"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Friday, March 25, 2022

Are We Obsolete?

      I learned how to drive in our old VW bug. The car had no radio, hand-crank windows, and a four-speed manual transmission. I was pretty proud of my skills with a manual transmission, because not everyone could do it.

     But now, if you mention a manual transmission, people don't even know what you're talking about. If you want a manual transmission in your new car you have to special order it . . . and wait a few months for someone in China to build it.

     Definitely, driving a manual transmission car, being able to stop and start on a steep hill -- that's an obsolete skill.

     What else is obsolete?

     Fixing a car. You don't fix a car anymore. You just replace a computer chip.

     Reading a map. Everyone uses GPS now. My kids have no idea where they are, much less how they got there. They just follow instructions from their iPhone.

     Tuning into a radio station. I used to be able to rotate the dial and find Cousin Brucie on WABC 770 in New York, without looking at the display -- and when I was in the car, without taking my eyes off the road. Later on as a young adult I could find 1010 WINS, "all news, all the time." Now I just ask google to get whatever I want. I don't even have to touch the device. My sixth sense on the radio dial is completely obsolete.

     Writing. Remember in fourth grade -- or sometime around then -- learning how to write in script? Those flowing "a"s and bulbous "b"s? And how the "h" went above the line, and the "g" below the line? Nobody picks up a pen or pencil anymore.

     Typing. I took a typing class in summer school, the summer after 11th  grade. I tested at 50 wpm, and later managed 60 wpm when I got a Smith Corona electric my sophomore year in college. I was pretty proud of that, since all my friends either had to beg a girl to type their paper for them, or else they employed the hunt-and-peck method at around 20 wpm. But nobody types anymore. They thumb their text messages. That, however, turns out to be a skill beyond me. I resort to hunt-and-peck on the phone.

     Sewing. I recently found out that my wife owns a sewing machine -- and has for most of her adult life. I've known her for 20 years. But I've never seen this machine, much less ever witnessed her actually sewing. Is that because I'm an insensitive, inattentive male? No! It's because she hasn't used her sewing machine even once in all these 20 years. 

     Balancing a checkbook. What's a checkbook? Plastic is the way we pay these days, and even that's starting to get phased out, as the humble check was years ago. Soon we'll all just hold up our phone to a sensor. As for cash? That's for drug dealers only. And coins? People won't even pick them up off the ground.

     Telephone voice. It used to matter how you answered the phone, especially in business. You want to welcome your customers . . . and your friends. But nobody telephones anymore because nobody answers the phone anymore . . . because the only calls we get are robocalls. Instead we text, email, zoom, tweet or Instagram.

     Filing. There used to be a job title called "File clerk." No more. Files are gone. Paper is gone. Sorting by alphabet is a lost art. Now everything just gets sent to the cloud -- and the computers do the sorting.

     Tying a Windsor knot. Sporting a Windsor knot in your tie used to be a mark of class. Everyone knew you were destined for the executive suite. Now the black t-shirt is the dress code of executives. And a Windsor knot is nothing but a sign of pomposity. I don't know what the female equivalent of the Windsor knot is . . . maybe wearing a skirt and high-heels?

     I remember my first resume. I listed Xeroxing under my skill set. Well, that was pretty lame, even then. But if you know how to mimeograph, if you know how to Fax, don't tell anyone. If you use a paper calendar, hide it under your desk. And if you still have an aol email account . . . well, I guess that's okay if you're driving around with a manual transmission.


Arkansas Patti said...

Manual transmission here. I have never owned an automatic. Not exited about stopping for a traffic light on a steep hill though.
Still write checks and balance my check book but then I'm an old banker.
My writing has deteriorated so much I am surprised the bank still cashes my checks and I sometimes can't read my grocery list.
Otherwise, I'm good.

Rian said...

... and I thought I was pretty up to date on most things, but guess not. I did learn to drive on manual, but always found stopping on a hill very scary.

Don't write many checks, hardly ever have any cash on me, but do still write letters and notes (sometimes in cursive, sometimes typed)!

I did take typing as a teenager, but didn't really use it until computers came along. I don't sew a lot, but do like to machine quilt. I do text and email, blog, belong to Facebook, but not to twitter, Instagram, or any of the others.

And although we do use GPS, I still like to read a map when traveling! There's actually something fascinating about letters and maps that texting and GPS's just don't have.

DJan said...

I'm with Patti: I've been driving a manual transmission most of my life, although when I've gotten a rental car and driven around an automatic for a while, I think I'd like one. But at my age (I'm 79) there doesn't seem to be any reason for me to trade in the car I'll probably use until I stop driving. :-)

Miss Merry said...

I retired about 8/9 years ago. I was still typing on a laptop and still type on a laptop as a volunteer secretary for many organizations. I also still filed at my old job. It was a sales office and in all honestly, most salesman kept paper records on handmade forms that they then entered into computers, filing their own paper copies which had notes on their research and room for other information. We then printed (on computer printers) three copies of all orders, one for a shipping copy, one for back up files and a third for backup billing at corporate, because if it got lost in the computer, you were really sunk. I really think in my experience,computer use in offices has not really eliminated any paper in the trenches.

Tom said...

So what I'm hearing is that ... we're not so obsolete after all!

Bobi said...

I'm with Patti too. Been driving a manual all my life. Among other things, manuals are a deterrent to theft because thieves can't drive them and they save on gas too!

