What do the typewriter, CDs, and cold, hard cash have in common? They are--or soon will be--anachronisms found in history museums. Why? Because new technology continues to rapidly revolutionize the way we interact with the world and how we use physical objects. Contemporary tech gadgets make our lives more convenient with improved communication, quicker travel, and advanced information processes. Devices can improve different areas of our lives with the tap of a screen.
As new technology overtakes our everyday routines, each generation tends to forget about the items and societal norms that were relevant decades--or even a few years--ago. For perspective, think about how the items used in the ‘90s, like videotapes, fell prey to time and technology.
Obsolete objects and attitudes may be a thing of the past, but they help us understand technological advancements and where these developments may lead us in the future. Let’s look at some of these items for the history books, and how they are changing our world today:
1. Cash and Credit Cards
Physical money is a thing of the past. Online purchasing of food, clothes, entertainment, and other necessities makes our world increasingly easier and more comprehensive to navigate. Need to pay a friend or split a bill? Venmo, Splitwise, Square, and now iOS are digital payment and bill sharing methods that are transforming the way we pay for items and share money. These apps can transfer funds in or out of your bank account while avoiding a run to the nearby ATM. Modern conveniences like PayAnywhere Credit Card Readers from Apple and touchscreen devices make it easier to swipe your card or sign your receipt at local businesses. As this tech becomes more prominent, “cash-only” businesses will give way to cashless ones. Some, like Sweetgreen, have already taken the leap and no longer accept cash.
Digital wallets are becoming increasingly popular for United States consumers. Statista reported in December 2016 that 34% of responding North American retailers were accepting customer payments via PayPal and a further 21% of these retailers plan to accept Paypal payment within the next year. Likewise, global mobile payments are expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2019.
As the future becomes the present, physical credit cards will likely follow cash out of regular commerce. For now, we have Apple/Samsung/Android Pay. Soon it may become more convenient to pay for things via augmented reality or virtual reality (AR/VR) headgear. These trends can improve ease of use, but also security: vendors won’t need to see your credit actual card number but a virtual one will be generated for each transaction. Biometric data software and security installed on mobile and wearable devices will be able to use fingerprints, voice, and eye identification technology to verify who is buying those 5 bars of dark chocolate at 2 in the morning--we’re not judging!
2. Phone Booths
The phone has gone through many operational and aesthetic evolutions over the past century. Phone booths numbered 2.6 million by the mid-1990s, but began steadily declining as cell phones were introduced to consumers. By 2007, phone booths were so unpopular that AT&T exited the pay phone market. Verizon followed in 2011. Now, over 95% of Americans own some variety of cell phone. Instead of trashing old phone booths, companies are turning these spots into wifi hubs and information kiosks. In New York City, projects like LinkNYC are replacing 7,500 payphones into communications networks with free, public wifi hookups, phone calls, and charging stations. The success of these hubs will depend on advancements in wifi accessibility, charging technology, and privacy laws which may change the way we depend on these hubs in the future. For now, it is pretty convenient to have a place to plug in your dying phone without having to fight for an outlet at your local coffee shop.
3. Losing touch
You can run, but you can’t hide! In a world that’s increasingly interconnected through social networks, your excuses for not checking in with mom are dwindling. Maintaining relationships with family and friends who live far away is now easier and keeping in “touch” by liking an Instagram or sending a Snap is part of the daily routine for many. Long-distance charges no longer apply for calls across the US and frequently across North America. Social networking and free internet chat services like WeChat and Skype have taken this even further to global markets. As of January 2017, 2.789 billion people in the world are active social media users, increasing by 21% in the past year. Meanwhile, there are 2.549 billion active mobile social users, an increase of 30% since May 2016. Engagement is expected to steadily increase to 2.9 billion users by 2020.
Social media users also have more direct relationships with brands, media sources, and organizations. It’s now easier for businesses and the media to interact with their consumers in real time. As a result, we have more personalized experiences that handled well can improve consumer trust or, at least, awareness of trends and news. Growth reports show that 88.2% of US companies will use social networks for marketing purposes, and by the end of 2017, the trend is supposed to reach 89.4%.
As social media becomes even more accessible, our digital interactions with multiple sectors--business, economics, politics, pop culture, etc.--will keep us more easily informed on a daily basis. What we choose to do with that information is up to each of us, but losing touch is no longer so easy.
“With the touch of a button” is a phrase likely to go out of fashion soon. Today, numerous digital touch screens are revitalizing new technology markets as seen on touch devices like iPhones, Androids, and mobile pads which can improve speed, accessibility, size, ease of use, and sharing capacity. Touchscreens are becoming more common on home appliance models like refrigerators and washing machines to offer vital information and smoother operations. One of most famous buttons – the one on the iPhone is likely to disappear in iPhone 8. Researchers are even improving “microfluid technology” to create 3D tabs on touchscreen technology.
Last May, LG announced a technology that hides the smartphone’s home button and fingerprint sensor. The invisible button will be under a smartphone’s front glass panel, but not under the display. LG claims the buttonless phone is safer, offering a lower “false recognition rate”. The trend towards touchscreen will only increase. Businesses like Corning Glass have pioneered a future vision with glossy, Gorilla glass for LCD television touchscreens, architectural surface display glass for counters and stoves, or automotive display glass for car dashboards. The touchscreen tech market is expected to gross $31.9 billion by 2018.
5. Car Mirrors
Say goodbye to craning your neck as you try to use your side view mirrors, because the stationary car mirror may become a thing of the past. For many high-end and mid-priced car models, back-up cameras are already standard. By May 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will require backup cameras to be installed in all new cars. Camera-and-display systems are advantageous because they offer more visual coverage of blind spots, display driver stats (speeds, directions, proximity), and provide low light vision.
Tesla announced plans to expand upon this with side-view camera mirrors which will improve upon the camera-and-monitor system with aerodynamic features. As driverless cars are utilized in the future, camera and sensors will become more helpful than regular car mirrors, completely replacing the stationary mirror design for added safety.
What’s becoming obsolete next?
So what items are likely to be added to those above in the coming years? Cars with drivers are a likely one, charging cables are another. Anything and everything is on the chopping block. As we rely increasingly on the cloud and new technologies, our world becomes more connected and more items face obsolescence. These new possibilities will hopefully make us more adaptable, knowledgeable, and functional. I’ll still want to keep paper copies of my favorite books, but imagine the ways well-distributed technology can provide us with a safer, more productive society.
Now, if only we could teleport to the past to avoid eating those 5 bars of chocolate!