Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Show me the magic of your crystal ball, oh great prognosticator of the future! I swoon before your omniscience! I gibber in amazement before your...

Whoops--turns out Blogger actually does have a limit on the length of subject lines. How lame.

Anyway, getting to the point at hand:

It amazes me that people get paid to write stuff like this. Behold:
Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know

Video tape: Starting this year, the news stories we produce here at Money Talks have all been shot, edited, and distributed to TV stations without ever being on any kind of tape. Not only that, the tape-less broadcast camera we use today offers much higher quality than anything that could have been imagined 10 years ago -- and cost less than the lens on the camera we were using previously.
One of the few "good riddance" items on the list. I can't see videotape being missed by very many, especially considering how poorly the tapes held up over time.
Travel agents: While not dead today, this profession is one of many that's been decimated by the Internet. When it's time for their honeymoon, will those born in 2011 be able to find one?
Amazingly, there are still travel agents in business today. I don't know why. Maybe they're a luxury item, for people who prefer not to spend hours poring over listings on or wherever. My own guess is that this is how it will stay: The few travel agents still in business will be a luxury service, offering convenience and what-have-you above and beyond what can be found online with automated services. Saving money won't necessarily be the primary goal anymore.
The separation of work and home: When you're carrying an email-equipped computer in your pocket, it's not just your friends who can find you -- so can your boss. For kids born this year, the wall between office and home will be blurry indeed.
Now we start venturing into more dystopian territory. It's entirely possible that the sheeplike masses will submit to this bullshit, but I sincerely hope not.
Books, magazines, and newspapers: Like video tape, words written on dead trees are on their way out. Sure, there may be books -- but for those born today, stores that exist solely to sell them will be as numerous as record stores are now.
There was a time when this would have bothered me, but then the internet killed my attention span, so I am no longer particularly concerned about the demise of books. As for magazines, I've realized that they are perhaps the most worthless form of printed literature ever. They're worse than useless, actually, since the sole reason for their existence is to convince you that you absolutely need whatever it was that their advertisers are selling. Like, for instance, a brand new, $10,000 home theater system, to replace the $9,000 home theater system you already have.
Movie rental stores: You actually got in your car and drove someplace just to rent a movie?
This one is in the "already dead" category. I am aware of one brick-and-mortar video store left in my community, and, oddly enough, they are the one that was erected most recently (in the late 1990's). The last mom-and-pop video store went out of business about five years ago, and I only think they stayed in business so long because they were a tax write-off for mom-and-pop, who also owned a profitable marina or something like that. Netflix finally killed them, though. That left the chain stores. Hollywood Video's two outlets are now gone, and I'm pretty sure the last remaining Blockbuster is now gone, too. For the one store that's left, I'd be surprised if they're still in business at the end of 2011.
Watches: Maybe as quaint jewelry, but the correct time is on your smartphone, which is pretty much always in your hand.
Another one I'm not looking forward to. Not just because I don't own a "smart"phone, but because I honestly think a watch is just a better way of telling what time it is.
Paper maps: At one time these were available free at every gas station. They're practically obsolete today, and the next generation will probably have to visit a museum to find one.
This one is really going to suck. Paper maps are just superior to this GPS crap. Why? Because with paper maps, it's easier for morons to get lost, and that's something I'm in favor of. ;) Seriously, there is no way that all of this GPS shit will ever compare to the sheer beauty of a well-made paper map. The demise of paper maps, if it happens, and I damn well hope it doesn't, will be a great loss for mankind.
Wired phones: Why would you pay $35 every month to have a phone that plugs into a wall? For those born today, this will be a silly concept.
