Feature

The last word: Goodbye to all that

Land lines and even broadcast TV aren

In his 1970 book, Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler warned that the last few decades of the 20th century would bring a widespread physical and psychological overload. “When we lived in an agrarian world as peasants, life was set by the seasons, and things were slow. Terribly slow,” says Toffler. “You still had the same plot of land your whole life. Your son’s life wasn’t going to be that different than your father’s.” A drastically accelerating world, he predicted, was more than humans would be able to process.

Nearly 40 years later, carbon paper and diaper pins have disappeared from our daily lives, but we all seem to be holding up pretty well. What’s next? Let’s just say that if you haven’t already said your goodbyes to the following habits, fashions, and ideas, you’d better start.

Truly ‘blind’ datesb. when Adam met Eve—d. 2000sSmoke and mirrors have long had a place in romance. For ages, we’ve courted each other in the forgiving light of candles and become experts in various scripted untruths: Yes, it was good for me. Really, I’ve never felt this way before. No, you don’t look fat.

In the beginning, courtship on the Internet extended this trend. It was the place where, literally and figuratively, no one knew you were a dog. No longer. Now, if a friend sets you up with someone, and you don’t automatically Google that person, check his or her “relationship” status on Facebook, and do a quick vetting via Cheaternews.com (the modern answer to stocks and pillories), one might question if you are really fit to date at all. Meanwhile, Internet daters have sites such as Truedater.com, where those deceived by photos taken from just the right angle can report to the masses that Mr. Right on Match.com is, in the flesh, actually Mr. Fat, Married, and 10 Years Older.

Short basketball shortsb. 1936—d. 2003The practice of playing games in retro uniforms is common in basketball now; it gives teams another jersey to sell at the concession stands. But last December, in a game against the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers took it one step further—they wore throwback shorts. As in short shorts. For anyone who has mourned the days when a player’s full legs were as conspicuous as his tats, it was a moment of glory.

A brief one. The Lakers immediately fell behind. Despite a halftime change to the usual baggy, floor-scraping uniforms, the players were so shell-shocked from the sight of their upper thighs that they lost.

“I don’t know what it feels like to wear a thong,” said Kobe Bryant after the game. “But I imagine it feels something like what we had on in the first half. I felt violated. I felt naked.”

How times have changed. Since Michael Jordan first showed up in the NBA with an extra couple of inches on his shorts, basketball bottoms have been steadily creeping lower—and the look quickly was adopted by players nationwide. The last holdout was Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton, who remained loyal to the short-short look. When he retired in 2003, so did the era of visible knees.

Having the bluesb. time immemorial—d. 1990sWhen Bobby McFerrin sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” in 1988, Americans took it as an order. So much so, points out Charles Barber, author of the new book Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, that, in 2005, more money was spent on the antidepressant drug Zoloft than on Tide.

“Kids today are growing up with drugs being advertised on TV like toothpaste, and so are being instilled with the idea that you can rid yourself of untoward emotions,” says Barber. Today, with antidepressants even more refined, marketed, and available, crying into your pillow while blaring Leonard Cohen and reading Anna Karenina has become a kind of crime.

Is the world a better place? It’s hard to say. What’s clear is that we have a better understanding of the chemical causes of certain emotions—a greater sense of why our brains work the way they do. While this is a good thing for those of us wondering why a happy childhood nevertheless resulted in years of mild malaise and head shrinkage, it’s great news for anyone whose life has been completely paralyzed by depression and uncontrollable emotions.

And, for what it’s worth, sadness had an awfully good run before its current exile to Elba. “In the 1800s, Thomas Carlyle talked about how happiness was really only a few hundred years old,” says Barber. “Before that, people were too busy trying to survive and fight off Cossacks to even think about emotions, let alone the idea of being ‘happy.’”

Cashb. pre-600 B.C.—d. early 2000sTake a good whiff of a greenback—if you actually have one in your wallet, that is. The aroma might just take you back to a time of savings passbooks (in lieu of online banking), rolling quarters (instead of hitting the Coinstar machine), and trips to Europe.

