Eight years ago I wrote a piece on the subject of things about the past that I didn’t miss today. Since then I’ve thought of a few more things I’m sincerely glad we’ve consigned to the trash heap of history. Here they are.
1. Having to remember to save documents I’m writing. Like most people my age I have memories of forgetting to save whatever document I’m working on and then having the power go off, or the computer crash, or a program freeze and then staring dumbfounded at a screen for several seconds, trying to absorb the fact that sometimes hours of work — or entire chapters, or term papers, or whatever — were now nothing but virtual memories. These usually happened on hard deadlines for an extra level of I’m fucked to the already massive level of frustration of seeing so much effort just punted into the ether. I don’t think I know anyone my age who can’t remember screaming in disbelief and anger about it.
Fast forward to today, and I think it’s been three or four years since I’ve had to think about saving a document. This is because the two word processing programs I use the most — Microsoft Word and Google Docs — automatically save whatever you’re writing on a regular and frequent basis. I’m pretty sure Google saves, like, every thirty seconds or so, and I’m pretty sure Word saves almost as often (even WordPress, which I write these blog posts on, saves drafts of whatever I’m writing every minute or so). And both programs now automatically save remotely, so if something happens to the computer I’m typing on, the document still exists.
Yes, yes, privacy, huge multinational corporations mining my data, etc. On the other hand, I haven’t lost a document in years, and for someone like me, that’s huge. Now when the power cuts off, I don’t scream and have an urge to take a bat to my desktop computer. I just go, “huh, power’s down” and then have a soda while I wait for it to come back up, and then continue from where I left off, give or take a paragraph. That’s a friggin’ miracle, is what that is.
2. Paper maps. I am so tied into using Google Maps to get me where I need to go these days that I honestly can’t remember what it’s like to use a paper map anymore. I mean, I know I did use them — I got to places before 2007 — but my brain has apparently blocked the memory of their actual use. It’s like my brain said, welp, here’s a bunch of memories that have no purpose anymore and just chucked them out, but meanwhile I can remember the lyrics of all the songs on my daughter Jumpstart educational CD ROMs. My brain is weird.
Another thing I don’t miss: Having to get directions from friends, because I don’t know if you know this, but humans are fucking terrible at giving directions. I remember one friend in particular who would make giving directions into an avuncular and not-in-anyway-precise radio monologue (“and then you turn past Old Man Gilbert’s place, he’s been dead these 20-aught years but we never really took a shine to the new owners, especially after they painted the house yellow”) and I was all, just give me the goddamned cross streets, you garrulous ninny. Now I don’t even need the cross streets. Praise the technology gods!
3. Having to wait to listen/hear music. So, when I was 13, there was this song that came on the radio that I immediately fell in love with, but I missed the title of, and it was electro-pop and all my friends listened to heavy metal so they were no help, and there was nothing I could do but wait to see if the radio station would play it again, and they did, but I missed the intro and they didn’t identify the song at the end, so I had to wait again for them to play it, and it wasn’t like a hugely popular hit in the US at the time, and I had to go to school and all, so it took a week before I learned the song was called “Only You” by this group called Yaz, and the album it was on wasn’t in stock at my local music store, not that I really had the money to buy it anyway, so it took another week of me skulking by the radio in my room waiting for it to come on again so I could lunge at the tape recorder I had set up when it started, which meant that for a couple of years the only version of the song I had was one missing the first ten seconds and an interlude where my mom came in and told me dinner was ready.
And now, Only You:
See, isn’t that so much easier?
Also these days when I don’t know the band or the name of the song, but I do know a snippet of the lyrics, I can put them into the Googles and bam, there’s the whole song. I’m not a delayed gratification sort of person. I like this way much better. I do think today you have to remind people that if they like a song/album/artist they need to actually buy the work and support the musical artist, more than you had to do back in the day. But I do that (I have a rule that if I go out of my way to listen to a song/album three times, I buy it), so I’m good on that score. I’ve bought “Only You” on cassette and CD and electronically, so there’s that.
4. Film. Prior to owning a digital camera, I think I may have personally taken a couple hundred pictures or so in my lifetime (not counting the very brief time I was a yearbook photographer in high school). Since owning a digital camera, I expect I’ve taken at least a hundred thousand photos, and possibly more than that. Just today I’ve taken thirty, mostly of the new kitten and also of a pair of goldfinches hanging out on my windowsill.
What is the cause of this vast difference? Not the digital camera, per se; it’s the fact that before digital cameras, one had to buy film, put film into a camera, take film out of a camera, send it away to be processed, remember to go pick up the processed pictures, and then pay for the photos (or alternately, build a darkroom and develop photos one’s self, which was not cheaper, and you still had to buy film). Basically, getting photos out of your camera took effort and money, and I was both lazy and cheap (and sometimes poor), so there were lots of places for things to fall down, there.
Digital cameras were not better than film cameras back in the day, but they were no worse than the cheap disposable cameras I could afford way back, and I didn’t have to wait or pay extra to see the photos I was taking. For me that made all the difference.
Tangentally, I also don’t miss film in movie theaters, because sometimes it was scratchy and out of focus and every once in a while it would unspool weirdly and the sound would get muffled and honestly, what a pain in the ass. These days everything is digitally projected and film nerds will tell you that you’re missing the deep blacks and authentic film experience, but you know, in the years since digital took over movie theaters, I have yet to have to go complain that the show I’m watching is out of focus or is poorly framed or all sorts of other things I had to do, and I don’t miss having to be the guy who does that (because I was always the guy who did that).
In sum: film sucks.
5. Saturday morning cartoons. It’s hard to explain to the Kids These Days™ just how much animated cartoon shows from the 70s and 80s blew. Six frames per second animation! Hanna-Barbera shows that were three or four teenagers + [insert wacky animal/object/caveman] playing in a band and/or solving “crimes”! Everything having a terrible “moral” segment tacked on to the ending! The Bugs Bunny cartoons, except they censored the violence! And that was the good stuff.
You what I felt the first time I watched Spongebob Squarepants? I felt angry. Spongebob was better than every Saturday morning cartoon I had ever watched from age three to age thirteen, combined*. Even the crappiest of cartoons my daughter grew up on were better written, better animated, and less openly contemptuous of the intelligence of their audience than anything I had grown up on. I want a goddamned actual refund on every single Saturday morning I sat in front of the TV. That seems only fair.
*Except for the School House Rock bits. Those are still cool.