I saw a newspaper article the other day explaining why graduates should commit themselves to innovating. It said that a third or more of the products and services used 40 or so years ago are now gone -- replaced by others.
I'd never thought about it that way.
I began to picture what's now gone. And how that played out during a typical day.
Once, your mother wrapped your sandwich in tin foil, there being no Baggies, and put it in a square metal container called a lunchbox.
Often, you also carried an oversized Thermos. But if you were lucky, you'd get a quarter to get a bottle of Coke from a machine. The bottle was made of glass. Luckily, the machines had openers because the Cokes did not have screw-off tops. Later, sodas were sold in cans that had sharp pop-tops that came completely off, and you often just dropped them back in, hoping you wouldn't swallow them. It was an accomplishment to be able to crush the cans, because they were made of heavy-duty metal.
You had to find out the weather from the morning paper, which back then was delivered by kids on bikes. There was no Weather Channel or CNN to check on your cathode ray television.
Nor was there any MTV, which meant, oddly, that musical artists made songs just for the audio rather than the video. These songs came on vinyl records to be played on something called a phonograph. Most albums had only one or two good songs, and the rest was just filler. You couldn't download music because there were no computers or Internet, but you could copy it on reel-to-reel.
Still, you could listen to broadcast music on a transistor radio. It was based on electronic components called transistors which were once thought to be small, but now, compared with silicon chips, seem absurdly oversized. In the same way, 8-track tapes, roughly the size of paperback books, were seen as a compact way to package music, since they had a capacity of 20 or so songs -- a bit less than the 5,000 you can now put on MP-3 players a tenth the size.
Instead of word-processing, you typed letters on a thing called a typewriter. Since they did not come with a send icon, you put the letter into stamped envelopes. If you needed a copy, you used carbon paper.
You took out the garbage in metal pails, stuffed with brown grocery bags, there being no three-ply Hefty bags.
Food from McDonald's came in little bags, too, instead of styrofoam cartons, and most of the outlets actually did have golden arches.
People in restaurants, and other enclosed spaces such as airplanes, smoked things called cigarettes within inhaling range of non-smokers.
There was no speed-dial, since rotary phones didn't work that way. While talking, you could only go as far as the cord stretched. If you weren't home when someone called, they'd have to call again, there being no way to leave a message. If you were on the phone when they called, they got a busy signal.
You had to reheat food in a traditional oven, since microwaves were primarily associated with radar. When you went to the movies there was only one screen.
You had only one option for taking pictures -- with film that had to be developed, and you did not throw away your camera when you were done with a roll.
If you needed money, you waited in line until a human teller could help. Service stations had human attendants who pumped gas for you, and then cleaned your windshield.
Pill containers did not come with special instructions for opening, since all you did was unscrew them.
Finally, you had to open car doors with a key instead of a button. Similarly, you needed a key instead of a plastic card for motel rooms. Most motel pools allowed for a dramatic cannonball since they had diving boards.
Life is more sophisticated now.
We live in a golden age of Ipods, laptops, multiplexes and cars with navigation. We have Palm Pilots, Blackberries, camera cell phones and flatscreens.
Just don't get too used to those things.
Soon enough, they'll be in the same pile as the typewriter.
X Mark Patinkin writes for the Providence Journal. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.