Fading Fast

25 04 2012

I have a bunch of old gadgets in the barn and in the attic. Some are things I have bought at antique stores; others are items I culled when we moved Mom and Dad into a retirement center. And some of them are things that have grown useless not just in my lifetime, but in the last 10 years. An early Rio MP3 player (held a whopping 128MB of music!). External hard drives and jump drives that couldn’t carry my lunch, much less my work. Cordless phones. Old cell phones. Rotary phones. You name it. I have a gadget museum in the making.

But before you deride me for being a hoarder (actually, I prefer technostalgic), consider that the list of entries into my forthcoming museum is growing faster and faster with each passing year. The rate of change is itself changing, rendering the stuff we own mere ephemera in an era marked by shelf lives measured in months, not years and decades. It is now possible to become a Luddite by simply not paying attention. And it is also possible our kids will not recognize any of the things we once held dear.

For example, there are eight things the Facebook generation will not buy. Things I use today, and have for years, but quickly fading from standard usage.

While presented in a Top 8 countdown fashion, I think these are really all just put out for our collective pondering on the eves of their extinction: Television, desaktop PCs, cigarettes, land line phones, cars, newspapers, beer, and email.

Hold on a sec there. Beer? How’d that get in there?

Turns out we are witnessing the “lightening” of American beer drinkers. Of course, we beer snobs have been ballyhooing this trend for several decades (mass-produced American lagers are only so much swill), but now it’s getting even closer to water. But taste preferences are what they are, and marketers would be remiss if they did not attempt to serve them. We thus wind up with new watery brews touting 55 calories or thereabout that look like they’ve had a little food coloring added. If some of my 20-something students can help explain this fascination to me, I am all ears.

As for cigarettes, I am all too happy to see the decline in young adults smoking. No point in belaboring this one. Smoking is bad, bad, bad.

The rest of the lot, though, consists primarily of tech products. Notice that cars made the list (and recall that I blogged about this recently). While young adults love their gadgets, apparently it is becoming increasingly cool to go retro when it comes to transportation. Hey, honk if you love mass transit.

Everything else, though, is rather predictable. TV is so 20th century. Why watch TV when you have streaming Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, et al? Does anyone actually watch live television anyway? TVs are just another anchor…not much unlike desktop PCs. If it can’t be taken with you, then young adults probably don’t want it at all.

Which is another way of saying that even laptops are at the outer limit. Smartphones and tablets are becoming the de facto tools of the trade.

Toss in land lines, newspapers, and email, and you have replaced the way we old folks communicate and learn about things.

But I bet none of my students are arguing with the list at this point, for they have been ushering in these changes. It’s my kids about who I am thinking. At 11 and 14, I doubt neither have ever had ink smudges on their fingers from handling my daily newspaper. They occasionally here a strange ringing in the house, and know that Mom and Dad pick up a very different kind of telephone. And in the case of my oldest kid, I know she never checks the email account I set up for her some 8 years ago. She prefers texting and FBing.

But as an exercise in future forecasting I think it would be fun if my students predicted what items will be next to fall into disfavor. What are the things that you do that your kids will scoff at? And what will be the next items to go into the museum my kids will have to curate after I am gone?

And the snicker that just emanated from my office? That would be me, recognizing that I just typed this on a desktop PC. Crap. Try as I might to be young and hip, I guess I am still chained to a little bit of my past. Can I interest anyone in an answering machine?

Dr “Leave Me A Message” Gerlich



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