December 10, 2010

Can You Live Without These?

Life is made up of change. Nothing stays the same for very long. Both are true statements but that doesn't make them any easier to accept. As human we prefer stability. When things don't change it is easier to predict what will happen or how our life will unfold. Unfortunately, those desires are in conflict with the real world.

There are probably hundreds of different things I could write about in this regard, but  I would like to focus on everyday stuff. Several months ago I had a similar post that asked if certain things we are used to are disappearing. Because that article was written well before this blog had many readers, you probably didn't see it. So, it seemed a good one to modify, add to, and re-run. Here goes: everyday items that will someday disappear from our lives.

  • Yellow & White Pages. Several phone companies have taken steps to eliminate the printed books that arrive with a thump on your front porch once a year. Yellow page advertising continues to decline in actual dollars spent and in effectiveness. On-line searching has become the first choice to find something that was once available only in printed form. White pages for residential listings will probably live longer than business white pages for exactly the same reason. It is simply habit now for most of us to find a business phone number, along with a map of the location, and store hours on Google or Yahoo. Phone companies can save whole bunches of money if those massive books don't have to be printed and distributed once or twice a year.

  • Movie Rental Stores. The stand alone video rental store is not long for this world. Hollywood Video went bankrupt and was purchased by Movie Gallery which then filed for liquidation in October. Blockbuster Video stores are closing at a rapid pace in most cities as it also fights through bankruptcy  It has made several attempts to use kiosks to distribute DVDs, but Redbox has seemingly won that battle. Meanwhile Netflix recently announced a shift in emphasis from sending DVDs through the mail to streaming directly to TVs and computers as their preferred business model. Next up the 800 pound gorilla, Google TV, is beginning to make its mark, while services like Hulu chip away at cable use. Physically picking out a movie and bringing it back to a store are destined for the scrap heap at a speed more quickly than most would have predicted even 3 or 4 years ago.

  • The Post Office. Any "normal" business as out of step with the world around it as the postal service would have disappeared years ago. But, the promise of universal mail service keeps this dinosaur alive. Even common sense suggestions like eliminating Saturday delivery are met with howls of protest, all while demanding the service stop losing billions a year. But, changes must occur, and they will be substantial. Five day delivery is a given. Delivery directly to your home or neighborhood box may end. Private companies are already partially involved. E-mail, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office functioning. Most of your mail now is just bills, magazines, and junk mail. 

  • Paper Checks. This was mentioned as part of the previous post. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. As Interest security gets better  electronic transfers are much more secure than paper checks.  America will not see the check disappear as quickly as those in England will, but it is coming. Check usage continues to shrink. It nows accounts for less than 50% of consumers' recurring bill payments, down from 72% in 2001 and 60% in 2003. Without an effective, cost-efficient postal service, the movement away from checks will accelerate.

  • Handwritten letters. Another causality of the change from written mail  to electronic communication is the handwritten letter. How many of us were raised to mail a Thank You note for a present within a few days of receiving the gift? How many wrote letters to home from summer camp or back and forth when one half of a couple was in the military? Handwritten letters have been important in our lives, but are virtually gone now. Children aren't being taught cursive writing in many schools, so they can't write a letter or couldn't even read one they receive.

  • The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper. They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That will go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. It is out-of-date when printed and much too expensive to distribute. As for reading the paper on line, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers have caused many newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance to determine a pay-for-reading business model that will work.

  • Cable TV.  As more people get their entertainment from streaming sources the need to spend $75 a month or more on cable is diminishing. Most network shows are available on the Internet within 24 hours of airing on TV. Movie choices are abundant, and at much cheaper prices than cable's On Demand-type offerings. Cable companies raise prices and still get into battles with suppliers, resulting in loss of certain channels for many of us for periods of time. Outlets like the Discovery Channel stream right to my Android phone. In our house, cable will either be eliminated, or cut back to basic service this Spring. I can't justify the cost for amount of time we spend not watching those 250 channels.

  • The Land Line Telephone. Have you ever watched the TV show "Brothers & Sisters?"  There is a huge family that spends close to half of each episode on their cell phones. Even 60-something Mom (Sally Field) doesn't see to own a land line phone. Those of us who still have one keep it because because we've always had it, not because it gets lots of use. Now that cell phones make it possible for 9-1-1 calls to be tracked, the last real reason to hold on to that desk phone is gone.

