By Anna Jane Grossman
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Additional resources for Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By, from Mix Tapes and Modesty to Typewriters and Truly Blind Dates
Getting ready for a date once involved little more than a blow-dryer, a razor, and a handful of products that could be found at the drugstore (or the grocery store, if you were one of those mayonnaise-conditioner people). No need to worry about the fact that you were sprouting little rain forests over each eye. Today, however, a primper’s routine might involve spending several hours and more than a few dollars on professional services: eyebrow threading, lip bleaching, armpit waxing, pubic hair removal via lasers—even those little fluffy fellas near the hairline are likely to get pulled.
So many of the changes that took place during the ten years that I knew Beatrice were rooted in technology, but most of them had affected me in ways far beyond anything that lived as pixels on a screen. ” It seems like I have a new cell phone every year, and, thanks to speed dial, I’ve never learned my boyfriend’s number. I have little doubt that my iPod will need to be replaced before I finish this paragraph. And yet, it wasn’t really so long ago that I knew every button and curve and scratch on my yellow and gray Sony Sports Walkman AM/FM cassette player (the one with the clip and rubber buttons), or that I kept a leather-bound diary, or could dial my friends with my eyes closed.
All those hours I spent practicing cursive writing or figuring out programming in BASIC or learning how to use card catalogs and microfiche … I don’t regret learning those things, but they are skills that are even less useful than the stuff I knew wasn’t going to be relevant to my life (ahem, calculus). The question is: What happens to bits of knowledge that are no longer relevant? Some of it, I imagine, will be handed down, at least for another couple of centuries—I’ve seen academic journals with articles on, say, mid-eighteenth-century butter dishes, and there are still people out there who make chainmail suits.