Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back to the Future

I recently came across some old Popular Science and similar magazines from the 1950’s. Thumbing thorough these magazines provided a delightful trip back into my youthful days as an impressionable kid growing up during the Cold War, Space Race and Transistors. The covers of these mags usually sported a picture of the Personal Hover Craft we would all use to get to work or the car vacation we would all take to Hawaii via the Under-ocean Highway.

Most of these things never came to pass. And the more mundane technological advances, like VHS tape recorders, CDs and DVD’s, land phone lines and the like, are quickly disappearing from use with barely a notice. But what interests me more are the things that I believe will never become obsolete regardless of technological advancement. Things like:

Books – The new Kindle device notwithstanding, paper books I believe will remain with us. Books can take a lot of abuse, are easily shared and can be used anywhere without the need for batteries or electricity. Professional archivists agree that paper lasts much longer than most modern media, including CDs which have a shelf life of only a few decades. Plus, a quick glance at your bookmark and you can easily tell how far you have read. Books will be around for a while.

Bicycles – If anything, bicycles are becoming more popular. Though China is moving from a bicycle nation to an automobile nation (790,000 sold in 2008), outstripping sales of cars in the USA, they haven’t increased their highway capacity to the same extent. More cars means more pollution and more energy consumption. Every time I see a bicycle pass me in bumper-to-bumper traffic I know I am losing ground.

Paper – A few years back the computer revolution promised to bring us to a “paperless society” where everything will be done electronically. In fact, cheap printers and the plethora of Information has driven the use of paper significantly upward. Paper production has increased over the years, not lessened. In fact, paper is one of the world’s most renewable resources. We read things on our computers, but we often print out something we want to keep or take with us. Paper is here to stay. Besides, who REALLY appreciates receiving an “e-birthday card”?

Commercial aviation – We are a LONG way from developing a Star-Trek style teleportation device. It this is something you long for; however do take a couple of hours to re-watch “The Fly” if you remain unconvinced.

Radio – Back in the early days of Television, the demise of radio was believed to be surely at hand. But radio continues to be a portable source of information and entertainment and a key component of motor vehicle equipment. Though radio is routinely broadcast over the internet, the technology to be able to receive radio has been cheap and simple for decades. This will not change.

Toilet Tissue – There are societies living on this planet that have YET to be introduced to this staple of human existence.

It is often said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Now if you will excuse me, my flying car needs tuning. I just need my latest issue of Mechanic’s Illustrated in one hand and a screwdriver in the other.


Charlie said...

A few things on my non-obsolete list:

1. Snow shovels
2. Beer
3. Feminine hygiene products
4. Nuclear warheads

kara said...

Movies. They may not be made in the traditional way, but they'll always be around.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Charlie - All those things for sure... especially Beer!

Kara - Yes but movies will eventually be beamed wirelessly to your brain and projected directly onto your retina.

GutsyWriter said...

I saw your response about the crackers dating from 1955, and had to laugh as it reminds me of my 84-year-old dad who lives in Paris, and who ate a can of old ham from 2000. Don't they worry about getting ill?
Great post about how things change, but not that much. The TP is so true in many third world countries.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Gutsy: I hate to admit it but my BIGGEST fear when I was a kid was that my parents would run out of toilet paper.