Thursday, December 23, 2010


I came across an article in Huffington Post today. The title is “You're Out: 20 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade”. While I took a peep of what things are mentioned in the list, most of them are the usual suspects that were covered by other articles elsewhere.
That lists includes:

1. VCRs And VHS Tapes
2. Travel Agents
3. The Separation Between Work Life And Personal Life
4. Bookstores
5. Watches
6. Phone Sex Via 1-900 Numbers
7. Maps
8. Calling
9. Classifieds In Newspapers
10. Dial-Up Internet
11. Encyclopedias
12. CDs
13. Landline Phones
14. Film (And Film Cameras)
15. Yellow Pages And Address Books
16. Catalogs
17. Fax machines
18. Wires
19. Hand-Written Letters
20. Forgetting

Certainly, this list is quite U.S. centric. From a global perspective, the list may not be totally applicable. E.g. Phone Sex Via 1-900 Numbers is very U.S. For some countries, VCDs would be added along with VHS. Travel agencies are still very widely popular. Also, calling is declining in the U.S. and some other countries like Singapore because calling is more expensive than texting, otherwise, I don’t see verbal conversation as a natural part of our human communication for last million year would diminish at all.

For the other items, they become obsolete as a result of ‘natural’ technology enhancement. Video Tapes, CDs, Watches, Maps , Dial-up internet, encyclopedias, landline phones, film and film camera, yellow pages and address books, catalogs, fax machines, wires, hand-written letters could all pretty much be replaced by smartphones. It doesn’t mean that our needs of voice and text communication, imaging, audio and visual entertainment, information access are any less these days if not more than before. Those needs are just being fulfilled by a more portable, multi-functional device with data in different format. Regarding bookstore, travel agency, classified ads in newspaper and catalog, their demise is basically a change of business model as a result of technology enhancement. The Separation Between Work Life And Personal Life has been blurred is a sad and unfortunate effect that affect most white collar workers. On the other hand, it could be blessing that we can keep check of our personal life while we are at work. It is a double edged sword indeed.

What I am most amazed of the 20 items is the remaining one – ‘forgetting’. It is something I’ve never really thought of, comparing with the rest 19. What the article said is that:

"The web means the end of forgetting," wrote the New York Times earlier this year. "The Internet records everything and forgets nothing." Indeed, increasingly there's a digital copy of everything we do: the emails we send, the phone calls we make, the places we go, the pictures we take, the opinions we write. Google CEO Eric Schmidt even suggested (in what he later said was a joke) that young people ought to be able to change their names when they hit adulthood in order to escape their "permanent record" on the Internet. We can collect data on everything from our sleep habits to our spending, making it harder than ever for us--and the Internet--to forget what we've said, purchased, or done. "

Talking about the double-edged sword again, this is even equally scary and amazing at the same time. The upside is that truthful and accurate information, historical records and evidence can be genuinely and conveniently stored these days literally forever for future access. Myth, lies, miracles are harder to be created these days. More truths can be told and justice can be served theoretically. Of course, the most technological elites and the governmental authorities with vast resources can still create elaborate scams or cover-ups if they want to, but it is getting more difficult, that’s for sure. The flip side of the coin is that lying and disguise are part of human nature. Many of us are not that bright in handling our information, either speaking our mind too openly or doing stupid things every now and then. Those things would become public records down the road that may come back to haunt us unexpectedly. For examples, telling a sweet white lie to your love one about where you have been? No, your GPS records and some video clips with face reconition would tell the truth. Wanna hide your words or activities in your wild party college days when you wanna run for any public offices, seeking employments of certain sensitive posts, or from your future father-in-law? Not gonna happen with the easy access of almost everything about you. If people wanna dig, they will sure find something about you, regardless it is gold or shit, they can be found. Secrets are hard and costly to be maintained, so do the cover-ups of scandals. I think the consequences would be
- Thinking twice before we say/do anything
- Getting ready to face disclosure of our personal past and thicken our skin to deliver explanation and apology
- Becoming desensitize of personal disclosure as it has become so commonplace that we just don’t bother to care
- Lowering our expectation of the moral standard of certain public figures than before, since we are not much better ourselves.

To me, forgetting has been something very natural. We accept that we do forget things and like to do so, especially unhappy or painful memory. As it is said that ‘Time heals’, it means that we will be occupied by new acquintainces and issues, they will make us naturally put our past in the back-burner. Soon or later, we may forget them and move on. However, it would be harder to do that these days. The past, no matter how joyful or painful, is so ready to be retrieved. Just imagine if digital, high-definition, 3D images of holocaust, massacres, and all types of accidents, disasters and destructions can be access at our finger tips instantly, how the victims would be able to heal?

It really gives me something to think about…


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