Nothing screams ‘old-fashioned’ like Split-Flap Destination Boards.

There are, according to Wikipedia, a few still left in the world, mainly in places I have no intention of ever visiting (airports), but like most things retro I never noticed them much at the time until I realised how much better they are than the LCD displays we have now.

Oh, sure, the LCD displays can be configured to display whatever message you want. You’d have to pre-load the split-flaps with every combination possible, for use on every panel in the old days. That’s expensive (not to mention the lack of room for all those flaps).

But LCD displays bring about an odd phenomenon.

When I return to civilisation from London Kings Cross, I stand on the balcony (if travelling Standard) and look at the boards, as do lots of other people. And that’s all we’re doing, looking at the boards, waiting for them to change. Because, if you don’t look at them, how do you know when they change? The screen fades to black then refreshes, silently, efficiently, modernly, while your eyeballs have dried out from staring at them so much.

With split-flap displays, you could do other things. Read a magazine. Pay attention to your kids. Whatever. You knew when a display panel updated by the sound it made as the display was reset to blank, then refreshed to show the updated information, such as the departure platform. You had that audible cue that LCD screens just don’t have. It’s no use listening to Digital Dot, she talks about so much these days it’s difficult to know when to tune in and when to tune out.

Sometimes the whole board would change, in which case there would be a cascading, rushing sound as all the panels cleared. Then they would all cycle through again, for no obviously good reason. Then they would all update, at which point you knew that everyone intending to catch a train was looking up at the board.

It’s the future, I’ve seen it

And there was always that one service, where the calling points were being added long after the rest of the display was done, as if it was determined to work at its own pace and attract as much attention as possible. Or, there was a problem with that particular panel.

YouTube is full of videos people have taken when surviving per-letter displays go wrong, and you end up trying to catch a flight to ‘LOODON-DEATHROW’ but hey, nothing’s perfect. Even LCD displays sometimes go wrong.

But think of the modern applications for split-flap displays. Hook up the mechanism to a Raspberry Pi or similar, with wifi or Bluetooth. Then you could have them at events, displaying tweets. Or at conferences, telling you who is coming up next, and where. And they’re probably more environmentally-friendly than a permanently-on LCD screen (probably), because if you switch the power off the display doesn’t switch off.

They don’t have to be huge, wall-mounted affairs. Think of those small ‘digital’ clocks, which also seem to be making a comeback.

It’s the future, I tells ya.