I FIND MYSELF thinking, “Well, when I was a kid…” a lot these days. Technologies that once struck me as futuristic are now becoming obsolete. Even services and goods I once saw as mainstays are slowly going extinct. Below are twenty jobs, goods and services that, for better or for worse, are on the decline.
[Editor’s note: We have avoided resurrecting the whole “Print media is dying” debate, focusing instead on other dinosaurs. You’re welcome.]
1. Phone Service Operators
Phone service operators like 411 can help you find a business number or address in any city – a very handy free service. But when automated voice-recognition replaced live operators, 411’s inaccuracy became an exercise in patience:
411: “You have selected Omaha.”
The conclusion: 411 websites are far easier to navigate than the tedium of voice-recognition technology.
2. Bowling Alleys
Odd but true: bowling alleys are on the decline. The reason behind the decline is unclear. I guess that mall and recreational centre bowling alleys, with their nacho carts and glow-in-the-dark pins, probably pack more mass appeal than the dingy alleys of my childhood, with lukewarm Pepsi and Pink Floyd on the stereo.
Many alleys have remained afloat by expanding into multi-recreational buildings with video arcades, laser tag, and climbing walls.
The world of league bowling and its smoky, beery, Big Lebowski breed of masculinity has waned. Now, alleys are fixtures of larger services, not stand-alone businesses.
3. The Milkman
The old Norman Rockwell figure of a smiling milkman dressed in pristine white is becoming a thing of the past. Fifty years ago, a third of US dairies’ deliveries were to private homes. Now, home milk delivery is all but obsolete.
This is partly due to progress in food preservation: home refrigeration is better and milk is now prepared to last longer. The rise of the supermarket is also a factor. Now, even small independent dairies sell their products directly to grocery stores. People needing groceries – including milk – delivered to their homes can arrange cheap food deliveries from superstores.
There was a time when singles could pay professionals a small fee to discreetly play cupid. While the service is still around (you can buy a matchmaker business startup kit!), date-seekers are now turning to online dating sites.
Some sites like eHarmony work to match clients based on compatability, while others like PlentyofFish are more like free viewing galleries of local singles. While the online version can’t guarantee the expertise or discretion of a live matchmaker, it’s a whole lot more convenient. The days of professional matchmakers seem numbered.
5. Movie Rental Shops
Last month, the movie rental chain Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. iTunes movie purchases and illegal movie downloads have caused a decline in the usage of DVD and Blu-Ray movies.
6. Newspaper Classifieds
We no longer turn to newspapers to buy or sell stuff. Craigslist has become such an important classified resource, the name is becoming a verb (“I Craigslisted those bookshelves – I hope they sell quickly”). Facebook Marketplace delivers the same service. These sites also serve those seeking jobs, dates, roommates, or anything else. Ads are free to post, and – on Craigslist, at least – you can make weirdo queries anonymously.
7. Paid Email Accounts
In the 90s, Internet users had to pay for service packages, including email. Companies like AOL in the United States and Rogers in Canada experienced rapid declines when subscribers switched to free providers such as Hotmail and Gmail. No-ad and no-spam guarantees just couldn’t compete with a free service.
Once a status symbol among corporate highflyers, PDAs like the Cleo or PalmPilot are becoming redundant. The iPhone and Blackberry have cornered the market in multipurpose handheld devices, and even basic cellphones include features like dayplanners and address books. Since PDAs don’t act as phones, those loyal to their Apple Newtons still need to carry a mobile phone as well.
It seems the industry is accepting its fate: the PalmPilot hasn’t released a new model in two years.
The poor pager had a brief run on the technological stage. Clipped to the beltloops of doctors, drug dealers and 90s cool kids, they shone for a few years before the cellphone upstaged them.
Pagers still have their practical purpose. In places like hospitals where cellphones aren’t allowed, they keep doctors and surgeons reachable at all times. For the rest of us, though, the pager has retired.
10. Personal Cheques
Though our grandparents still send us birthday cheques in the post, their generation may be one of the last to use them. Money orders, online bank transfers and PayPal are secure and easily traced. Few businesses accept personal cheques as a form of payment anymore, and the popularity of online billing is on the rise.