“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning.”
There are a few ways to think about items that are termed “obsolete.” One is that they are no longer functional and need to go. Another is that they are vintage and should be collected and saved as souvenirs of the past. It’s also possible that some older items are more useful than the modern versions that replace them. The difference is likely in the eye of the beholder.
Recently, my oldest son turned 32. He’s a happy, well-adjusted kid, living his best life, despite having a complete novice for a parent. In just the short time since he was a baby (and yes, cliché, but it does seem just like last week that he was toddling around), some of the toys and gear he had don’t exist anymore — for instance, shoes.
Of course, babies still wear shoes — eventually anyway — but not the stiff, white leather boots from the specialty baby-shoe store. Taking my son for his first pair of shoes was a milestone — no lie, I took pictures! Back then, you had to get a kid the right shoes, at least according to the baby books; otherwise, they’d grow up and walk funny or have hammer toes.
Now? Forget the shoes until they have to walk around on pavement or in public, and even then, get cloth sneakers or those buttery-soft leather slippers — they’ll be fine. I see this as progress because there’s nothing worse than getting a Stride Rite baby boot to the face when wrestling a kid into a car seat.
As for the toys my son played with? Some are best left behind. Teletubbies might not have had a subversive agenda, but they creeped me out. The show was innocent enough, but a purple-clad, plastic-faced baby with a triangle on its head poking out of the toy box was unnerving.
Oh, and the pictures I took of the shoe-shopping milestone? I have no idea where they are. Andy is a pre-digital kid. They’re in photo albums — somewhere — but they came from those one-hour developing places, which are also gone.
I love that now my phone allows me to snap a picture without having to hunt up a camera, but I have very few printed snapshots of his younger brother and sister. Yes, it’s more efficient; there’s no wasted paper or harsh chemicals, but I miss picking up pictures and diving into the envelopes to see what came out.
I grew up with a hardwired phone bolted to the wall. I stretched the cord as long as possible and hid in the pantry off the kitchen if I wanted privacy.
Now my daughter walks around the house on video calls with friends, who say, “Hi, Mama K!” when they see me in the background. The good part? No more long-distance bills. The not-so-good part? There’s no way to have the intensely satisfying feeling of slamming the phone in someone’s ear when they tick you off. There’s an app for that now, but it’s not the same.
We expect technology to evolve, but does new and improved necessarily mean that what came before is old and damaged? I was in Vermont once and got lost. I lived there for a while, but I still managed to take a few wrong turns.
There was no cell signal, so GPS wasn’t an option. Thankfully, there was a paper map in the glove box, and I was back on the road in no time. Some people collect old maps, call them “vintage ephemera,” and treasure them. I’m just glad one was kicking around among my Dunks napkins and registration.
We all get lost from time to time. It could be a new gadget that solves the problem, but other times the old standbys from the past can point the way forward.
Brenda Kelley Kim has lived in Marblehead for 50 years, and is an author, freelance writer, and mother of three. Her column will appear weekly.