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Don't Look Back - Something Is Sure To Be Gaining On You
by Pamela J. Forsythe

I am obsolete. You may be too.

Here’s why:

*         I recently read a list of rapidly disappearing items.
*         All of which are essential to my life.
*         The list was compiled by AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons

Doubtless many AARP members are still employed, engaged and vital, but let’s be direct: these are people who appreciate the irony in the brand names Fossil and Sag Harbor.  

So when one is obsolete by AARP standards, attention must be paid.

One of the soon-to-be-gone items is regular mail. Lots of us enjoy the daily delivery, and for those fortunate enough to receive mail at their doorstep, greeting the carrier. Sadly, my mailbox sits a distance from my house and is filled anonymously by someone extremely skilled at pushing slightly-too-large parcels into the available space. So for me, some of the charm of regular mail has already gone, but it is still nice to retrieve an envelope addressed by hand.

Which brings us to another vanishing item: cursive writing. It is no longer taught, and like hieroglyphics, may soon require specially trained interpreters. At one time, specialists could discern information about the writer by inspecting the rhythm of loops and swirls, like fingerprints. Which would make ink the forensic forerunner of bodily fluids (and I say, highly preferable). Beautiful handwriting is a marvel, and it is a pleasure to see a familiar hand on paper. I know the sender at a glance, and anticipate the opening and reading in a way that electronic communication will never inspire.

Which reminds me: A few computerish items made AARP’s list. For example, physical media will soon leave us, which is tragic for those of us who have only just learned what physical media are. Nevertheless, CDs, DVDs and all of the other devices on which information is stored will soon be like eight-track tapes and typewriters. Similarly, experts say that in a decade or so we will save everything to the cloud, a virtual server, and access it through phones. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? I don’t want personal information floating around in the ether, to be read by a device with buttons that are only visible with glasses I can never find. If it is important, I want an original and a copy, at least one of which is on paper. Then all I have to do is locate my glasses.

Time brings a degree of obsolescence to us all. Soon, those cloud-dwellers who hold their world in the palms of their hands will hear the footsteps of those with even shorter histories and newer ideas. The trick is not to be so enamored of the past that we miss the benefits of the present. Obsolescence is a byproduct of our experience, it need not be our epitaph. 

A version of this essay was published on, the news and culture website of Philadelphia public broadcaster WHYY.