchCardPunk.

    I’d say PunchCardPunk sounds best.

  54. Mark says:

    Perhaps these will inspire others. Here are a few buzzwords from the early days of computing:

    Silicon, semiconductor, transistor, integrated circuit, microprocessor, minicomputer/supercomputer, mainframe/terminal, token ring, vampire tap, Wargames (the movie), BASIC, ALGOL, FORTRAN, LOGO, Pascal, Data, ARPANET, IRC, QWERTY, DVORAK, dot matrix, Atari, Moore’s Law, CISC, RISC, bit blit, Alan Turing, Spacewar!, Pong

    A few suggestions:

    Also, has anyone ever heard of Nullsoft Beep? Very retro.

  55. NobleBear says:

    DecoPunk or ModPunk

    Whereas the other names were derived from a major tech base here it seems more important to emphasize the relative aesthetic of the time.

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