If you've ever sat down and talked to your grandparents you've probably heard countless tales of what life was like back in the day. You might hear them talk about long forgotten technologies like rotary phones, black and white televisions that had 6 channels, an antennae and no remote, or (depending on your age) items like punch cards and the telegraph. Today's generation would be hard pressed to remember records, reel to reel recordings, or dialing the operator to make a call. If you kept listening to old Grandad he'd regale you with stories about 10 cent gas and 5 cent stores before going off on a rant about Hitler and those damn Japs as he slowly drifts off to sleep in his chair. I myself even remember complaining about gas going up to 89 cents. Ah, those were the days.
You may be laughing and calling me an old man, but we'll all be there one day. We'll be able to tell our kids about long gone technologies too - when we're not busy yelling at them to get off of our lawn or ranting about Saddam Hussein.
So before I drift off into a rant about those damn terrorists, let me present my top 10 endangered items / ideas list. I predict that most (if not all) of these things will be extinct long before our grand kids send us off to the old folks home.
1. The Newspaper. Just last night I was having dinner with my grandparents and we were discussing my cousin's inability to find a job after college (side note: Don't list beer pong on your resume.) My mom chimed in with "it's not like he's trying, he's only been looking online." As somebody who's currently looking to hire both programming and graphic design interns (seriously if you're in the Detroit area drop me a line) I had to chime in with "well, where else should he look?"
Have you looked at the want ads lately? Compared to sites like monster.com or indeed.com the newspapers can't compete - and it shows. Nobody's advertising there. All 3 jobs I've had since college have all been found online - and I certainly wouldn't think of even posting a job somewhere else.
The same is true for news. I don't know anybody under 30 who gets a regular newspaper subscription. We all go online for our news. As far as the paper is concerned, it's old news. Not only that, it's 100% objective. As proven by all of today's social sites and news aggregators (like this one) today's youth wants insight and opinion. Above all, they want to be able to discuss the news with others. The newspaper industry is dying a quick death and most of them don't even realize it. Instead of embracing technology they're still fighting it by locking up content and trying to sue Google for sending them traffic. Of all the technologies I'm about to list, this one will crash and burn the hardest.
2. Land Line Phones. I could have said pay phones, but they're just a symptom of a greater cause. Land line phones are all but dead. If the cell phone didn't kill them, services likeSkype and SIPphone certainly will (provided it's not windows update day.) With cell phone long distance being cheaper than most land lines, there's really no reason to have another phone at home. T-Mobile seems to have spotted this trend and is offering a cell phone that also works on a wireless router, but even that is a dying model. As cell phone competition is increasing it's only a matter of time before rate plans are reduced to flat monthly fees. We saw it happen with regular long distance, and there's no reason to prevent it from happening with cell phones. Hang on to that old corded phone in your parents kitchen - it may just be worth something in a few years.
3. Phone Books. Sticking with the phone motif, printed phone books will have to be #3 on the list. I personally throw them right in the recycle bin when the arrive, and you'd be hard pressed to find a 20-something who isn't using theirs to prop up a table, tear in half, or for shooting practice. You don't have to be a strongman to tear one in half. There's a trick to it. Catch me in the bar and bet $20 and I'll show you how. This is another area where online services are stepping in and doing a better job than print media (we'll see a few more of those a little lower down.) EvenYellowpages.com can't do as good of a job as Google, Yahoo, MSN , and Ask are doing. Looking at daily traffic reports for my 20 or so clients, Google local is delivering about 70-80 times the visitors asyellowpages.com and bluebook.com. The situation is so bad that Yellowpages .com has even resorted to offering "paid inclusion" programs, and advertising programs where you can pay them to place your ad on Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc. That's not a sign that things are going good for them. The same arguments here can also be applied toward dictionaries, thesauruses, and eventually even bibles.
4. The Music Album. Technically, this concept is already on life support. There was a time when people would buy an album and listen to it from start to end. There was also a time when the order of the songs added to the overall music listening experience. Unfortunately, that time coincided with the popularity of the phonograph. In today's ultra compressed post-Napster music industry nobody buys albums; they buy songs - for $0.99 each. Of course, most of you probably favor the free but illegal downloading option. Even then, I'm willing to bet you download more individual songs than complete albums. Buyers aren't thinking of music in terms of albums anymore. Perhaps it's a good thing though, as very few artists think of music that way either. In a way, I could have listed the "CD" here instead, but I'm not 100% convinced that the death of the CD wasn't caused by the death of the album.