Yeah, this is increasingly getting to be a useless ripoff. The amount of snailmail spam I get from AT&T is ridiculous, too--they must really be getting desperate. I actually got one envelope from them with the words, "Please don't discard!" printed on the outside. It almost worked. For one thing, I respond much better to an honest, human entreaty like that than to typical corporate advertising hype. And, for a moment, I actually felt kind of sorry for them. But ultimately it boiled down to the fact that I already have pretty much what I want, and although I would consider changing things up if I thought it would save me some money, there's nothing out there that is likely to do that. Which is part of the problem.
Long distance: Thanks to the Internet, the days of paying more to talk to somebody in the next city, state, or even country are limited.
Good riddance. ;)
Newspaper classifieds: The days are gone when you have to buy a bunch of newsprint just to see what's for sale.
Craigslist baby! Craigslist! (Only problem is, you can't find listings for hookers anymore because those chickenshits caved in to a bunch of grandstanding whores attorneys-general.)
Dial-up Internet: While not everyone is on broadband, it won't be long before dial-up Internet goes the way of the plug-in phone.
I find it hard to understand how anyone can even function on dialup these days, with everything online being as bloated as it is. How do they manage their software updates, for example? What happens when they need to download a 50 megabyte update? That would take forever on dialup.
Encyclopedias: Imagine a time when you had to buy expensive books that were outdated before the ink was dry. This will be a nonsense term for babies born today.
This one is kind of sad, really. One of my favorite things as a kid, when visiting Grandma's house, was poring over her World Book encyclopedia set. I especially loved the transparent pages devoted to human anatomy, those were just plain cool. I've seen a lot of cool stuff online, but computers really do fail in one particular area, and that is the lack of "realness" that you get with real stuff. My parents didn't buy encyclopedias, but they did have a lot of other cool books. Several different Time Life series, for instance. I loved those.
Forgotten friends: Remember when an old friend would bring up someone you went to high school with, and you'd say, "Oh yeah, I forgot about them!" The next generation will automatically be in touch with everyone they've ever known even slightly via Facebook.
Sounds a bit nightmarish, to me.
Forgotten anything else: Kids born this year will never know what it was like to stand in a bar and incessantly argue the unknowable. Today the world's collective knowledge is on the computer in your pocket or purse. And since you have it with you at all times, why bother remembering anything?
Hmmm. What was I going to say? Unfortunately, I am unable to Google my short-term memory, although I'm sure the Google tech crew is working on that even as we speak...
The evening news: The news is on 24/7. And if you're not home to watch it, that's OK -- it's on the smartphone in your pocket.
Good riddance. "TV journalism" is an oxymoron anyway--worse than useless.
CDs: First records, then 8-track, then cassette, then CDs -- replacing your music collection used to be an expensive pastime. Now it's cheap(er) and as close as the nearest Internet connection.
I'm sincerely looking forward to getting rid of all optical media, which have proven to be a grossly unreliable pain in the ass. Compact discs, the original, non-burnable kind, were the only optical media that I ever thought was really decent, but even they haven't proven to be as durable as everyone originally thought. I have one disc, for instance, which has somehow developed a tendency to emit loud bursts of static, in time with and over the top of the music, as it plays. Since the music in question is classical piano, this represents a serious problem! (I suspect what's happening is the high-order bits have somehow become destroyed and/or obscured, and the noise is due to clipping resulting from the normally-16-bit signal getting unceremoniously truncated to 13 or 14 bits. Weird, and I would really be interested to know how something like that could happen. The disc exhibits no visible scratches or pinholes. It's a mystery.) Luckily, I was able to buy a duplicate copy of the CD, which is now ripped into my iTunes library. ;)
Film cameras: For the purist, perhaps, but for kids born today, the word "film" will mean nothing. In fact, even digital cameras -- both video and still -- are in danger of extinction as our pocket computers take over that function too.
