Everyday items that are disappearing... or already gone
“Are you olden days or nowadays?” a young cousin asked me recently.
Of course, I wanted to be nowadays. I mean, who wants to be olden days? Duh!
She eyed me skeptically. “Well, you’ll have to take the test!”
“Let’s say you just took pictures on your camera.” She looked at me to make sure I was paying attention. “What do you need to do next?”
“Develop them?” I said, hoping this wasn’t a trick question.
The reaction was instantaneous. “Olden days! Olden days!” she and her sisters chanted as they jumped up and down. “Nowadays you print them!”
It’s true — cameras no longer have film, and we print digital pictures instead of developing film exposures. So many staples of my childhood are disappearing... or already gone.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane and see what’s truly “olden days” and obsolete.
Pay Phones and Phone Booths
I remember going to use a pay phone in my school’s entryway. It cost ten cents to make a call. And I remember, when I was a little older, making some calls from the airport, too. By then the price had gone up to as much as 50 cents. When you were almost out of time, a voice recording would come on instructing you to insert another 25 cents to continue the call.
Wow, those were the olden days!
Phone booths (which were little outdoor cubicles for people to stand in when they used pay phones) used to be common not just in airports, but all over city streets and in public places. They came equipped not just with phones but with phone books. In 1999, there were still some 2 million pay phones in the United States. Today, the phone booth is practically an extinct species.
This past May, New York City removed its last public pay phone. Any existing phone booths that remain in the city are simply tourist attractions, like the United Kingdom’s iconic red phone booths. Some of the phone booths that are still standing offer other services, like a charging station for your cell or even a phone to make free outgoing calls.
“Just like we transitioned from the horse and buggy to the automobile and from the automobile to the airplane, the digital evolution has progressed from pay phones to… kiosks to meet the demands of our rapidly changing daily communications needs,” NYC Commissioner Matthew Fraser said. Um, did he just compare horse-and-buggy transportation to pay phones? That really is “olden days”!
New York’s last public pay telephone was put on display at the Museum of the City of New York as part of a “NYC life before computers” exhibit.
When I was a kid, we didn’t just walk to school uphill both ways — in the snow, of course — we also had to go clap erasers outside to remove the chalk dust from them. (Ask your parents or grandparents to explain.) That’s because we had only chalkboards or blackboards (which were called “black” but could also be green). We hated the sound of fingernails scraping down them. And the feel of chalk on your fingers wasn’t so great either. But it was still fun to color and write on them.
Today, chalkboards have mostly been phased out and replaced by whiteboards and dry-erase markers — and, increasingly, by smartboards, which are both high-tech and interactive. What do you have in your school?
Outgoing Mail Collection Boxes
On a trip to Europe, a friend suggested that we each take pictures of something unique in the countries we visited. She was going to do squirrels (Can you please tell me how you can differentiate a French squirrel from an Italian one?). I did mailboxes, and I carefully snapped pics of the post office’s mail collection boxes in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Greece, Israel, and more. I guess it’s a good thing I did, because those post office boxes are disappearing even faster than the letters that are sent in them.
Cobalt blue US Postal Service mail collection boxes used to stand in every neighborhood, waiting for outgoing mail. But not anymore. From 2011 to 2016, the number of collection boxes went down by more than 12,000. People send less mail and send way more email and texts.
Beepers and Pagers
At one kollel my husband learned in a long time ago, he was told he could not bring a cell phone, but not to worry because his family could reach him by “beefer.” It took us a few days to figure out that the “beefer” was really just a beeper, but that’s how Israelis said the word!
Pagers and beepers were originally developed for hospitals to use, and they reached a huge peak in the late 1990s, being especially useful to doctors, security, and safety personnel, and emergency services. They remained in use well into the 2000s, but then cell phone tech got so good there really wasn’t any reason to keep carrying a beefer… er, beeper.
Landlines and Home Phones
We used to have to stand in one place while talking on the phone, or walk around with a super-long spiral cord trailing us. But then we got cordless phones… and then cell phones. And more and more people are opting to not have a home phone (landline) at all. By 2017, fewer than 50% of American homes still had a landline. And in households where the adults are aged 25-34, that number was even lower. Does your family have a “home phone” that’s not a cell?
What is obsolescence? Obsolescence — ahb-so-LEH-sehns — is what it’s called when an object, service, or activity/practice is no longer kept up or required, even if it still works.
Paper Road Maps
When people first started driving cars, they needed a way to find their way around, so road maps were born. After interstate highways were built, map publishers like Rand McNally (maybe you’ve seen their atlases at school?) started creating road maps for oil companies, which gave them away at gas stations.
It took about 100 years until GPS became widely available and then slowly but surely highway maps were no longer printed (or were being printed a lot less). By 2012, Pennsylvania was printing only 750,000 maps compared to the 3 million the state had been putting out just 10 years before. Washington had stopped entirely.
