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The New Economy

Kodak takes your Kodachrome away

By / June 22, 2009

Photos came on slides before smartphones.

David Duprey/AP/File

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Goodbye, Kodachrome.

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You're a useful reminder that technologies – even great ones, like color film in 1935 or smartphones today – have their day and then disappear.

For Kodachrome, it came Monday as Eastman Kodak announced it would stop making the 74-year-old icon, the world's first commercially successful color film for amateurs. Americans – indeed, people around the world – recorded much of the 20th century on Kodachrome, just as they probably will capture a good bit of this century on cellphone cameras.

Monday's announcement brings a sense of closure. With the advent of digital phones in the late 1990s, the idea of capturing images on film (which you had to pay for and process) came to seem quaint. So the fact that a Depression-era breakthrough got trumped by smartphones, a Great Recession breakthrough, brings us full circle in the cycle of invention.

Let's face it. One day carrying around a smartphone – instead of, say, wearing one? – will seem just as antiquated and out of style.
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