Five Items That Have Outlived Their Usefulness

Some things have stuck around way past their “use by” date.

A globe

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When the Soviet Union dissolved 30 years ago, the history-changing event resulted in a number of unforeseen side effects. Some of these were economic or military or cultural. But one of the major and immediate changes fell under a simpler category: geography. Fifteen separate states rose from the former U.S.S.R., a fact that immediately rendered every contemporary globe and map obsolete. Amazingly, there have been 32 new states or name changes since 2000 alone. That all leads to the question: what things are just outliving their usefulness?

1. Globes

Sure, globes are nice. But the sheer amount of countries that have been founded, split off from other countries, or renamed since World War II is pretty staggering. In the 21st century, the biggest gap we had without a name change was from 2003 to 2005. With classroom-style 13” globes running about $40 a piece, it would be insanely cost prohibitive to update globes regularly for all the classrooms that have them. And honestly, do you want horribly out-of-date globes sitting around the school? That’s confusing at best, and outright disinformation at worst. As sad as it may be, it’s probably for the best to let this one go.

 

2. Conventional Wristwatches

A wristwatch on a man's arm
(Shutterstock)

At this point, conventional wristwatches only really survive for fashion reasons. Just about everyone carries some kind of cell phone, which means that just about everyone has access to time on their person. And that’s without including the one in five Americans that Pew Research indicates use some kind of smart watch or fitness tracker. Outside of being an affectation, wristwatches just aren’t necessary.

3. Rotary Phones

Rotary telephone
(Shutterstock)

In 2019, the rotary phone was the poster child for a Post piece on things with greatly exaggerated demises. However, just because you can still order an item online doesn’t mean that it needs to stick around. Sure, some would enjoy the nostalgia and the kitsch factor, but it’s literally impossible to call any kind of business that uses a button-oriented menu (and that’s frankly everyone from your doctor to your kids’ school to the IRS). Outside of really wanting to place a call that doesn’t require any functional input, it’s past its time.

4. Typewriters

Vintage typewriter
(Shutterstock)

If you saw them use it on Mad Men, there probably isn’t a reason to have it in the office, let alone in your home. In 2021, there’s almost no discernible reason to use a typewriter. Consider maintenance issues, the annoyance of correcting errors, and the inability to send what you just wrote to another person directly from the typewriter. From an efficiency perspective alone, it’s well past the age of retirement. On a related note, fax machines are still in shockingly wide use in law enforcement and medical fields.

 

5. Medical Encyclopedias

A book with the words "Medical Encyclopedia" typed on it
(Shutterstock)

This is not about “Atlas of the Human Body” type books that are targeted at children, nor is it about the very expensive and regularly updated type of volumes used by professionals. This is about medical encyclopedias targeted at everyday consumers. Much like the globe, a handbook of diseases and symptoms for regular people is outdated almost as soon as it’s printed. A 2018 edition, for example, would have no information on COVID-19; even though the root disease of severe acute respiratory syndrome virus 2 was known at that time, the particular virus wasn’t identified until December of 2019 (hence the 19). Working off of outdated information can be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. Solid information is available online from outlets like the Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, and other locations that may come recommended by your personal physician.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. i can check the time on my wristwatch thirty times in the amount of time it takes you to pull your cellphone out of your pocket.

    Globes provide a dimensional and spacial model that does not translate well (or at all) on a screen.

  2. Regardless of any opinion, it is still much easier to glance at a wristwatch to see the time than it is to pull out a cell phone from a pocket or purse and then activate it.

  3. I’m not normally one to comment, but I thought I’d bring a little insight into the continuing need for typewriters.

    I’ve worked across various functions in the banking and title industries in the US and I can tell you while you can almost anywhere get an electronic photocopy of your mortgage and/or title docs they are still based on physical paper. “But no,” you say, “my mortgage was entirely done online, even the signature was electronic!” Except that at some point it’s likely that another bank or investor is going to buy that mortgage, or that YOUR bank will themselves be bought up by someone. When the mortgage gets assigned to a new owner an assignment needs to be updated… as the assignment document normally already exists from Day 1, is already signed, and just has a blank space for the potential new owner to be added if/when needed prior to then being recorded in your county public records.