Adapting to change and using it to our benefit are important steps for us on our journey to a satisfying retirement. Which of the things on my list above will you miss the most? Which ones are you happy to see go? What didn't I list that you believe is not long for this world?

I'll tally up comments and pull this post out again in a year or so and see how we did in our prognostications.

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  1. While there are other things I'll miss, like a land line, the one thing I'd miss hands down is the post office. I'd miss the mail arriving in my mailbox and the pleasure of discovering that it's not a bill but a Christmas card or a letter from an elderly aunt. I'd even miss lining up at the post office to mail a package. It's amazing the characters you meet in one of those line ups.

    Another every day item I can see disappearing soon - the desktop computer.

  2. First, I must say how excited I am to find your blog. I love a good travel site. Thanks for visiting here with your excellent comment, and for allowing me to find you.

    I agree with your postal service observation. Until my mail became just junk mail, it used to be almost like Christmas every day. What would I find after that white and blue truck drove away from the box? It was fun to reach in and pull out a magazine you had been waiting for, or a letter from an old friend.

    You are correct about the desktop computer. There are people predicting even laptops are too big and bulky. I'm getting used to my smartphone for texting, but I don't use it for web surfing...the screen is too small for enjoyment or work.

  3. I loathe the Yellow Pages that thumps down at my door a couple times a year (seriously, isn't that what Google is for?), but I would feel sad to lose hand-written letters. Although my love of old-fashioned letters is distinctly anachronistic and not particularly eco-friendly, I keep up a correspondence with several of my friends and my husband's grandmother (no computer). There's still something special about going down to the post box and finding a letter from one of them -- I don't think email will ever quite be able to duplicate it.

  4. I think that maps will soon be a thing of the past except for those of us who like to look at them and hang them on our walls. Nowadays, if you do not have a GPS in your car or phone or computer, you generally go to Google Maps ahead of time and print whatever you may need to get to your destination. I will never get rid of my atlas - I love maps!

  5. Jennifer,

    E-mail is a poor substitute for conveying emotion and complicated issues. We also need to remember that not everyone has access to a computer. The loss of handwriting skills and their use will leave us a poorer people.


    For a time as a youngster I wanted to be a cartographer. I keep a map in the car, but otherwise you are right, GPS and Google maps do it all.

  6. I think the hand written letter's demise has already changed our civilization. Never again will we be able to chronicle the life and interaction of people over time. Can you imagine a compilation of emails? Would you ever read them - even the ones from famous people. Even worse a collection of Tweets.

  7. I was shocked when I read recently that many schools don't teach cursive writing anymore. At some point there will be no one who can even read a written document, much less create one.

    With the denial of service incidents of the last few days involving MasterCard, Visa, et al I wonder why no one sees the dangers of betting everything on an insecure Internet as the only form of communication.

    Kind of reminds me of when the government decided only one mass, long distance transportation system should be supported: airplanes. Anyone can see the mess that has left us in.

  8. Any phone books go into the recycle bin with the plastic bag still on them. My son uses NetFlex and we got rid of our cable and newspapers years ago. I like getting my mail delivered but I would love it if they didn't deliver on Saturday. We used to go to a cabin in the mountains a lot and I hated knowing that the Saturday mail was sitting out all weekend. If I ever get the chance to run off on weekends again I hope the mail has stopped on Saturdays.

  9. I love the title of your blog, Sue: Suzie Utoozie.

    I agree with every point you made. The phone books never make it into the house, though our area doesn't recycle the plastic bags. Saturday mail delivery must stop. There is no way the postal service can pay for it much longer. Like you, I won't miss it and it will make weekend getaways easier.

    Since we can hook this laptop to the TV and all networks make their shows available on line almost immediately after they air, the rational for cable is gone. The only thing I'll miss with be baseball and hockey which are only on cable. But, I don't watch as much as I once did so I'll adjust. Netflix is pretty much all I use anymore.