5. Record Stores. Here's another one currently pricing iron lungs. It's only natural that when the album dies it takes the record store with it. The album may have gone quietly, but the record store is making it a slow agonizing process. Thanks toiTunes , and all of the post-Napster clones, today's youth aren't going out and buying records. Sure equal blame can be given to the high price ofCDs or the fact that most CDs only contain 2 or 3 decent songs, but that's an economics argument better left for another time. Record stores are dead. Ask Tower or Harmony House. Next.
6. Video Stores. Video may have killed the radio star, but it's going to suffer the same fate as its audio counterpart. We're already seeing services likeNetflix replace the mom and pop video stores all over the country. With a simple business model and ease of use, the internet is killing yet another once flourishing business sector. As a child I'd spend hours walking the aisles looking for new movies. Now, I simply spend minutes looking at myNetflix recommendations.
7. TV Channels. Cable TV may be in it's prime now, but it's days are numbered. Expect to see great numbers from the cable companies in 2009 when the analog stations suddenly go silent, but after that it's going to be a sharp decline. WhenTIVO came out the general TV viewing philosophy changed from that of a channel to that of a program. The decline here will be slow as the big companies cling to their outdated business models, but eventually we'll see the A-La-Carte channel plans we all so desperately desire. After that, services like Joost, YouTube, and iTunes will take over selling by the program. Eventually, you'll be able to subscribe to your favorite shows like House, American Idol 2037, or Survivor Moon.
8. The 9-5 Workday. If you work in the tech or programming industry you're probably laughing and pointing out that it's been dead for some time now. You're right, it has - and it's going to get worse. At my last job it was the norm for programmers to come in between 8 and 8:30, eat a 15 minute lunch at their desk, and pack up sometime around 6:30 or 7 - only to check their work email again as soon as they got home. With outsourcing the job now picks up in India before the US developer even gets his coat on. In Japan it's common for employees to wait each other out at the end of the day, as they're all afraid of being seen as the first person to leave the office. Unfortunately that trend is coming stateside. Long gone are the days where we could make $100,000 salaries simply for knowing HTML. Bubble2.0 is different.
9. Unions. It naturally follows that as we start embracing the eastern working philosophies we'll start shedding some fat. THe biggest area of bulk plaguing the American economy now is unions. They may have worked for dear old granddad, but they just don't make sense anymore. Unions don't promote work, and they consume resources. Today's economy rewards hard work. With a union, most employees are promoted and rewarded based on time logged. Not only is it not best for business, but it actually demotivates employees. There's no reason to work harder than the guy next to you if he's going to get the same pay increase right? With GM spending millions on Viagra for retirees it's no wonder they can't compete with the Toyota's of the world.
10. Film. Technology is rapidly replacing film in both still and moving pictures. With digital cameras being ubiquitously installed in pretty much anything that plugs in, there won't be a need for film. It used to be one could only achieve certain photographic effects in a darkroom, but programs likePhotoshop and the GIMP are quickly replacing skilled dark room technicians. Camcorders are also going digital, and movie studios are starting to follow suit. It's a gradual transition, but we're transitioning nonetheless. We'll still have to solve the problems associated with storing all of these pictures and videos, but companies like Google (YouTube) and Yahoo (Flickr) are doing a pretty good job in the interim. Then there's the digital degradation issue too, but most photos should easily last 10 years or so. By then they've probably either been copied to new media, or long since forgotten about. You didn't really want to save that picture of you hitting the bong in your underwear did you?
So there you have it. 10 items you'll be able to tell your grand kids about while they're changing diapers and trying to think of an excuse to leave the room. It's not that they won't care what you're talking about, it's just that you'll have told it to them at least 70 times by then. Of course that won't stop you - and it also won't stop them from listening either. Trust me on this one. Go talk to your grandparents. Ask them about their childhood. Not only will you learn something, but you might even gain an even better story to tell your kids. At the very worst, it'll at least get granddad to change the subject away from kicking Hitler's ass.