I’m determined that, some day, I’ll find the time to put together the coffee-table book that has been percolating in my head for a decade or so. It’ll be called “Where’d It Go?” or “Whatever Happened to Baby Ruth?” or some similar title that reflects the silent, rapid, baffling disappearance of those objects that once formed the foundation of our daily personal and business lives.
Certainly the book will include full-color pages on carbon paper, wooden clothes pins, Coke bottles, typewriters, Wite-Out, rooftop TV antennas, ¾-inch tape machines, record players, answering machines, carburetors and goose horns. But the longer I delay publishing the book, the longer and heavier the book becomes, for now I must consider adding first- and second-generation technology that is being replaced by subsequent generations. So I’m also reserving pages for:
Beyond the never-ending obsolescing of our favorite products, however, I’m running into another nagging issue. None of these items has really totally disappeared. Many businesses in cold climates still prefer carbon paper because carbonless systems don’t work well there. Camera crews use wooden clothes pin every day to clip gels over powerful lights—the wood doesn’t absorb the heat. The occasional columnist still literally pounds out his wares, and vinyl is becoming a prestige medium for music.
The fact that so many of these now useless devices have continued to draw so many users has made me reluctant to add print newspapers and magazines to my ready-to-die list. No matter how convenient the Web, no matter how uneconomical the alternatives, I have a strong feeling that the world holds a niche for the morning paper and the weekly mag, just as it does for mp3 and flash drives.
To update General MacArthur, newsprint doesn’t die; it just slowly fades away—but it grows on trees and will always be revived by those who, lounging in their yard on a July 4th weekend, would rather fall asleep with the funnies covering their face than with a mobile phone in their eye.
And as for my coffee-table opus, on further reflection I’ve come to realize that my list of practically obsolete products has failed to include two other items that are ready to bite the dust (except for the nostalgic few of us) coffee tables … and coffee-table books.