  10. Another thing that won't disappear completely for awhile, but is certainly fading, is the face to face conversation, or even the phone conversation. My daughter often communicates with her boyfriend via Facebook or texting rather than have a voice conversation via phone. And I'm embarrassed to admit that I have emailed a colleague in another part of the building rather than just walk over to say what I want to say face to face.

  11. Hi Galen,

    That was the focus of a post I wrote in October about texting and talking. I'll add the direct link under Related Posts above if you'd like to read it. You are exactly right. I have a niece who texts her Mom in the next room rather than talking with her.

    Since I got a smartphone I am finding I am texting, too. My youngest daughter is 30 and her generation prefers texts over most other forms of communication.

  12. Good thoughts, and I'm sure many of them will come true. About land lines....unless you carry your cel phone with you, you must live in a small house for it to be your only phone. We live in a sprawling 2 story house ( California Tax laws make it silly to move, and we host large family gatherings) and will do so for a while. Our land line has a phone in each of the 4 bedrooms, one in the kitchen, one in my wife's office, one in the dining room and one in the family den. I keep my cel phone on the charger in the kitchen, and check it hourly for work calls. However, I can't get to it quickly from most areas of the house, even if I hear it. When you can plant extensions for your cel around the house, that will truly kill the land lines.
    Cheers, Keith

  13. Welcome Keith,

    The situation you describe is probably what keeps a fair number of land lines in use. I had to learn to carry my cell phone wherever I go in our two story home. Every once in awhile I'll forget where I left it and I'll have my wife call it so I can follow the ringing.

    Before our kids left home we had a much bigger home where no wired phone would have been impractical. But, since downsizing by about 50% it is not difficult.

  14. Hi Bob.

    I'll offer a tangent to this post, which didn't occur to me during your October post.

    The cell phone dialogue reminds me of the wonderful connectedness technology has provided our family. My wife and I are in Nebraska, and the kids are in Boston, NYC, and Madrid, yet we keep in contact just like we were across town from each other. We often hear from the kids when they are walking somewhere and just killing some time with a call to mom or dad; and we will often send each other random pictures on the cell phone or blackberry. Great simple connections. For example, on Thanksgiving at grandpa and grandma's we had two kids in Madrid, and put them on the laptop on skype where they showed off their Spanish thanksgiving meal and visited with everyone back home.

    We got rid of our land line a while back, and had the home number ported into my wife's cell so that is now her cell number (and thus anyone who calls the "home number" still finds us).

    Send some heat up north will ya? (Minus 19 windchill right now, and the dog still wants to go for a walk :--).

  15. Morning J,

    Can't help you much with the heat thing. We're supposed to be around 80 today and tomorrow before getting back to a more seasonable 70 by midweek. I remember that type of cold when we lived in Cedar Rapids.

    Yes, the cell phone and free long distance have become a real blessing to families. Skype or AOL's AIM are fabulous tools for seeing each other.

    The comment above this one from Keith does point out a situation where a landline is still required, but his is the exception to the rule, I think.

    Stay as warm as you can, my friend. Train the dog to use a toilet!

  16. The Post Office is still the soldier's best friend. Without it many of our troops would not have contact with home- since internet is scare in their areas. Wait until our troops get home before you eliminate the postal service.

    We get the local paper- but it is delivered by---the post office! We only get it to learn about daily events in our tiny town. My mom gets it in Phoenix to keep up with the obits (sad to say).

    We do not get cell phone coverage at our house. GASP! I just got home from a training where the trainers expected us to use our cell phones on the road to call the schools. I asked if they were going to pay for the phones. They said it wasn't much of "your plan" and they would reimburse five cents a minute- but you had to send in your bill. Laughingly I asked about my 22 cent a minute pay as you go phone. EVERYONE was shocked that I did not have a cell.

    CD players, cassette players- those are gone. Even I have an Ipod!

  17. You make a very good point about the importance of mail to the military. Postal service will never disappear. Saturday delivery and universal home delivery are unsupportable but some form of mail delivery will survive.

    My son-in-law was lucky when he served two tours in the Mideast. In both situations he had almost constant Internet contact with his family and even regular telephone schedules. But, we did ship him Christmas goodies through the APO system and were very grateful for its existence.

    No cell phone service at your home yet you can turn out an excellent blog that is available world-wide. Go figure!