It is a common observation that the work of the past is more durable and finely crafted than what we get today. We see hand made furniture, robust, made of solid wood, often decorated by hand, a work of art which is functional for perhaps centuries, and then we see particle board mass produced units bought for a few hours wages (at highest) of even a below average paying job, which are made in some country where labour is cheaper, with cheaply printed assembly instructions, and one is lucky if all the pegs fit and there are the right number of screws (and be careful about knocking it over!). Likewise, typewriters very visibly change as we move into the modern day. The quality of typewriters commonly available to the masses very visibly lose quality in the 60s onward.
Now, we have "cheap electronics" and mass produced junk, which works, but won't last. It is easier to get a new printer than to get one repaired most of the time. Computer models come and go, and nobody misses them except for a few models in the past which are iconic (and none are today...people see what is out today, and look forward to tomorrow immediately).
Nothing, I fundamentally think. It is easier to look back on the past and sigh than to realise the reality. For example, this Smith-Corona Silent bought in 1950 cost what would today be $800. I have the original typed receipt/letter. The buyer made payments on it. While this typewriter cost me $10 (plus shipping), which is $1.12 then, it is in perfect condition, clean, with a perfect case and key. It works wonderfully. Sixty-two years and nothing has changed. No consumer product of this kind (modern typewriters, printers, computers, etc) have this sort of quality now and I think that can be said with some certainty. However, I still think nothing has truly changed.
The issue is that the typewriter does what it does and its purpose has not changed. The written language has not changed enough at all to make the typewriter useless. In fact, it is good for English through ever since they started using the printing press for English (before that, English used several letters which are not on typewriters (or the German/Italian printing presses, which is why we no longer have þ in English...it is a shame it was lost)). Most old things were made with the intention that they be used for a long time for a purpose which was not new. Nothing really changed much. The children lived in the same world as their parents and grandparents with very minor changes throughout history for many centuries. Things were made robustly because they were intended to be used for a very long time for a very common purpose using very common materials and means.
Now, in our day, technology changes rapidly. People who use and create technology know this. The person who bought the Smith-Corona Silent I use now probably thought it would last for a long time and be worth the high cost. It did in fact last. It lasted longer than she did. But on the other hand, her telephone, if she owned one, from that same time is now obsolete. It may be able to be used now, but it would be incapable of doing many things phones need to do now for navigating automated menus. But I'm sure her phone would be worth the cost it was. It probably lasted for many years. However, would one pay a premium for a device which would be known to be obsolete quickly? Most things made now are a trade off between value and longevity. Why make something built to last when people do not care about it lasting?
One example is computer keyboards. People who use computers use computer keyboards for input generally. If you are at a computer with a keyboard, look at the keyboard. How much did it cost? How does it work? How long will it last? If you type a lot, and you cannot answer those questions, you are the cause of modern day poor quality. You don't care...so they do not care. You wouldn't buy a $130 keyboard if you would be satisfied with a $2 one. So they make the $2 keyboards because that is what people buy. They do though make keyboards of high quality. They last for decades and are a joy to type on. It is also very hard to make a profit on them because they last so long and most people do not buy them. For the record, modern keyboards are made with rubber dome switches. It is basically an array of rubber bubbles which are used to allow one to press down and have the key pop back up after making contact. It is a cheap and effect way to make a keyboard. It also results in a keyboard which will wear out, is mushy for typing, and generally provides poor tactile and audible feedback. One has to press firmly on the key to know it worked. A better design is a switch which is mechanical, provides tactile feedback when it is actuated and possibly audible feedback. This would allow the key to be pressed with bottoming it out (essentially pressing into a solid surface) and it would allow the finger to feel the key actuate. Every key would need such a switch and those switches would have to made precisely so they worked for many key presses over their lives. Such a keyboard would last a long time, be sturdy, and it would be expensive. It would be worth it though for those who type...but most people do not know or care because they only use what they know.
For those interested about mechanical keyboards, read this guide. I personally use Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate, which can be bought directly from the makers: Das Keyboard. It costs $130, but it is worth it. If you do not think it is, then stop complaining about things being cheaply made. You are the reason why they are because you won't buy things which are well made if something cheaper exists. The classical IBM keyboard (Model M) is still made from the original makers (under different names, same technology though): Buckling Spring Keyboards like the IBM Model M. I have not bought one of these yet. Expensive keyboards are not something one can buy on a whim. However, I will someday when I have the extra money or a need for another keyboard. They are less expensive, but have fewer features.
That is what I think. Things made now are just as good as those made in the past. Things can be made more precisely and with better quality using technology which is unimaginable for those in the past. However, most people do not buy such things, so cheap things flood the market. It has always been like that. All the good old craftsmanship went away when the people who bought it stopped buying it. Also, technology advances fast enough to make individual items not worth a high investment. One can question whether this sort of "progress" is a good thing, but most people seem to think it is. Backwards compatibility can only be maintained for so long.
But the good news is that all the old stuff can be used if people want to. Nobody will be using the iPhone 4S in 50 years, but I'm sure somebody will be using my old typewriters as long as they still work. English won't change that much.
Maybe PS/2 (connector I use for my keyboard) will be maintained in 50 years, but I do not pretend to be able to say that it will. PS/2 is technologically sufficient, which is why it is used for 25 years (it was introduced in 1987...a year before I was born!). Most old connector standards do not last. I see computers without VGA ports now (starting with portable computers) and it is only a matter of time before it is not standard on motherboards just like the old parallel printer ports which we do not see any more. I hope they make an adapter for it though...I want to be able to use my keyboard in 50 years if I'm around. It will last that long in all probability. Maybe I can use adapters for PS/2 to USB 2.0 to whatever we are using then. Good old craftsmanship of our modern day.