    I worked for a company where I saw the vaults of physical documents that bank custodians have to keep for all their mortgages, in a day and age that I thought all this was already electronic. But some foreclosure judges can be picky, as can many county recorders. I’m 37 so grew up never having had used a typewriter, but once I got over my fear of the thing the whole office knew when a bunch of mortgages were being sliced and diced into a new Mortgage Backed Security being traded between banks. The sound of the loud, rapid, machine-gun fire clacking coming from the typewriter signaled that 300 mortgages were changing hands that day.

    Apologies for the overly long comment, but I still want to leave with one last “outdated” fun fact. Your loan’s Note that would also need to change hands, gets an allonge (a page added to the Note) that is actually updated through the use of the good old fashioned rubber stamp of all things (which then gets signed by some poor VP who’s held the same job for 20 years, while still having to update the name of the bank he works for 6 times – banking is a strange business ).

  4. Hey, if it still works don’t “fix it” and don’t throw it away…repurpose, reuse, recycle!

  5. So this article is what 90 seconds of “research” and a full two minutes of thoughtful reflection will get you… Interesting.
    Yeah, a globe can be factually obsolete by the time you get it out of the box, but its metaphorical importance will never go out of style. Its a model of our planet… that’s always going to be cool!
    Wristwatches are many times more convenient than having to resort to a cell phone or other device because they’re on your wrist…not in a pocket, purse or charger somewhere. They don’t beep, they don’t blink, and they don’t need to be charged. If you’re really lucky they put out a barely audible “tick, tick, tick” that adds a richness to the quiet parts of your life.
    Rotary phones are cool for a couple of reasons: First of all it’s fun to watch someone under 30 look at them in bewilderment as they come to realize that they don’t actually know anyone’s phone number. Gets a chuckle out of me every time. Secondly, they work without having to charge them or when there is no electricity. Third, they free you of all the crappy push-button phone menus. I didn’t call to push buttons! I called to talk to somebody about me spending my money.
    Typewriters…maybe, but every month or two someone in my office rolls one out for something. I have no idea what, but the “chuk, chuk, chuk” sound is unmistakable. Somebody is using it for something. They used typewriters at the last couple places I worked too. They’re still making them for some reason….
    Medial encyclopedias: Yeah, you’re probably right on that one. They’re about as anachronistic as 200 year-old periodicals.

  6. I still prefer a globe – it gives a realistic image. Nothing wrong with a wrist watch that needs winding… Technology is not dependable and most likely never will be.
    My old push button phone works when electricity and wifi goes out. I appreciate advances but just because its new doesnt mean its better. Nothing is forever but some things are more lasting. Typewriters don’t need electricity either. I like to balance my checkbook by hand also and I have hard copies of imortant paperwork!
    Technology is fine but only when it works
    I like solid dependability.

  7. Globes provide visual physical geographical context. Clarification of current countries and boundaries can be handled by textbooks.
    Landlines work when power fails and cell towers get hit and in rural/wooded/mountainous areas where there is no broadband or cell reception.
    Typewriters work when electricity fails. (Plus, hard copy is archivally responsible. How much of what’s being created — including this article and these replies — will be inaccessible because of advances in and/or loss of various technologies. Manuscripts have lasted thousands of years and provide historical memory.
    Wristwatches (esp. manual wind) don’t need recharging at inopportune moments and work when batteries and networks fail — plus they’re right there on your wrist and you don’t need to pull it out of a pocket or rummage around in a purse or backpack to find it.
    This was a myopic article.

  8. I think that globes can be updated easily and inexpensively by having a jacket sleeve made with all the new countries listed and attached with Velcro. There is something to be said to having a map look like the earth in the right shape.

  9. Cell phones are not reliable when they can no longer be charged. Landline phones always work when power is out.
    Not everyone wants to type a letter on a computer so keep typewriters when power is out. A wristwatch is always a convenience on your wrist.

  10. Other than the practicality of simple devices there is for older folks the nostalgia factor which provides a pleasant link to a past we need for personal grounding. It’s a link to Mom and Dad, our early years, when we didn’t need to know the news from every part of the Globe, now.