What we know about the dollar is shifting almost faster than the exchange rate. Pennies now cost more than a cent to make. And even the color that launched a dozen nicknames—the green stuff, the long green, lettuce, cabbage—is dated. The new 20s are kind of pinkish and periwinkle, and the new fives are ... um, does anyone still use bills besides 20s?

A new edition of Monopoly has completely done away with colored money. As if the banker’s job weren’t sweet enough, she now gets to go all Arthur Andersen on her opponents, inserting players’ “credit cards” in a hand-held machine, checking a balance, which only she can see, and then deducting monies paid to a property’s owner or adding that $2 million earned for passing Go. (Dollar amounts have been seriously adjusted for inflation.)

Not that credit cards are long for this world. Thanks to technology being tested in several states, a simple tap of a cell phone will likely be the way your average shopper will pay for things in coming years. After that, the next logical development would seem to be a technology that automatically deducts funds from our checking accounts when we simply think about what we want to buy. Wait—isn’t that what the Internet is for?

Phone sexb. late 1870s—d. mid-1990sOnce, the number of words you could type per minute was impressive only to an employer. Today, the hunt-and-pecker is seriously handicapped in a much more personal arena: sex.

Thanks to instant- and text-messaging, phone sex is going the way of the VHS. There are just too many advantages to being an SMS or AIM Casanova. You need not worry about phone bills or eavesdropping roommates; images can be swapped quickly or even live; and most IM and text sex can be pursued right at the dinner table or office desk, under the guise of getting homework assignments or checking the human-rights situation in China. It’s also low effort (even orgasm requires little but holding down a couple of vowel keys and hitting return, then gracefully exiting the situation with a quick BRB or TTYL) and can be saved for later enjoyment (Control + C, Control + V, and voilà).

Some are taking it a few steps further. With virtual reality programs such as Second Life, people create avatars of themselves and go on to have illicit affairs and even long-term relationships, often conducted solely with staccato onscreen messages.

Of course, a certain level of intimacy is lost. Giggles are gone; pauses all the more fraught. (Is he transported by passion ... or IM-ing another girl concurrently?)

While it’s doubtful these media could ever threaten the popularity of the actual act, there’s no shortage of people eager to experiment with them. According to a survey conducted in Canada for the site Campuskiss.com, more college students take part in instant-messenger sex than in any kind of telephonic sex.

Because love means never having to say, “Can you hear me now?”

Getting lostb. dawn of man—d. 1990sIn 1983, President Ronald Reagan decreed that the Global Positioning System, theretofore the provenance of the military, would be open to the public. Little did the Gipper know that this decision would affect the lives of untold numbers of couples, all habitually deadlocked on whether to ask for directions.

In an era when “MapQuest” is a verb, having no sense of direction or ability to read a map have become excusable flaws. You can almost count on having a GPS nearby. The technology-focused market research company Forward Concepts reports that 171 million units were shipped last year and more than three times as many will ship in 2011. Though most of the devices are embedded in cars and phones, they’re also helping people keep track of meandering pets, kids, and impaired adults. But, if life truly is about the journey and not the destination, losing “lost” could be a real loss. Consider the ramifications for Western culture had the technology popped up sooner. Would there be The Odyssey? Would Columbus have discovered America?

Doing nothing at the officeb. 1853—d. mid-1990sThe 20th century’s best minds might have brought us many wonders fantastic (Decaf soy lattes! Shoulder-fired missiles! Plastic!), but what is truly stunning is the number of office hours Americans clocked during those same years doing ... nothing much. Taking a cigarette break could sometimes nudge the minute hand a little. The water cooler was also created for this purpose. And paper clips. But in those many empty moments between tasks, much time was spent staring into space.

Idle time’s death knell was the Internet, which created a way to fill every moment while giving the appearance of productivity. The joys of making wastebasket two-pointers and using Scotch Tape to extract nasal blackheads pale when compared with the minute-hand-massaging possibilities of Craigslist and YouTube. According to Nielsen ratings, the average American visits more than 2,000 Web pages a month while on the clock; surveys by Vault.com suggest that close to 90 percent of workers spend part of their day doing Internet browsing that’s unrelated to work.

©2008 by The Washington Post Co.

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