There is a tendency to extrapolate life as we’ve known it to life as it has always been. As an example, it is impossible for me to imagine mail existing without ZIP codes, yet the ZIP code used by the United States Postal Service has been in existence one year less than I have. Since I can’t remember a time without it, however, I imagine it always existing.
On the other side of the discussion, there are things that have disappeared over the years and it seems hard to imagine that they are gone. Some of them, I have been cognizant of their leaving while others stealthily snuck past me – I looked around and they were gone. A common factor in the demise of all of them has been technology; changes in it have eliminated the need for these items.
Among those that have joined the vanished or vanishing list are the following four:
◆ Mouse pads. Once used as a form of self-expression (think of all the ones with artwork, pictures of kittens, and advertising), they have been replaced by mice that are optical, wireless, and not willing to be confined to a pad.
◆ Cellphone antennas. I worked in customer support for an IT firm early on and had to have a cellphone in the days before the technology matured. Since then, I have watched as the antennas have gone from smaller (no more extending, putting on top of the car, etc.) to nonexistent while the service has consistently gotten better. I’ve also gone from a phone in a bag to something the size of a shoebox that you held to your ear to now a tiny square that easily fits in a pocket – again, all while the quality of the device has improved.
◆ Paint stores. Once upon a time, if you needed to touch something up, you had to go to a store dedicated to paint so you could try and match what you needed with what they had on the shelf; the larger the store, the more choices they would have and the more likelihood of finding something close to what you needed. Now, every store from grocery stores on up can carry a full selection of paint because they have a computer that can add color to the base and give you just what you are looking for. Someday, this technology will become available with spray paints as well. Until then, there is still a bit of shelf space needed to carry the selection taggers are looking for.
◆ Portrait studios. Once a department store staple, they went out when digital cameras got cheap enough to give everyone the ability to put on sweaters and take the family shot dozens of time in their own home until getting the one that works for the Christmas card. There are still occasions when you want a professional photographer – special events, senior photos, and so on – but those numbers are dwindling and this would be a tough field to be in right now.
These are but four examples out of an ocean of many. It will be interesting to see what we are dependent upon today that will be nonexistent tomorrow.
Emmett Dulaney is an Anderson resident and the author of several books on technology. His column appears Tuesdays.