Rand McNally still sells maps and atlases, and there will always be people who love maps (myself included). But let us know if you can find ten people with a road map in their car…
Can You Read This?
Back in the day (cough, cough, the “olden days”), cursive (also called script) writing was a very integral part of elementary school education. I can still remember my handwriting book and going over and over the connected Os and Ws to write across the lined page. (It didn’t actually hurt, but the book wanted us to practice that combination until our hands were cramping.)
But these days (the “nowadays”), very few people are using cursive. A lot of our writing is done on computers, and some schools don’t even bother to teach script at all. Is the lack of cursive education a loss? Well, if you ever want to read old handwritten documents it is. But other than that? I don’t know. What do you think? Do you still learn cursive in your school?
Personal Digital Assistants
“You know, I think I’ve finally given up on my Palm Pilot,” I overheard Aviva say to Bella.
“So, what are you going use?”
“Notebook and pen,” Aviva said.
“Huh?” Bella said. “I haven’t heard of that one.”
We all looked at each other. Then Aviva and I cracked up. “I think Aviva means just a regular old pad of paper and a pen.”
Bella shook her head. “I can’t keep up! I thought it was some new invention.”
Once upon a time (like the 1990s), personal digital assistants (like Palm Pilots, and later BlackBerries) were a favorite of businesspeople around the world. That’s because modern cell phones and tablets hadn’t been developed yet. These PDAs stored contact info, could be used as alarms, and offered some word processing and other limited functions. Palm Pilot stopped production in 2007.
When I was a kid, if you wanted to listen to music, you had to pop a tape into your tape player. And if you wanted to hear a specific song, that involved rewinding, fast-forwarding, and flipping the tape over and doing it all again until you found it. Good luck to you if your little brother got ahold of your cassettes and pulled the long magnetic “tape” out of them, which had to then be rewound… if possible.
CDs were invented and started outselling cassettes by the 1990s. But it wasn’t until the 2000s that tapes began to really die, thanks to digital music becoming increasingly popular. By 2012, blank cassettes (for recording) finally went off the market.
Walkman and Discman
So, back in the days of those cassettes, if you wanted to listen to music on the go — like on a walk or on the bus — you had to pop it into your Walkman, a little portable stereo that you could listen to with (corded) headphones. The devices didn’t fit into a pocket, but it’s what we had.
The Walkman came out in 1979; 220 million of them were sold over the next 30 years. Later, when CDs became more common, the Discman device came out, so people could listen to CDs on the go. In 2010, Sony, which manufactured Walkman devices, finally stopped making them. MP3s and other devices had made them obsolete.
Disposable Cameras and 1-Hr Photo Labs
Once upon a time there were 1-hour photo labs on every city street, in the malls, and in pharmacies and grocery stores. In the early 1990s, there were 7,600 1-hour labs and 14,700 minilabs inside other stores in the United States. As of 2015, there were around 190 1-hr labs left in America.
Part of their popularity was due to disposable cameras, which were single-use plastic cameras that took a limited amount of pictures and were thrown out after the pictures we developed (In those days, film inside cameras was developed into pictures, a completely different process from printing digital photos). With film cameras, each shot had to be carefully considered and planned because you could only take a limited number of pictures on each roll of film or disposable camera. But digital cameras and phone cameras made them pretty much obsolete. The pictures taken digitally are higher quality and editable, plus you can take as many as you want. In 2015, Bloomberg News reported that 1-hour photo labs had declined more than any other business in the past 15 years.
My first computer was something called a Commodore 64. I still remember the big discs we used to save files. They had to be kept away from heat and magnets, and they could be easily damaged. But discs got a lot smaller and better since then.
The first “floppy discs,” as the saving devices were called, were eight inches square and stored an underwhelming 80 KB of data (meaning it couldn’t have even held one song stored as an .mp3 file). By the mid-1980s, floppies had decreased to three and a half inches and could store up to 1.44 MB (so maybe a song or two). Also, they were no longer “floppy,” but protected by a rigid plastic case. The name stuck anyway.
Then CD-ROMs began to take over, followed by USBs, around the year 2000. The first PC without a floppy drive came out in 1998. Sony, the last manufacturer of floppies, finally ceased their production in 2011. And today the floppy disc is just known as the “save” symbol on your computer. Now you know where that came from!
When we needed to learn something in school that couldn’t just be written in chalk on a blackboard, our teachers used overhead projectors. Projectors were also used in businesses and at events. A white screen would be set up in the front of the classroom, and the projector (sitting on a little cart) would be wheeled in. Transparent sheets of plastic printed with images were placed on the device, which then projected the images onto the screen so everyone could see them.
Projectors were a staple in schools for nearly 50 years, from the 1960s through the late ’90s. Starting in the 2000s, these overhead projectors started to be replaced by digital projectors. In 2015, 3M, the company that manufactured overhead projectors for more than 50 years, stopped making them.
So what item do you think will be next of the extinct list?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 936)
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