Tuesday, January 05, 2010

So very, very yesterday...

A couple of weeks back, Huff Po ran a piece on a dozen things that had become obsolete/near obsolete in the last decade. Here's their take on the first round of 21st century buggy whips:

Calling, which is being edged out by texting. I knew that e-mailing was going by the boards among the young folks - which, I'm sure, will hold until they begin working and have to use more formal means of communication than ROTFLMAO - but I wasn't aware that calling was on its way out.  I guess that this shouldn't be any surprise. We've all seen pictures of kids sitting side by side, texting each other. Hello! If folks use texting as a substitute for in- person  conversation, surely it can replace calling. That is, until texters cripple their thumbs. Which will no doubt rain down upon us all sorts of applications that transfer speech into text. At which point people may come to their senses and realize that a conversation is, in oh so many circumstances, preferable to a text exchange. Not that I have anything, other than the thumb-action, against texting. At my last full-time job, I lived on IM. It's just that sometimes you gotta pick up the phone and actually talk to someone. And, hey, if you're sitting right there next to them, you don't even gotta pick up the phone.

Classified ads in the newspaper, which would be a complete yawner, if it didn't mean that there's less money to be spent on actual journalism these days. Thus the newspapers - which I, a daily newspaper reader since I could read, now read almost entirely online - have fewer meaty articles and more AP filler. I don't believe that journalism's dead, but I do hope someone figures out "the model" before my online newspapers bite the dust.  As for classified ads, there was something kind of fun about reading through the help wanted ads looking for jobs. Not that I ever actually found one that way. It was just a mildly enjoyable aspect of job search to clip out opportunities of interest and send in the old resume to parts unknown, hoping against hope that you would hear something back. Which never happened.

The demise of the classifieds also makes me wonder how kids are going to make newspaper paper-dolls and paper hats - which always seemed to use the classifieds, probably because they were the one section that your parents didn't read, unless they were looking for work. Which they never did, because everybody in the 1950's had work, didn't they?

Dial Up Internet. Ah, those were the days...And, if you listen to the NetZero ads, these still are the days. I love how they tout how you can save so much money by tossing out that costly broadband.  What they don't tell you, of course, is that you really don't get much Internet-Internet with a dial-up connection. What you get is, in fact, sludge. And, having checked out NetZero's DSL prices, they're not any cheaper - and, in fact, may be more expensive than - Verizon DSL. I suppose if you're just using the 'net for e-mail, dial-up will do. But the digital divide sure ain't going to be crossed by anyone on dial up.

Encyclopedias. When I was a kid, I loved browsing the black and red set of Collier Encyclopedias, proudly shelved in the living room bookcase. (Never heard of Collier's? Just another example of my parents incredible knack for going with the off-brand. Other kids played Monopoly, we had Easy Money. And who needed Scrabble when there was Keyword? Encyclopedia Brittanica? Sounds kind of British-y, doesn't it. Nah, we went with Collier's.) And when the annual yearbook arrived, with the update on everything that had happened in the prior year, I was just in heaven. I was always, a not-so-current events junkie.

Of course, in those by-gone days, things didn't happen all that fast or often. Sure, the Belgian Congo got de-Belgiqued. But other than that, Thomas Jefferson was Thomas Jefferson was Thomas Jefferson. Or was he? Surely, there was no Sally Hemings in the Collier's entry on TJ...

Anyhow, what with the 'net (which works as long as you aren't trying to find things out via dial-up) do physical encyclopedias even exist, or are they - unlike calling and dial-up - truly obsolete? As in kaput. And do kids even know the word anymore? Those of us who grew up singing along with Jiminy Cricket - "In the encyclopedia. E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A." - will never be at a loss for how to spell it. (Does Jiminy now sing, "In the wikipedia. W-I-K-I-P-E-D-I-A"? Which would, of course, necessitate an entirely new tune, since wiki won't scan with the old one.)

CD's - How well I remember going into the Harvard Co-op to buy a couple of LP's, and having the clerk tell me I was wasting my money, I should buy CD's instead. How right he was - at least in my case. I do recognize that plenty of people still enjoy their old 33 RPMs. I'm just not one of them. But I really don't want to see the CD fall by the wayside. Yes, we all have favorite songs and songs we like to skip - no one my age doesn't know how to correctly lift the needle off of the LP and gently place it back down at the groove we want to put it in - but if people just download the "big hit", or their favorite, they won't get a sense of how the entire album is supposed to ebb and flow. Or they may not be as open as they could be to figuring out for themselves what the best tune is, rather than relying on the wisdom of crowds. Plus, I like album covers and liner notes - or whatever you call them on CD's. 

Meanwhile, I'd better go out and replace my ancient, erratic boombox before they go the way of the CD.

Film-based cameras - Other than disposables, and the cast-off digital camera that my brother-in-law gave me, I've never actually owned a camera. So film. Digital. It's all the same to me. I will, however, regret the passing of negatives.

Landline phones - Although I rarely use it, I continue to hang on to my landline phone. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm afraid that I'll need to call 9-1-1 and the cellphone won't get me there in time. Maybe I'm afraid that, if there's some big cellphone outage, I'll be stuck. Although if all the cellphones go on the fritz at once, we're probably facing a problem that's bigger than whether or not you have access to a landline phone.