Film cameras are now an "artist" item, much sought after by aspiring young photographers, many of whom are curious about this older way of doing things. As for digital cameras, I can certainly see a reduction in the avalanche of point-and-shoot models thanks to "smart"phones, although I don't think they'll ever completely go away. There are also DSLR cameras and mirrorless large-sensor cameras, which may yet experience some kind of major transformation, but haven't so far (the recent addition of video capability to DSLRs hasn't proven to be particularly transformative, although many do find it to be a useful feature addition). One advantage of a DSLR over a "smart"phone is the way it feels to operate. I own a Nikon DSLR, and I admit, sometimes there's a certain amount of pleasure to be had just from fondling the damn thing. :D
Yellow and White Pages: Why in the world would you need a 10-pound book just to find someone?
I've heard white pages are already on the way out. Yellow pages? Not sure, I have very little info on that one. I know that my brother, who is a portrait/wedding photographer, is not going to renew his AT&T yellow pages ad because it's just too expensive relative to the amount of business it brings him. The other thing about the yellow pages is that they are often a serious bother to use. You want to find something, so you look it up, but it turns out that whatever-it-is is not under the heading that you expect. You can easily waste five minutes struggling to find where whatever-it-is is. This is a pretty common problem, and the answer turns out to be fairly easy: Just Google It. ;)
Catalogs: There's no need to send me a book in the mail when I can see everything you have for sale anywhere, anytime. If you want to remind me to look at it, send me an email.
No complaints on this one. Just today, in fact, my stupid health insurance carrier clogged up my snailmail box with their phonebook-sized hardcopy edition of their preferred provider catalog. Most of these doctors aren't even local to here, so why the hell do I want this, exactly? I suppose this does depend on one other thing, though: How well their website works. Show me a shitty website interface, and I'll take the hard copy version, any day.
Fax machines: Can you say "scan," ".pdf" and "email?"
Yup. Dead. In fact it was just the other day that we got rid of our fax machine at work. It was in perfect working order, never had a problem with it, but when our old copier died and we replaced it with one that faxes and does everything else short of oral sex, our trusty little fax machine was instantly converted into a doorstop. :(
One picture to a frame: Such a waste of wall/counter/desk space to have a separate frame around each picture. Eight gigabytes of pictures and/or video in a digital frame encompassing every person you've ever met and everything you've ever done -- now, that's efficient. Especially compared to what we used to do: put our friends and relatives together in a room and force them to watch what we called a "slide show" or "home movies."
Whatever. All I know is that when I was a kid, I loved the slideshows whenever the relatives got together. They were fun! I never understood how other people thought slideshows were cheesy or boring. (Maybe other people just took more boring pictures than we did.) The other nice thing about them was that the quality was simply far superior to anything that has come since, including digital. Yes, the sheer resolution of modern DSLR and medium-format digital cameras will outstrip that of Kodachrome, but how many of us have computer monitors that are eight feet wide for viewing? Don't assume you know what I'm talking about just because you have a 100 inch hi-def TV, either. A Kodachrome 25 slide blown up to that size absolutely blows away any form of hi-definition TV currently available to consumers. The only thing comparable is what you see in movie theaters. (And, actually, a 35mm slide has double the resolution of a normal 35mm film frame anyway, plus there is a slight additional loss of resolution created by movie cameras that use anamorphic lenses to achieve a "wide screen" effect. So the real comparison might be to super-35 or 70mm film. IMAX would be superior, but nothing else that I am aware of.)
Wires: Wires connecting phones to walls? Wires connecting computers, TVs, stereos, and other electronics to each other? Wires connecting computers to the Internet? To kids born in 2011, that will make as much sense as an electric car trailing an extension cord.
Wires make it harder for the government to corrupt my precious bodily fluids. ;)

