Ten Things That Will Disappear

Posted: July 3, 2022 in Advertising, Idle Nonsense, Journalism, Media, Mental Health, Music
Tags: , ,

Got one of those chain e-mail messages from who knows who or where, ending with the exhortation to pass it on. My comments follow each of the titular things. Read at your peril. (I could nit-pick the awfulness of the writing of the quoted paragraphs, but I’ll just let that go.) Before commenting, however, let me point out that the anonymous writer behind this listicle assumes that systems will function long enough for predictions to prove out. The last two years have already demonstrated that the world is entering a period of extreme flux where many styles and functions of social organization will break down irreparably. Supply chain difficulties with computer chips (and relatedly, fossil fuels) are just one example of nonlinear change that is making owning and operating a personal vehicle far less affordable (soon impossible for many) than decades past. Impossible to predict when breakdown reaches critical mass, but when it does, all bets are off.

1. The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills. 

Despite its popularity among the general public, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS link ends in .com, not .gov) has been under attack for generations already with the ostensible goal of privatizing it. Financial trouble is by design: the USPS is being driven to extinction so that its services can be handed off to for-profit alternatives, jacking up prices in the process. So yeah, it might fail and go away like other cherished American institutions.

2. The Check. Britain has already done away with checks as of 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.

Moving financial services online has undoubtedly created efficiencies for banks, just like self-checkout (at groceries and big-box stores) and the ATM have removed the need for most cashiers and tellers. Same with service station attendants who used to pump gas, check oil levels, and inflate tires for motorists. However, the check still has considerable utility for many transactions that aren’t between large institutions. Maybe personal checks will disappear, but cashier’s checks and money orders will likely persist.

3. The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.

Another instance of an entire industry disrupted by an online counterpart that is in no way equivalent. If the medium is truly the message (so says Marshall McLuhan), online subscription services simply fail as the sort of valuable, Fourth Estate journalism some remember with nostalgia. Indeed, it’s difficult to distinguish the ambitions and behaviors of modern journalists and so-called “influencers,” both of whom conform to the attention-grabbing, eyeball-roping dynamics of new media platforms (made you look!). Doesn’t matter whether they are selling news, opinions, conjecture (as news has increasingly become), brands, ads, or themselves.

4. The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. I wanted my hard copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. And think of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can’t wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you’re holding a gadget instead of a book.

Books will not go away. Far too many centuries of investment exist in this particular medium that simply cannot be waived away by Project Gutenberg (remember that?) or some Google/Wiki/Amazon startup upstart. Further, despite the cost savings and efficiencies of e-books, digital music files, and streaming services that grant access to giant catalogs, many people learn and discover with age and experience the value of physical embodiments and personal ownership. Those giant catalogs also present a paradox of choice, namely, that with so many options, users develop paralytic responses not experienced by those limited to the narrow confines of a personal collections and recommendations.

5. The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don’t need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they’ve always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.

This could go either way. Although many individuals are quite happy with cell service only, businesses tend to want their communications fixed to a central location (not mobile) even if the service itself is VoIP. However, it just might be that the Internet, GPS, and cellular service as they have been known for merely 35 years will not survive, either. Lots of potential game changers (e.g., a Carrington Event or a nuclear exchange) could render electronic communications moot (and mute) rather suddenly.

6. Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It’s the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates are simply self-destructing. Over 40% of the music purchased today is “catalogue items,” meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, “Appetite for Self-Destruction” by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, “Before the Music Dies.”

The recording and broadcast industries are not identical with the music industry. Indeed, the recording industry is only a little over a century old whereas music has been around for thousands of years. Music does not need the recording industry to innovate or survive, though it will by necessity proliferate through something other than giant networks.

7. Television Revenues. TV networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they’re playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV. Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator. Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I say good riddance to most of it. It’s time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery. Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix.

The business model for television used to be advertiser-supported but broadcasted free, over-the-air to consumers. Subscription cable service disrupted that model, and now streaming services (some subscription, some advertiser supported, some hybrids with different tiers of membership and inevitable ad content) are now disrupting cable services. Classic example of innovative products and services displacing older incarnations. How it all gets paid for may be shifting, but there is obviously no lack of either content or connections even if few tune in anymore to live, over-the-air broadcasts. Most TVs don’t even have a tuner for that purpose.

8. The “Things” That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in “the cloud.” Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest “cloud services.” That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider. In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device. That’s the good news. But, will you actually own any of this “stuff” or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big “Poof?” Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical? It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

Not everything consumed for entertainment purposes can be digitized and stored in the cloud, and many resist being tethered to giant corporations that surveil and package viewers as products to sell to marketers. In addition, live events are frequently preferable to virtual viewing. Humans are social beings and require direct contact with each other without the mediation of electronics. Any concert or festival or sporting event testifies to that reality. Home entertainment requiring an Internet connection and/or paid subscription may be what corporations want, but consumers are likely to rediscover real life at some point and rebel, voting with their feet.

9. Joined Handwriting (Cursive Writing). Already gone in some schools who no longer teach “joined handwriting” because nearly everything is done now on computers or keyboards of some type (pun not intended).

Agree with this one. Some few still value and write in cursive, but most of us lost that skill through atrophy (or never acquired it).

10. Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That’s gone. It’s been gone for a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7, “they” know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. “They” will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again and again.

One’s (lack of) privacy is substantially a function of how thoroughly electronic media and payment systems have been adopted. Leaving the cell phone behind, paying with cash, and disengaging from the virtual world all reduce trackability. However, the expectation that anyone not way off the grid and thus unknown and unknowable used to enjoy complete privacy is a fundamental misunderstanding of how society functions. Although individuals tend to be anonymized in large groups, in smaller communities, people interact and thus learn about each other rather intimately. The observation that in small towns everyone knows everyone’s business was fundamentally true long before mechanisms of surveillance went full spectrum.

  1. wjastore says:

    I miss people who write in cursive. My aunt had a lovely cursive “hand.” My older sister writes beautiful cursive notes. But I rarely write in cursive; I got the habit of printing, and then the habit of typing and using the “print” key, and now of course email and so on.

    Still, nothing beats an elegant cursive note on fine stationery. Perhaps it will survive, if only because it’s so retrograde that it becomes “cool.”

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I see my father’s elegant cursive writing from time to time, which makes me feel sheepishly inadequate since I now only print, and mostly all caps at that. Retrograde cool is starting to be a real thing with the return of vinyl and letterpress invitations, just to cite two examples. I’m sure there are others.

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