  11. Years ago I purchased an old Singer Hand Crank sewing machine. I wondered how anyone could both guide the fabric under the needle with one hand and turn the crank with the other hand. To my surprise, turning the crank was really smooth and easy while guiding the fabric under the needle wasn’t hard. I will be able to sew without electricity, at least during daylight hours. Most of all, the featherweight Singers can be converted easily to hand crank machines.

    BTW, sewing machine manufacturers thought decorating the machines with flowers, etc. would appeal to women as women wouldn’t want a “machine” in their home! They also assumed that the right arm was stronger than the left for most people and placed the crank on the right side.

  12. There is a niche group trying to get off the grid and live without electricity. And a couple of my college educated friends are worried about reports that nasty foreign governments are working on some weapon that will disable all machinery (including cars), plus wipe out the power grid, so that the U.S. will be paralyzed. So I’m sure there are people stocking up on manual typewriters and rotary phones to put together some type of rudimentary phone system to contact neighbors when the Apocalypse begins. Wind-up watches and medical encyclopedias will likely be of value to them, and they may even like to have a few world globes around.

  13. I agree with others that a wristwatch to me is far more than a fashion accessory. Travel from the U.S. to Europe and just change the hour hand. I wear axmanual winding watch so even have to wind it once a day, but love it.

  14. I’m not sure who come up with your list but for folks like me who are not welded to cell phones. I will continue to wear a watch until the Good Lord calls my number. Furthermore I will always have a landline phone which my rotary phone I use everyday is always dependable. So as far as I’m concerned numbers 2 & 3 on your list should have been omitted. Live in an area where I do where you don’t always have reliable cell phone service and you’ll know what I mean.

  15. I still like looking at a globe to see where the country is located with respect to the U. S. Two dimensional maps stretch out countries as you move toward the poles, so only those close to the equator are accurate.

    I bought a self-winding Seiko watch about 5-yrs ago and love it. It keeps great time, and I have never wound it. I just have to change the hour hand when I go into a different Time Zone and to change for daylight saving time. I don’t have to worry about Wi-Fi access, an internet connection, or remember to plug it in to recharge it.

    I agree with some of the other comments that typewriters are not obsolete. Again, if you’re in an area with spotty or no electricity a typewriter can be very useful. I have to admit that my typing class has been one class that I have used my entire adult life. In college I had an electric typewriter and got really upset one night when the entire college loss electricity for 4.5-hr and I had a term paper due the next morning! I was wishing I had my father’s manual typewriter. And Bob, I still look at the keyboard.

    I agree the rotary phone and Medical Encyclopedia are outdated, as well as World Book, Britannica and other Encyclopedias. They are usually outdated by the time they go to press. But, I still enjoy looking through one of those hardcopy books more than I enjoy looking at it on the internet!

    Although a lot of my boyhood “things” have been updated, that does not mean they have “outlived their usefulness.” All it means is somebody figured out how to do it cheaper, and cheaper is not always better, and not always cheaper when you take disposal into the cost (this includes cellphones, TVs, solar panels, and a lot more “modern technology”).

  16. Don’t be so quick to throw out everything that has a replacement. Some things are worth having, even if they are not the newest, fanciest, most modern version. Take it from an old outdated model of a man, older models and outdated items most definitely have a place in this modern day.

  17. “In 2021, there’s almost no discernible reason to use a typewriter.”

    How about to write? (Not being connected to the web is a positive feature of typewriters, not a bug. Like pen and paper.)

  18. Globes still give a more realistic picture of our earth than maps. The continents and oceans remain the same.

    I prefer a simple wrist watch to glace at the time. Plus they look nice. I don’t like having to tap a smart watch or pull out my phone.

  19. I once asked someone to call 911 because of an accident nearby. They responded “OK, what is their phone number?”

  20. I still use an old-fashioned, windup wrist watch that is about 40 years old. My cellphone is only for emergencies and is stuck way down in the bottom of my purse. When I go to the doctor, I carry an old-fashioned book from the library to keep me occupied. Neither of these make any noise so they do not bother anyone else and I do not have to turn them off when I go into the exam room. We had a rotary dial phone until we were forced to get service that requires our calls to go through a modem that has to have power to operate. in the past, when our power was out for more than 2 weeks because of an ice storm, we were the only folks who could make phone calls.