Seriously, I was looking for a replacement mouse the other day and was surprised by how few of them are corded now. That is unfortunate, because 1) a corded mouse is never going to get lost, 2) it's highly unlikely it will ever get broken from being dropped, and 3) it will never have to have batteries replaced. I can't see us running everything on batteries, can you? At the very least, we'll need somewhere to plug in the battery chargers.
Hand-written letters: For that matter, hand-written anything. When was the last time you wrote cursive? In fact, do you even know what the word "cursive" means? Kids born in 2011 won't -- but they'll put you to shame on a tiny keyboard.
What I want to know is, is it now possible to get through college without having to be able to write on paper? I'd love to go back to school, but my hands have changed so much since the first time around thanks to all the time spent on the computer. I get writer's cramp in less than a minute now. I have no idea how I would get through a 60 minute essay exam, for instance.

Talking to one person at a time: Remember when it was rude to be with one person while talking to another on the phone? Kids born today will just assume that you're supposed to use texting to maintain contact with five or six other people while pretending to pay attention to the person you happen to be physically next to.
[puke puke puke]


Seriously, I fail to see the point of talking to someone if they're not even going to pay attention.
Retirement plans: Yes, Johnny, there was a time when all you had to do was work at the same place for 20 years and they'd send you a check every month for as long as you lived. In fact, some companies would even pay your medical bills, too!
One mistake here was giving out pensions too easily. My dad retired at 55 for example. Admittedly, he had already put in almost 30 years by then, but still, 55 is pretty young to be retired, for anyone who's been employed in a normal type of job. However, it's not entirely that simple, because retiring at that age probably saved his life, too, which suggests that maybe more people should retire early...except that would clearly not work from an economic standpoint. I guess this one is too complex and far-reaching to make one quick little comment about, so I'm just going to blow it off.
Mail: What's left when you take the mail you receive today, then subtract the bills you could be paying online, the checks you could be having direct-deposited, and the junk mail you could be receiving as junk email? Answer: A bloated bureaucracy that loses billions of taxpayer dollars annually.
Netflix has turned me into a die-hard Postal Service supporter, since I have so far been uninterested in their streaming service. (That, incidentally, is almost certainly not going to be able to continue going the way it's going for too much longer--it's sucking up too much bandwidth and somebody is going to have to pay. I also heard that Netflix streaming movies aren't as good as a Blu-Ray disc to begin with, except for the fact that they're streaming, rather than being stuck on a scratch-prone, breakable optical disc...this one is no-win, I guess. Whatever happens is going to have some serious drawbacks.)

There seems to be less junk mail now than there used to be, too. I've noticed in the past couple of months that the amount of it I get every week has gone down. A lot. Enough to have an impact on the amount of garbage/recycling I have to do. The main snailmail spammers for me now are my phone company and my ISP, both of whom are totally desperate to upsell me to one of their ridiculous all-in-one plans. Purely random advertisements seem to have virtually disappeared.

One final thing on this: In my work, I often deal with postal service staff and I have to say, they have really improved in the past 15 years. That means I have to object to calling the Post Office a "bloated bureaucracy". It's true, the Domestic Mail Manual (aka "postal regulations") are probably just as bad as any other federal regulations, but the difference is that with the Post Office, you have easily accessible postal staff who are able to help you understand all of it. Just in the last few months I've had postal employees bend over backwards to help me out, saving me a lot of time, money and embarrassment. So please, spare me the "government bureaucrat" criticism. It's just not accurate for all too many of them.
Commercials on TV: They're terrifically expensive, easily avoided with DVRs, and inefficiently target mass audiences. Unless somebody comes up with a way to force you to watch them -- as with video on the Internet -- who's going to pay for them?
More to the point, how is entertainment going to be paid for in the absence of advertising support? Will it just be HBO and Showtime, the last two standing? Somehow, I doubt it, because, from what I understand, a lot of the production money for a channel like HBO doesn't just come from HBO subscriptions, but from subscription fees for basic cable as well. So how does that work if basic cable goes away?

Alternatively, if TV ends up staying with the "free" model, will it begin to rely more and more on product placements? Some of these have been getting pretty obnoxious. If you watch "Chuck" for instance, you have surely seen how sometimes they will interrupt the story for what is little more than a Subway commercial, starring the characters of the show. Yes, it was necessary to do that in order to save the show, and I don't mean to pick on Subway (or "Chuck") in particular, but if this is the wave of the future, I'll have to find something else to do with my time.

What they really ought to do is figure out a way to make automatic commercial skipping not work. But the problem there is that there are now enough alternatives to regular TV shows that making commercials harder to skip could easily backfire and drive a critical mass of people away. How many people will realize that their lives are simply too short to spend 20 minutes of every hour watching advertisements? It's not a tough concept to grasp.
Commercial music radio: Smartphones with music-streaming programs like Pandora are a better solution that doesn't include ads screaming between every song.
I stopped listening to commercial radio a long time ago. I don't even remember when it was anymore. There were just too many endlessly annoying ads, so I turned it off, forever. Student radio and public radio filled in the void for quite a while, but eventually Wisconsin Public Radio became Disney-fied, thanks to the never-ending necessity to pander to potential donors, so I decided to give up on that too. Student radio was simply too inconsistent to rely upon as my sole listening medium. So that was the end of that. My next car will have an iPod hookup. Or something.
Hiding: Not long ago, if you didn't answer your home phone, that was that -- nobody knew if you were alive or dead, much less where you might be. Now your phone is not only in your pocket, it can potentially tell everyone -- including advertisers -- exactly where you are.
Here's another one that can be filed under "Hell on Earth." Pop culture already seems to be catching on to this problem, though, at least a little. :P

I did want to add one item to the list, which children born in 2011 will hopefully be ignorant of: "Journalists" who have nothing better to write than utterly depressing articles about how much the world is going to suck 20 years from now, written in a tone suggesting that it's already a foregone conclusion, because, you know, "progress" is inexorable, and nobody has any control over any of this.

Of course, we will probably still have know-it-all bloggers. ;)

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