Rapid Generational Shifts

I remember some email forwards awhile ago that talked about the things each generation loses – an awareness of rotary phones, life without a microwave oven or cable TV, etc. It occurred to me that the changes of the last 10 years have brought even more rapid generational shifts. Here are some things future generations may never know:

Friendship without a virtual/digital component. Rarely if ever will anyone call a friend on the phone and decide to go do something. Text messaging and social networking websites will facilitate this. I remember in elementary school when I was bored, I would call my friend Carl and just say “can you play?” Which brings me to…

Memorization of phone numbers. With cell phones, whose phone numbers do you memorize anymore? I still remember my friends’ phone numbers from childhood (Carl: 741-1720, John Mark 741-5905, Elizabeth 741-5956) but these days the only phone numbers I really know are my parents and my friend Heather. This may eventually present a problem if I’m in an emergency without my phone. (This sounded like a familiar topic, and indeed I wrote some predictions for the future back in 2003 most of which still seem valid.)

A world without on-demand video access. Whether through YouTube, Netflix, or cable TV providers, today’s kids can pull up any visual or musical pop culture artifact at any time. It’s an exciting time to be a young musician, as footage is available online of just about any musician born after 1940. I have a vast library of bootleg guitar videos that I maintained and traded assiduously as a teenager and now they’re mostly valueless because nearly all of it is available on YouTube.

Non-rewindable TV. With DVRs, there is nothing that will be missed if the VCR wasn’t running. Didn’t catch that last statement? Missed something because of a bathroom break? Never again.

Retail music stores. This is the hard one for me. There may always be secondhand record shops and Walmart/Target, but standalone retail music stores are already done. I haven’t seen a CD store in a mall in a very long time. I’ve attended the going out of business sales of two Tower Records, two Virgin Megastores, a Circuit City, and a Camelot Music. Some of my fondest memories are of browsing the bargain bins at Camelot Music in Battlefield Mall in Springfield and McCain Mall in North Little Rock. It was thrilling to be confronted by all these albums by artists I had no clue about, and to try to glean something about them from their album covers. I’ve bought a lot of bargain CDs in my life; most of which weren’t great, but some of which changed my life forever.

Maps as paper objects. With GPS and smart phone navigation, who needs a Rand McNally road atlas anymore? Or maps of individual states? Or a giant set of World Book Encyclopedia volumes for that matter?

Ever again wondering who was that guy in that movie. With IMDB.com, you’ll never wonder again. The guy with the TV mailbag column in the newspaper will lose his job if he hasn’t already.

Ever again wondering what that song lyric is. It’s interesting to me that out of the literally hundreds of lyrics websites, not one of them has become a clear winner over the others. I guess because song lyrics aren’t proprietary information like IMDB’s databases. Any fool can write down their version of a song’s lyrics and put them online with a ton of pay-per-click ads and popups.

Some other physical items that I find myself without thanks to the Internet in general and the iPhone specifically: a wristwatch, an alarm clock, a compass, maps, notepads, a dictionary, a microcassette voice recorder, a calendar, a calculator.

If nothing else, our lives will be less cluttered by physical objects, but I wonder how much our brains will be cluttered with information. For everything we gain, we lose something I suppose.