Becoming Obsolete

Cartoon: SCHOOL JOB MARKET OBSOLETE (medium) by rmay tagged school,job,market,obsolete,multiplication,table

I want to share this growing list of “Obsolete Skills” that folks are constructing at a wiki site. Inspired by a blog post by Robert Scoble, the site seeks to document things we used to do but no longer know how to do.

Go to Obsolete Skills site


Check out a small list of obsolete skills:

I can imagine using some of this in the classroom by having students go through a modified version of the main list and noting the things they know about or can do, and the things they have never even heard about. (Although I would need to read through them to make sure they were appropriate.) Our Social Studies teacher does some of this already during a unit on Culture. He brings in a turntable and rotary phone and other objects from the, gulp, distant past.

The ones on this list that stuck out for me are:

  • Making a Mix Tape: I know we have playlists and all that on our electronic devices and I love the way we curate our own music. But there was something about passing along a cassette of music to someone else, or getting one from a friend, and being forced to not only listen to the songs but also listen to the songs in order. There was love in the placement of songs. We don’t get that with playlists.
  • Pulling off the Tabs on Aluminum Cans: Bad for the environment, obviously, because every kid who pulled off a tab then tossed it to the ground. Come on, you did it, too. But the act of the removing the tab, and the accompanying sound, is like a soundtrack for summer, sitting on the back porch with a Dr. Pepper. Of course, we also used to stab each other with the tabs. I guess it’s a good thing they were phased out.
  • Inserting Game Cartridge at just the Right Angle: Many hours were spent trying to figure out the exact way the cartridge should fit into the gaming console. I guess it was good engineering practice. But I can remember yelling at my friend because he was clumsy and would bump into the console, killing the game when the cartridge got shifted. As if the game weren’t frustrating enough …
  • Letter Writing: Not to sound like a Luddite, but I do miss the act of writing and sending letters in the mail. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. But messages and emails and online notes have am impersonal nature, no matter how much voice we put into them. Receiving a letter with handwritten thoughts … that is priceless. I still remember writing back and forth to my grandmother as a child, and I wish I had those letters. (You could argue that if we had done is via computer, they would be backed up). There was unexpected pleasure in the arrival of the letter that you don’t get from an inbox alert.
  • The Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature: You know you are an information geek when you miss this dinosaur. But when I was growing up, it was the mainstay of our libraries for searching for information. I used to periodically (pun!) scan through it just to see what was in there. It was a confusing tome of references. I don’t miss it on a practical level (I love search) but I do miss it because it represented the long hours I spent in school and town libraries, just wandering around. My boys don’t do that. I should get them one of these for the holidays …

What about you? What do you deem obsolete?

Peace (in the past),


  1. Fun to read. I remember quite a lot of them, but am not old enough to have taken shorthand. I took my students to Mexico & we were relaxing at the end of one day in a little cafe. We told them to grab a bottle of soda in the tank & to be sure to wipe the top before drinking. None of them knew how to use the opener that was on the side. You know, the kind where you stick the bottle in & flip off the cap! I would guess there are quite a few obsolete things around, perhaps to be still enjoyed sometimes! I have taken my old typewriter into class to let the students use it. They loved it! Thanks for the memories!

  2. Great post! I just had a 3rd grade student do a book report yesterday on Thomas Edison. Along with her poster she brought in a couple other visual displays. The first was a light bulb– the incandescent type that before long will be obsolete and also a phonographic disk. Some of us may remember those as record albums.

    • I seem to remember something about music and vinyl … actually, the local public radio station is having a Vinyl Record Sale this weekend, I think. It was once an annual event that drew hundreds of people … not it is mostly the nostalgic few.

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