#830: Embracing the obsolete

Landlines. Watches. Fax machines. The Yellow PagesTM.

The concept of things that will become obsolete in my lifetime is fascinating and at the same time, a bit sad. I remember reading one such list not too long ago, and thinking, “It really is too bad that my children won’t know these things as they grow up in this world.” It’s not that I’m overly sentimental; I just find that there’s a real usefulness to a lot of these things (with the exception of the fax machine*) that experts and pundits have declared we no longer need.

Add to this list of tangible things, a number of skills that are considered no longer necessary to today’s students, and the idea becomes that much more lamentable. Apparently, long division and handwriting are no longer taught in many schools now. I still teach both to my children, and I think that beyond the skills themselves, these processes are invaluable in teaching problem-solving, a sense of patience, and an appreciation of the learning process itself.

So I don’t remember exactly which one of us brought up the topic (more likely it was she, when she’d read about it somewhere), but imagine my delight when the Girl recently asked me, “What is calligraphy?” and “Do you know how to do it? Can you teach me?” So out came my old calligraphy set, with the pen nibs and ink cartridges dried out, and the practice pad of paper that had sat idly for almost ten years.

Calligraphy. Imagine that. Slowly-formed, not-entirely-consistent, sometimes wobbly, entirely decorative, squiggles. And on paper, at that. In a world where you can open up 3,000 fancy fonts at a time, and download another 2,000 for free, who needs calligraphy? Apparently, some of us still do.  The ones who still appreciate the slow pace and beauty of life, holding on to our handwritten letters and fountain pens, even as we watch those around us shaking their thumbs sore from texting.

And we don’t mind it one bit that the rest of the world races on past us, deleting a few things from its memory, on its way to faster and more perfect.

. . .

* Okay, I have to admit, the most perfect use of the fax machine was this:

I once worked for a man who was very intelligent, tech-savvy, and very easy-going with a good sense of humour. He was a generally fun person to be around, so it wasn’t too hard to imagine this scene when he told me about a prank that he pulled on a co-worker, back in the early days when the fax machine was not yet known to everybody. “I hid a paper shredder behind that fax machine,” he related, “and told my friend, ‘Watch this. I feed the paper into this machine here, punch a code, it gets destroyed into a thousand pieces . . . but then the second part of this miracle machine reconstitutes the paper . . . in the next room!'” And off he trotted to fetch the “teleported” document to show to his open-mouthed friend. Hilarious.

Maybe in a hundred years’ time, when everyone forgets what the fax machine was, someone can pull that trick on our great-granchildren.

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