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What we know about the dollar is shifting almost faster than the exchange rate. Pennies now cost more than a cent to make. And even the color that launched a dozen nicknames -- the green stuff, the long green, lettuce, cabbage -- is dated. The new 20s are kind of pinkish and periwinkle, and the new fives are . . . um, does anyone still use bills besides 20s?
A new edition of Monopoly has completely done away with colored money. As if the banker's job weren't sweet enough, she now gets to go all Arthur Andersen on her opponents, inserting players' "credit cards" in a hand-held machine, checking a balance, which only she can see, and then deducting monies paid to a property's owner or adding that $2 million earned for passing Go. (Dollar amounts have been seriously adjusted for inflation.)
Not that credit cards are long for this world. Thanks to technology being tested in several states, a simple tap of a cellphone will likely be the way your average shopper will pay for things in coming years. After that, the next logical development would seem to be a technology that automatically deducts funds from our checking accounts when we simply think about what we want to buy. Wait -- isn't that what the Internet is for?
b. early man (very hairy!) -- d. 2000s
Getting ready for a date once involved little more than a blow dryer, a razor and a handful of products that could be found at the drugstore (or the grocery store, if you were one of those mayonnaise people). In the past decade, however, that primping might mean spending several hours and more than a few dollars on professional services: eyebrow threading, lip bleaching, armpit-hair waxing, bikini-line laser removal . . . even those little fluffy fellas near the hairline are likely to get pulled. Male hair isn't safe, either. The men's razor market is estimated to have grown more than 25 percent since 2001, and not all those blades are being used on faces: According to personal care product manufacturers Church & Dwight, three of 10 men ages 18 to 34 regularly remove hair from their bodies.
Indeed, hair as a whole has grown out of favor. Tom Selleck's hair, both facial and pectoral, was once considered both hot and completely unironic; Madonna's eyebrows circa 1984 could've woven half a dozen wigs. But it's been a long time since a celebrity's hair was her defining characteristic, a la Farrah Fawcett, Crystal Gayle or Jennifer Aniston. Today, it's the lack thereof (see Britney Spears or Bruce Willis) that seems to garner stars the most notice.
"It's just cheaper and simpler to remove body hair today than it was 10 or 20 years ago. And the products that were available 20 years ago are far superior today," says Roman Shuster, a research analyst with Euromonitor International, a company that tracks industry trends. "More young people are waiting longer to have children, so they have more time and money to spend on things like hair removal."
It's all enough to make one wonder what great things we might accomplish if the energy funneled into modern depilatory techniques could be redirected.
Having the Blues
b. time immemorial -- d. 1990s
When Bobby McFerrin sang "Don't Worry, Be Happy," in 1988, Americans took it as an order. So much so, points out Charles Barber, author of the new book Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, that, in 2005, more money was spent on the anti-depressant drug Zoloft than on Tide.
"Kids today are growing up with drugs being advertised on TV like toothpaste, and so are being instilled with the idea that you can rid yourself of untoward emotions," says Barber. Today, with anti-depressants even more refined, marketed and available, crying into your pillow while blaring Leonard Cohen and reading Anna Karenina has become a kind of crime.
Is the world a better place? It's hard to say. What's clear is that we have a better understanding of the chemical causes of certain emotions -- a greater sense of why our brains work the way they do. While this is a good thing for those of us wondering why a happy childhood nevertheless resulted in years of mild malaise and head shrinkage, it's great news for anyone whose life has been completely paralyzed by depression and uncontrollable emotions.
And, for what it's worth, sadness had an awfully good run before its current exile to Elba. "In the 1800s, Thomas Carlyle talked about how happiness was really only a few hundred years old. Before that, people were too busy trying to survive and fight off Cossacks to even think about emotions, let alone the idea of being 'happy,' " says Barber.
"Real people going on game shows. When we were kids, we'd watch 'The Price is Right,' and the contestant would have curlers in her hair -- she'd look like your neighbor next door. Real people got a chance to shine. Now, everyone comes out of some stupid mold from a moronic casting director's idea of what is exciting to watch. All the reality is removed."
-- Rosie O'Donnell
"Drawing tables have become obsolete. As have bridge tables, enamel-topped kitchen tables and turntables."
-- Milton Glaser, graphic designer
-- Ann Coulter, conservative commentator
"I see people who are constantly text-messaging. I still like to pick up the phone and talk to someone, and that's how I continue to conduct business. I'm on the phone a lot, and I see a lot of people in my office every day."
-- Donald Trump
"Stove-top percolators are collector's items."
-- Robert F. Nelson, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association
"Focus groups. They're toast. They never worked, really. Only the top pros understood them. Mostly, they were used to persuade the boss to do what you wanted to do anyway."
-- Seth Godin, marketing expert
"I miss competence. There's a lot of incompetence in this industry. Knowing how to write, how to play, sing, perform. Just knowing how to do the gig. Instead, they have all kinds of tools to make people sound better and keep them in key. But I probably sound like an old grouch. Maybe I'm the thing that's obsolete."
-- Billy Joel
"Handwritten 'dupes' -- the checks that the server writes customers' orders on, and then a carbon copy would be handed to the kitchen. All that is done by computers now. I have a bit of nostalgia for the sense of detail it allowed, because computers can't be so detailed as a handwritten request. The written reservation book is also gone for good. I still look over ours from the beginning and laugh at how difficult it must have been. But it was free."
-- Ellen Kassoff Gray, co-owner of Equinox restaurant
"Fifteen years ago, if you didn't have a baked Alaska or cherry jubilee on the menu, you couldn't consider yourself a French restaurant. Today, you can't find hardly any of these things. I miss flambe. And lobster thermidor! And anything that involves innards is hard to come by now."
-- Tim Zagat, co-founder of Zagat Survey
"Network nightly news broadcasts as a source of common information and national unity. Opinions differed, but Americans began thinking with the same images and facts in mind, brought to them by experienced journalists. If you cared about national or world affairs, you scheduled dinner before or after the nightly serving of Cronkite, Rather, Brokaw or Jennings."
-- Madeleine K. Albright, former secretary of state
"Computerized design has become a really great, really user-friendly resource, but the drawings often have more of the personality of the program than of the programmer. I still love hand-drawn floor plans."
-- Thom Filicia, interior designer
"Smoking allowed in restaurants, and the small portions and odd plating of nouvelle cuisine -- just a little bit of food on a big white plate. Portion sizes have definitely gotten larger and plating more natural."
-- Laurent Tourondel, executive chef of BLT Steak Bistro
Anna Jane Grossman is a freelance journalist based in New York City. She can be reached at GrossmanAJ@gmail.com. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at noon.