Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I'm Becoming Obsolete


Do you remember when you used to have to get up off of the couch to change the channel on your television? If you do, you’re old like me.
I was in my colleagues office - and saw an old Macintosh computer sitting on his bookshelf, a relic of my past. It was the first tiny desktop model - with a microscopic screen about the size of a postcard. I remember purchasing it for my public relations job in 1990 - and this "new-fangled" computer was met with skepticism by my boss. Seeing it again was both nostalgic and humorous. How did I ever design a newsletter on that tiny screen?
How quickly life has changed for us. Every media skill I learned in college is obsolete. But I think that these changes have other effects on our culture and our lives.
In Communications class, I was telling my college students the other day about how the new formats of media are actually changing the way we act and think. Consider the things that young people now have never experienced. Can you add to my list?
  • Physically turning the knob on a television to get a new station. In addition, we often had to adjust the metal, rabbit ear antennas on the top of the set and, even then, still dealt with a scrolling picture.
  • Waiting for a movie to be released on television. I remember watching The Wizard of Oz once a year. Once a movie was shown in the theater, we often did not see it for years…if ever. Videocassette recorders changed our ability to see old movies.
  • Watching home movies on reel-to-reel projectors or, better yet, slides. I have a slide that shows my family watching slides. This was a big family event, to set up a screen and gather around a slide projector.
  • Buying a record, 8-track or cassette tape. Our neighbor’s teenage boys had a stereo system that covered an entire wall of their basement. We would wait to see the artwork on each new album when it was delivered to the local record store. But formats have changed.  My daughter used to call our records “big CDs.”
  • The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Our English teacher used to make us look up subjects for research in this multi-volume index. Then we had to hope the library had our particular magazine. Now? We “Google.”
Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan suggested that with each new technology, we gain and lose. He called them extensions and amputations. With the telephone, we gained an ability to speak and listen across great distances.
E-mail has that same capacity. No more handwriting letters, finding an envelope and a stamp, walking to the post office box. Even mailing letters might one day be obsolete — no stacks of love letters tied with a satin bow, no faint feathery signatures on parchment, just deleted emails in the recycle bin.
Books were once luxuries, but then the printing press made them accessible to the masses. Now, e-books are changing the way we produce. We can print more books, at less cost, then ever before. We can carry multiple books on just one slim device. But we are losing libraries and bookstores and the smell of print on paper.
We are changing, adaptable creatures. We like to look forward.  We move ahead eagerly.  So, why do I mourn when it seems like life is changing far too quickly?

Taken from an article originally published in Catapult magazine.
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