Thursday, January 06, 2011

Of Buggywhips and Typewriters

Surfing across the Internet this week, I encountered a handful of articles about obsolete products. Actually the products are not obsolete yet, but probably soon will be. One simply listed items that babies born in 2011 will never know. Usually I skip these types of articles since I feel old enough already, thank you. But this time I read through, each author coincidentally coming up with the same dozen or so products.
I'm not always on the cutting edge of technology. In fact, most times I struggle to keep up with the latest trends. Twice in my life I have found myself decades ahead of all you common folk.
The first time, I was just a youngster with a record player. Alright, it was a turntable for those of us serious about our music. But a new medium was arising that was threatening to eliminate the vinyl 45s and LPs. It was the 8-track tape. I resisted, watching as my friends jumped to tapes. You see, I had my eye on something newer, more accessible, and with more uses. I jumped straight to cassettes. I jumped so soon, there were no pre-recorded cassettes in the stores. I was forced to join... the Columbia Record and Tape Club to get my music. Sometimes behind ahead of the curve has its cost.
The other time was the fax machine. Let's face it, the only time a fax machine was really needed was to transmit a signature. There was no way I was buying a hulking machine just for that. In my lifetime, I have sent maybe two faxes. And someone else did the faxing. I just stood back and shook my head.
But what about the current products that will soon go the way of the buggywhip? What do the experts have pegged for extinction? Encyclopedias are one item. Wikipedia and all sorts of Internet reference pages can easily take the place of the 26-volume Encyclopedia Brittanica. That's sad. My uncle sold encyclopedias for years and years. It was his ultimate reference. Now instead of finding the right volume, it's about five to ten seconds of keyboard work and the answer is there.
The same goes for phone books and yellow pages, at least according to these experts. Now, I can still find a phone number faster with the white pages, but usually it takes me a few minutes just to find the book.
Also on the list is the network evening news. I had to check last night just to see if this was still on. I watched about five minutes of the CBS version which once made Walter Cronkite a national treasure. Last night it looked more like a promo for the network's morning lineup. Seriously, do people with more than three channels still watch the network news?
Other things newborns will never get to remember include paper road maps (or the thrill of trying to re-fold one properly), movie rental stores, cameras that use film, and home land-line telephones.
These kids won't understand about calling long distance since few people today have to pay more to talk to someone far away. They won't wear watches, since the time will be prominent on whatever the latest electronic device is. They won't comprehend travel agents since there are many dot coms to book all your travel needs. They will never catch onto the manual typewriter, where you have to reach up to return the carriage every time the bell rings.
Indeed, the very thing you are holding -- a newspaper -- will be different than the physical paper we have grown up with. While some papers, along with books, magazines, and catalogs, will still exist on a limited basis, many will do their reading from a screen, without the need for a paperboy or a trip to the mailbox.
Yes, times are changing. Life in the mid-21st Century will go on without dial-up Internet service, VHS tapes, and Kodachrome film. While that may be a blow to my personal memory banks, it is sure to be a boon to culture in general. And when my grandkids come scurrying up to my chair, asking for me to tell them about the olden days when we had telephones connected with wires and recording devices with long reels of brown tape, I can scoot back in my chair and regale them with tales of the Good Ol' Days. And just like I did when my grandmother told me about having to hitch up the wagon to go to town, they'll sit and listen, thanking their creator they don't have to live in such prehistoric times.

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