I read something recently about “things that will disappear in our lifetime.” As I perused the list, I was disappointed to find a few of my favorite things in jeopardy.
Books are on the way out; at least the kind I grew up with. They’re falling prey to the online kind, mostly for convenience and cost savings. If you’re unable or unwilling to read them for yourself, don’t worry. Someone else will read them to you.
Land line telephones are losing ground, too. Most young people I know don’t need or even want them. They’re content with their cell phones and other social media communication. For them, land lines are as outmoded as the old “pay phones” of yore. The National Center for Health Statistics reports “41% of U.S. households are cellphone-only.” And that percentage is rising fast, even among older Americans-not counting me.
Newspapers across the nation are drowning in “red ink.” Many cities have gone from two major daily papers to one. Some have gone to none. As a keen observer of the human condition, I saw firsthand the “tipping point” for my once-treasured Tennessean. It happened at at my former residence in Westwood, one cold gray dawn not so long ago, when I retrieved it from the box, along with my favorite local newspaper. On my way back up the driveway, I noticed the Tennessean was smaller than the Southern Standard! How could that be? The worst was yet to come. When I moved to the country, no more Tennessean for me.
Post offices seem destined for the same fate that befell the Pony Express. Who writes letters anymore? E-mail has long eclipsed letter writing in America. Most of what comes to my mailbox-and yours, too, I bet, is junk mail. Even those ubiquitous bills are arriving online these days.
The demise of books, land lines, newspapers, and post offices shows me that “all change is not progress.” As an author and avid reader of books, letters, and newspapers, I’m saddened by this trend, which is accelerating at a dizzying pace. I wonder what damage all this is doing to our cultural literacy.
What passes for progress in these matters is driven by demographics, with the younger generation leading the pack. They are perhaps the most acquisitive cohort of Americans in our history. Marketers and promoters are acutely aware of this “youth demographic,” and cater to it with great vigor. Their main message is “acquire as much stuff as you can-as soon as you can.”
That goes for automobiles, homes, and all kinds of high-tech gadgetry to satisfy every whim and fancy imaginable.
Whether the trends I’ve highlighted here are good or bad for American society in the long run, I can’t say. That will be up to our descendants. Better them than me.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.