I will say one thing about the landline phone. The Blackberry-Verizon reception in my little home office is not all that good, and on a recent long conference call, I used my landline. Now, is it worth whatever a month I pay for this service? Probably not? So, note to self: this year, get rid of landline or pare it down to the dial-up equivalent of phone access.  But, having recently gotten new landline phones to replace the incredibly rotten and static-ridden ones I had, I'm more likely to be paring down, rather than jettisoning entirely.

Yellow pages, phone books, address books  Any day now, I anticipate that our building will receive it's annual over-delivery of Yellow Pages, phone books, and Yellow Books. The books sit there, plastic-wrap intact, for a couple of days before I haul them out on recycle night. I can't remember the last time anyone in our 6-unit building actually took one. As far as I can tell, they're only good for a doorstop, or for my annual blog-a-tribe on the Yellow Pages.

But I do retain a sentimental feeling about address books.

Not that I use one any longer, unless you count my 10 year old Palm Pilot, which still contains, more of less, my address book.

Still, there was something about flipping through an old address book, with its cross outs and new numbers, to get you thinking about old friends. (Remember how hard it was to decide not to transfer someone's info into your brand-new address book? So long, Charlie!) And how sad it was when you came across the address of someone who'd died.

For years, I held on to a tattered, disintegrating address book because it still had my Aunt Margaret's address in it, and I just didn't want to have to drop it when I set up a new book. (Not that I needed her address and phone number, which is still embedded in my skull. Years after she died, I was calling someone whose phone number started with the same two digits as hers, and called her number instead.)

Catalogs - As far as the building I live in goes, catalogs are about as much obsolete as are Yellow Pages. I estimate that each of the 6 units in my building receives 4 catalogs each week during the low season, and a good dozen during the high, pre-Christmas season. Note to Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Saks, et al.: Nobody at this address reads your catalogs. I ought to know, because they leave them on the vestibule table for me to recycle. So maybe catalogs are just pre-obsolete, and eventually most retailers won't send out quite so many.

But I'm hoping that they do keep sending them out, because I do love getting the LL Bean and Vermont Country Store catalogs (and a few others), and I guarantee that I buy more stuff when I see it in a catalog than I do if looking on line. Online, I'm shopping with a purpose. But with that paper catalog, I'm browsing, dog-earing, and buying a lot more stuff than I would if looking on line.

Of course, I am no longer the target demographic for much of anyone - other than LL Bean and the Vermont Country Store. And even LL Bean, I understand, is trying to go youth-market, with more with-it merch. (I believe the word used for the current LL Bean line in the WSJ or NYT article I saw on this was "dowdy". Sigh!)

Fax machines - I suppose that, if I had a scanner, I'd never need a fax machine. But I don't, so I do. Thankfully, the drugstore on Charles Street can send one out for me.

Wires - Wi-fi helps, but we're not quite there yet. And it can't come fast enough for me.

Hand-written letters - Of all the things on the Huff-Po obsolete list, this is really the only one (other than calling) that represents a true loss.  Not that I write any/many letters. The best I do is thank-you notes, a personal message in a Christmas or birthday card, and a long note when I send a sympathy card. And not that I receive any/many letters.  Just thank-you notes, personal messages in greeting cards, etc.  And not that I've ever been a big letter writer. In truth, I think that big-time letter writing pretty much went out with the Greatest Generation.  Once long-distance phone call charges went low enough so that you could call anytime, anywhere without having it be a big deal, letter writing pretty much ended up in the dead letter bureau.

But I'm old enough to remember when a long-distance call was major. In our house, it was pretty much reserved for holiday calls to my mother's family in Chicago, or a big event like a new baby or a dead relative. Once in a blue moon, there was a call - I think my Aunt Mary called my mother (or vice versa) on the 10th anniversary of my grandfather's death. I do remember it was in October 1961, which would be right for Grandpa's anniversary.  And, oddly, one of my uncles - I think it was Bob - called from Chicago on the day that Adlai Stevenson died - definitely an odd one, given than my uncles were both Republicans. So what else happened in the family on July 14, 1965? Was that the day my cousin Martha was born?

Anyway, whatever is or isn't on the Huff-Po list, I'm quite sure of one thing: I'll likely be seeing a bit more obsoleting going on before I achieve complete, utter, and final personal obsolescence.



By the way, I would like to add one thing I would like to become obsolete: these lists that aren't available in story form. Instead, they require you to click through, one by one, to see all the items - an incredibly tedious process. At least in this list, you can see most of the items listed laid out in a row... I love browsing lists, but I really do hate this format, especially when it's picture-intensive, rather than text-centered. Just another step in the direction of the post-literate world. We'll be back to cave drawings quicker than you can text A-B-C.

And a wave of the Pink Slip to Trish, who will not be obsolete for many years to come, for pointing out this list.

1 comment:

John said...

Granted, I'm old, but... I did a lot of catalog shopping this Christmas. You can sit on the couch with a cup of tea and flip through catalogs. (And then go to the computer when you're ready to order.)

As for the land line, I keep a sort of land line (through my AT&T internet/phone/TV service) because it's just more comfortable to talk on it than on a Blackberry. More practically, though - after Hurricane Ike, as I was desperately wandering around on the sidewalk trying to find the one spot where I could actually get mobile phone reception with a good part of the network inoperable, my neighbors with an old-fashioned land line were standing on the porch waving saying, "Do you need to use our phone?" We lost electricity for 10 days, cable for as long, mobile phones were sketchy, but their old-fashioned phone was working fine the morning after the storm.