The Magazine

Memento Mori

Matt Labash, nostalgic.

Jan 24, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 18 • By MATT LABASH
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As last year morphed into this one, I, like so many others, held out hope that 2011 would be better than 2010, though not as good as 2007. Because why set yourself up for disappointment?

Memento Mori

David Gothard

But when I signed onto my home-page early in the New Year, things got off to an unpromising start. Ordinarily, I welcome exposure to news stories I’d never see otherwise, helpful checklist pieces that tell me 5 ways to kill a man with my bare hands, or 10 ways to break up with Taylor Swift so that she’ll write vengeful yet melodically accessible songs about me. But one story, republished from MoneyTalks-News, set my teeth on edge: “Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know.”

I don’t usually mind some journalist marking a trend’s demise. When informed, say, that stirrup pants are out, I’m grateful—they were never all that flattering on me anyway. But when the out-list trends comprise my very life as I’ve lived it, I get a little defensive. Among the many things today’s babies supposedly won’t recognize tomorrow are: video stores, travel agents, commercial radio, maps, watches, encyclopedias, yellow pages, catalogs, retirement plans, wires, the separation of work and home, books, and newspapers. Even “hiding” made the list, since “now your phone is not only in your pocket, it can potentially tell everyone—including advertisers—exactly where you are.” Pity the children of tomorrow, whose games of “get-electronically-monitored-and-go-seek” will never hold quite the same romance as the original.

Magazines are on the list, meaning that according to Carnac the List-maker, I’m as good as writing this message from the past (handwritten letters are out, too, as is handwriting itself). I should note that middle-aged magazine writers are disposed to wax nostalgic over something as utilitarian as fax machines (on the list), so long as someone mails them a check to do so. Though nobody will be mailing any checks for long, since sending physical mail is on the list as well. It is always an embarrassing sign of aging to start shooting life through a sepia-toned prism, when everyone knows, thanks to Peter De Vries, that “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

Still, even if we can’t stop progress—God knows I try—do we have to be so smug about the passing of our familiar ways? I’ve spent plenty of time whining about my neighborhood Blockbuster, which long ago chased out the mom ’n’ pop video-store versions of itself. Less so, however, since two Blockbusters have closed in my neck of the woods in the last year—victims of the recession and Netflix and those awful Redbox vending machines that now deliver the magic of cinema as though it were a Diet Squirt.

 And while I still have DVDs delivered, and will probably soon have movies streamed, I miss going to the video store, not only to get out of the house and away from the computer, but to let serendipity and discovery take their course. I miss the human contact with video clerk Brandon, even if that only amounted to, “It’s due back next Thursday.” I miss seeing Brandon’s employee favorites shelf. Not that I’d ever rent from it. He had horrible taste in films—Titanic, Meatballs Part II, Jaws 3-D. But it allowed me to feel superior in a way that I can’t against a computer that anticipates what I’ll want to rent next. That was Brandon’s little gift to me.

Among the most offensive items on the extinction list is “talking to one person at a time.” Anyone who’s had lunch in the last five years, getting ignored by their tablemate who is thumb-clacking away, already knows the future is now. Recently, my college-age niece mocked my wife for having her phone set on ring instead of vibrate. Since the former spends 90 percent of her life texting, her phone is never out of her hand. (“Who needs a ring?” she scoffed.)And when another niece’s boyfriend recently joined the workforce, his job required him to email in place of subliterate texting. I asked him how it was going.

“Tough,” he confessed. “Writing in sentences and paragraphs—it’s like Old English or something.”

It’s useful to remember that in the not so distant future, we will all be the past. That the people we work with and converse with and make love to are headed for fax machine status. But that doesn’t mean we have to rush it. So since we’ll all go eventually, here’s hoping that these list-makers, who fetishize technological triumphalism at the expense of human experience, go sooner than the rest of us. And may the babies of 2011 never know that they’re missing.

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