passeI heard a thump on my front door and when I opened it I saw a lumpy yellow plastic bag. I dredged up similar images from my memory and made a match. “A telephone book!” I could hardly believe it. When was the last I had seen, let along used, a telephone book … 2004 – maybe?

I looked up and down the sidewalk of the apartment complex and saw a series of yellow bumps before each door. I picked up my package by one of its plastic ears and walked it to the dumpster. What a waste of trees to produce, a waste of money for advertisers.

I look up everything on Google – from restaurants to doctors to city parks – and with sites like Yelp and her cousins I can get customer/user reviews that tell me more than the four-color glossy ads do.

The post office has become an anachronism, first brought to its knees by Fed Ex and others, and now supplanted by email. Snail mail will soon have a cachet, just as real books will someday be considered collector’s items.

I no longer have a TV and only rarely use my stereo/radio. The laptop has superseded them all. We used to have external hard drives to back up our files; now data can be stored in clouds and other mythical vaults in the sky.

Skype will replace Ma Bell. Our phones are now our computers, cameras, radios, TV’s, storage devices, note pads, game boards and appointment keepers. Which brings to mind all the Day-at-a-Glance, Day Runners and planners that are now just memories.

Marshall McLuhan’s “The media is the message” is truer today than in the 60’s. We use Tumblr and Facebook, we twitter and tweet, post and digg, link-up and share. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is now 30 seconds and counting down.

Things are moving so fast and changing so quickly, time has speeded up to keep pace with it. With all of these devices, we no longer have the time to do anything, even read. Our local paper reported today that a 17-year old boy from Britain has just sold an app named Summly to Yahoo for $30 million.

What does it do? The algorithmic invention takes long-form stories and shortens them for readers using smartphones. Another version of the News which means more out-of-context sound bites. The last time I thought about algorithms I was in junior high school and was using a real slide rule – that was even before handheld calculators or pocket radios if you can think back that far.

The kid must be a real wizard and the more power to him. A multi-millionaire at 17 – what will he do when he grows up? Or, is it like athletes and physicists who supposedly reach their peak by 25 and spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture the glory days.

Back in the 50’s the phrase ‘planned obsolescence’ came into common parlance. First used by industrial designer, Brooks Stevens, planned obsolescence was “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.”

To my mind this also goes a long way in explaining why older men marry trophy wives. Women, in general, eschew such practices, preferring to wait until they become widows and don’t have the overhead of alimony.

So now I wonder if Nature, in her wisdom, has been using planned obsolescence all along. Maybe we all have an expiration date, a light that flickers in our palms to let us know when we’re yesterday’s news. Remember “Logan’s Run,” the ‘76 sci-fi movie where the city is under the bubble and everyone is put to death at 30 (Resurrection! they chanted). In the long run, it’s all a matter of timing so keep running.


2 thoughts on “PASSING FANCY

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