On a cruise last year I met a fellow with a disposable camera. He was embarrassed about it - partly because he was an engineer by trade, and people expected engineers to be technologically savvy, and partly because no one has them anymore. We advised him to finish the roll as quickly as possible, because Kodak probably had a few guys just waiting for the last one to come in for processing so they could get on with the rest of their lives. Every day, they checked the mail.

Did it come?

Nah. Sigh. Okay, well, who’s up for checkers?

What do you mean? I’m going home. There’s nothing to do. Kodak is history. It’s just you and me in this empty office building waiting for the last camera.

Yeah, but they’re paying us.

Right. In film. They’re paying us in Instamatic cartridges.

You can sell those on eBay. I do. It’s not a lot but I get by.

Anyway, the cameras are one of the 50 things we don’t do anymore because computers and smartphones changed everything. The list holds few surprises, and some are just format changes. We still consult Yellow Pages or an encyclopedia, for example. We’ve just shifted the format from physical to digital. Others are a bit obscure - dial *69 to see who called you last? Never did that.

Pay bills at the post office? Not many people did that before. We used these things called “Mailboxes,” and sometimes I still do. “Go to the bank to conduct your business.” In the sense of entering a vast temple of money were people queue up to deal with tellers, not so much. I used to hate going to the bank, because I always expet the teller to frown, say “you have an account, you said? I’m not showing anything.” But I like wandering down to the Credit Union, depositing a check, and maybe picking up a free pen. This is now the equivalent of going to the General Store and shooting the breeze for an hour with three coots sitting around a cast-iron furnace, I guess.

#33 Pay by paper check. No one does that anymore! The Boy Scouts come around selling boxes of grapefruit you neither want nor need but buy anyway, you just give them plastic and they memorize the number. Right.

#34 Make a photo album. Nonsense. Plenty of people make scrapbooks, and as long as there are Moms there will be scrapbooks. I make a Shutterfly book of family pictures at the end of ever year, because people around the house are more likely to look at it. Otherwise they have to go to the computer and find the pictures, or wait for the TV screensaver to kick in and load the TRIP folder on the network. This is the golden age of democratized photography, and yes, most of it is dreck, but the more pictures you have, the less likely you are to look at them.

I just made that up, but it’s probably backed up by a study somewhere.

Here’s the one that stuck out: “Watch videos. DVD and VCRs.” If that’s the case, then there shouldn’t be a line at the Redbox on Friday, with everyone starting to fume because the person at the machine is taking ten minutes to decide which movie to rent. Yes, lots of people get their content streamed; I do. A lot of people who sniffed at DVDs are watching a pirated copy. But DVDs and VCRs are not in the same category, for one thing. A VCR is just a low-capacity DVR. A Blu-Ray is superior to most streaming content on a good TV. There’s no shame in watching a disc. It’s not the equivalent of blinking-12:00 on your microwave. 

And so on. There’s an underlying message: physical media are history. Not entirely true, but we’re on the way. I don’t miss phone books, and I don’t miss paper address books, and the tedium of paying bills with paper and pen is nothing anyone misses, unless you liked to write angry messages on the NOTES line. But it reminds you of the variety of objects with which we interacted on a regular basis - heavy Yellow Pages, freshly printed newspapers, single sheets chosen for a love note, the serendipitous wonders of an encyclopedia and the way it made the world seem comfortingly comprehensible just by arranging All Things in alphabetical order.

I do know this: in the old days before I learned how to type, I wrote out my work on paper and gave to a typist. Never lost a column. Whereas for some reason the version of this I put in my Dropbox disappeared, and when I got to the office I had to write the whole thing over again.

I print out everything I do. Digital is great. It’s gone when you pull the plug. It’s gone when the drive crashes. It’s gone when the account lapses. Which brings us to . . .


ART Not a fan of his, but this is interesting:

Researchers at the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library have stumbled upon a treasure trove of works by poet and artist William Blake.

After two years work the students, overseen by Blake expert and Manchester university art historian Colin Trodd, found about 350 engraved plates designed by Blake in the collection.

That’s a lot of Blake. If they'd been stored on a steam-powered Difference Engine, they'd have been lost forever. Even if you could power it up and get it working, just trying finding the original OS for that thing. 



ARCHITECTURE I much prefer the earth-shattering kaboom. A new way of demolishing buildings that doesn’t involve explosives and smoke and dust and guys shouting WOOOOOOO in the background:





It eats the building. If they could get that thing to move faster there is an awesome action-adventure-suspense movie to be made in one of those structures.