  21. All of these arguments can apply equally well to The Saturday Evening Post. Who really needs a quarterly hard-copy magazine?
    Functionality is only one of many reasons things exist.

  22. Rotary phones. I read, a few years back so may no longer be the case that rotary phones are tge only type of phone that will work when no electricity. The rotations still make the call – at least to operator or 911.

  23. That’s a very interesting piece! It’s the sad truth that with the march of science and innovations, many things that were once considered irreplaceable have been cast aside. While globes were a part of our school lives, I wonder how many schools today would be foolish enough to blow money on buying globes for the classrooms! There was a time, not very long ago, that Remington and Olivetti were the two giants of typewriters! What a sad end.
    What has been left out are Dictionaries and Thesaurus. I still have a heavyweight Random House Unabridged Dictionary that I’d purchased forty years ago!
    Well, there’s no stopping the march of science and innovations.

  24. Disagree mostly. Yes, it may be an expense to replace a globe every ten years or so, but even after that amount of time, they are still over 90% accurate. A globe also offers a more correct rendering of the size of land masses and a perspective that a flat map doesn’t.

    Both the watch and typewriter offer one clear advantage over our reliance on technology that requires us to be connected. In the event that the grid goes down due to either power interruptions or massive hacking, you have these more independent tools to check the time or to compose essays, letters, etc. The watch also offers a more graphic portrayal of time vs. simply looking at a digital output. The typewriter requires us to be more careful as we type (I never did learn to type using more than two fingers) words to avoid mistakes and forces us to think more deeply as we write. Perhaps not quite the same brain/paper connection that longhand offers, but much closer with the tactile feel of the keys which can provide more fulfilling results. Incidentally, I have a watch and purchased a used typewriter several years ago identical to one I used in my youth. Tom Hanks, who owns dozens of manual typewriters, has views on their relevance.

    Yes, I agree on the rotary phone. Pushbutton is faster and simply an upgrade from rotary. Also, there is merit on the medical encyclopedia being set aside. They can perhaps serve some purpose for basics, but with the rapidly evolving discoveries in medicine, their usage is somewhat limited today.

    Interesting piece, but I suggest that we not throw away devices that can still serve a purpose without thinking of the myriad of benefitting factors , even when we have more advanced items that function more efficiently, when they work.

  25. Interesting. Here in rural PA, we still don’t have access to decent broadband or cellphone coverage. So the wristwatch is still handy.

    Some of the older folks use rotary phones, because they’re easier to dial than push-button, especially if your coordination is poor. But we’re seeing fewer voicemail systems that allow you to ask for what you need, rather than push a button.

    As far as globes go, you’re quite right that they don’t belong in schools. From a historical perspective, they’re interesting though.

  26. AS ALWAYS THE SAT. EVENING POST, SCORES ANOTHER TD !!! KEEP UO THE GREAT WORK AND ROLL TIDE AND GO OAKLAND/LASVEGAS RRRRRAIDERS 21 AND CHUCKIE TOO !!!

  27. Interesting feature here, and a good companion piece for the ‘exaggerated demise’ from 2 1/2 years ago. That seems like a VERY long time ago now; good grief, Troy! I agree with you about the globes. IF a teacher has one and wants to display it as a nostalgia item for her/his classroom, that’s up to them. Same for one’s home. The oceans and continents are basically the same.

    Agree on the wristwatches even though I bought a beautiful Black Ice (with a diamond) watch in late 2019. I don’t wear it everyday, that’s for sure. Don’t carry the iPhone everywhere either. But somehow… I manage just fine.

    You’re right about the rotary phone. It’s extremely frustrating (enough) with the iPhone to reach a person, and usually impossible with all the obstacles. I like the LOOK of the rotary phone, this one and the one in the kitchen. It has a positive association with good times, and using my finger to really dial the numbers. The word ‘dial’ is still widely used in reference to calls, surprisingly.

    Have to agree on the typewriter too. Hated typing class and being ‘busted’ for looking down at the keyboard. But we wouldn’t have what we do now without them. The fax machine is still VERY helpful. It’s not always that easy or convenient to upload something onto the computer, whereas it usually is to fax it and know the person got it on their end. I do so as needed with Health Net, their preference. The medical encyclopedias for the reasons mentioned.

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