Rian said...

Oh... I shouldn't admit this, but we're also still on aol.com. ;)

Anonymous said...

So many things resonated with me in this post! My brother had a rotation of 3 VW Beetles at all times in the 60s, so that he could grab parts as needed an always have at least one running. Everyone I knew had the stripped down version, with manual roll up windows and no radio. It's probably my old age talking but I think it was good for our character to do without those "luxury" things when we were young and starting out (my ex and I bought furniture, tv, stereo, etc., slooowwly over years, paying as we could afford to. I swear to you that when I think of the happiest time of my life, that was it. We had good jobs and earned enough to pay rent on a very basic apartment (no A/C, for example) but not enough for many extras, and it was tremendous fun.

I'm grateful for the GPS but don't like the feeling of not knowing where I am, despite knowing where to go. We always take an atlas and usually a map for the state we're in so we can get a handle on it. As a person with a not-great sense of direction, the GPS was a life changer for me.

Great post.

Red said...

Great post. Sadly all this is true.

Linda Myers said...

I still do all the things you mentioned - except sew. I lent my machine to a friend 20 years ago and never asked for it back.

But I can do most of the modern things as well. Very inept at thumb texting because I need one hand to hold my phone!

I've just recently been reminded that I can send a copy of a page by taking a photo of it with my phone and sending it off via email. Cool!

ApacheDug said...

When I saw the title I thought this would be more for "the older crowd" (I'm only 60) but hahaha omigosh I related to all of these. ALL OF THEM.

(I too can still type 50 WPM from taking a typing class my junior year, and I too don't get the 'thumb-texting'!)

Wait, here's how outmoded I am: last year when I sold my car to my sister's friend's daughter, I asked my sister if theu'd like my Garmin GPS as a bonus. My sister said "Oh Doug, no one's used one of those in years, they do all that on their phones now." C'mon!!

Pam said...

I can relate to this list! One thing I'd like to add is ironing fabric. Regardless of whether it's wrinkled clothing, pillow cases, or curtains, I cannot keep myself from putting up the ironing board and getting rid of those confounded wrinkles. My kids don't even own irons. They have steamers...oh my

Kathy @ SMART Living 365 said...

Hi Tom, As your post clearly points out it is obvious that things have change A LOT since we began. I learned on a manual transmission and drove one for years but it has been a while. As for the other things, I still type, still write long hand in my journal (they say it is good for the brain) and try to answer the phone nicely if it is a phone number i recognize. As for sewing I never learned and don't intend to and finally gave up balancing the checkbook...only write one or two checks a year anyway...everything else is online. But for the most part I'm happy with the changes. The challenge is to keep changing as we age and NEVER become obsolete! ~ ~Kathy

Gail, northern California said...

Feeling absolutely ancient after reading your post.
My car is automatic but I learned to drive using a stick shift. I still write checks and still balance the checkbook...just finished that task about 10 minutes ago. Visa card is used for a few bills, and on-line purchases using PayPal and Amazon. I still use e-mail. I still write thank you notes...some typewritten, some cursive. I'm 77 years old.
Last night I watched "Margin Call", an excellent movie about Wall Street in 2008. I was struck by how handsome the men looked then in their suits -- especially the three-piece with beautiful tie. One of the executives even shaved between meetings!
It saddens me somehow that eventually no one will ever receive a lovely hand-written love letter.

Kevin in Virginia said...

Having learned celestial navigation in the '60's, I worry today about sailors trying to navigate in open ocean after the satellites go down. The rest of it - car transmissions, typewriters, ironing, are all skills that can be learned pretty quickly. Great post, Tom!

jono said...

On a clear night I could pick up WBZ in Boston! Yes, we have some obsolete skills, but I can survive long power outages without going into a full blown panic!

Tabor said...

Waiting for me to be obsolete.

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

I don't know anything about a Windsor Knot, but I do know about a manual transmission. It was $300.00 cheaper to buy my car with a manual transmission so that's what I got. My father had to drive it home and then teach me how to use it. But I was still choppy until a friend let me drive his Corvair. Yep, the bane of Nader. I will never forget being stopped at a light on an uphill and stalling the car out 3 times (and missing the light 3 times) before I was able to get the brake/clutch/gas combo down perfectly and zoom away. After that experience, my car was a piece of cake.

Meryl Baer said...

I was proud of my manual transmission driving skill. I am with you on everything except the Windsor knot. I have not sewn anything since pregnant with my first son. I no longer own a sewing machine, and couldn't find a needle and thread anywhere in my house. Then there's carbon paper, vinyl records, and who needs a flashlight when your phone lights up?

Tom said...

Oh Meryl, I forgot about carbon paper. Now I'm going to have nightmares!

Kay said...

I was trying to show my 6 year old grandson how to form his letters and my son told me not to worry about it because it's all going to be computers anyway. Arrrghhh...

You sure brought back a LOT of memories.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I still use my 1 semester of typing skills to write my blog while everyone else pecks away. And my sewing machine has been sitting in my closet not getting used even though my mother was a dressmaker and taught me how to sew. I love using GPS, though, because I was always bad at using maps.

Ed said...

Thank you for this post! Someone needed to say these things and I can sympathize on every single one except for listing Xeroxing as a skill set on my first resume. I listed able to use word processing, spreadsheet and database programs and fluent in BASIC programing. All lame then as well and unheard of now, especially BASIC.

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