Cover Story

Left Behind

A fond farewell to 209 once-common things that are either obsolete or well on the way

By Anna Jane Grossman
Sunday, March 16, 2008; Page W10

In his 1970 book, Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler warned that the last few decades of the 20th century would bring a widespread physical and psychological overload. "When we lived in an agrarian world as peasants, life was set by the seasons, and things were slow. Terribly slow," says Toffler. "You still had the same plot of land your whole life. Your son's life wasn't going to be that different than your father's." A drastically accelerating world, he predicted, was more than humans would be able to process.

Nearly 40 years later, things have changed dramatically -- but aside from the annoyance of having to learn a new cellphone every six months, we all seem to be holding up surprisingly well. When The Washington Post Magazine asked experts, celebrities and average Joes to cast their minds back to objects, habits and paradigms that have been left behind just in the past couple of decades, we came up with those that follow.

Future shock? That's what we got when we asked teens to talk about what they thought has become passe in their lifetimes.

Truly 'Blind' Dates

b. when Adam met Eve -- d. 2000s

Smoke and mirrors have long had a place in romance. For ages, we've made ourselves up and shaved ourselves down; we've surgically enhanced the things we can and covered up the things we can't. We've courted each other in the forgiving light of candles and become experts in various scripted untruths: Yes, it was good for me. Really, I've never felt this way before. No, you don't look fat.

In the beginning, courtship on the Internet extended this trend. It was the place where, literally and figuratively, no one knew you were a dog. No longer. Now, if a friend sets you up with someone, and you don't automatically Google that person, check his or her "relationship" status on Facebook and do a quick vetting via (the modern answer to stocks and pillories), one might question if you are really fit to date at all. Meanwhile, Internet daters have sites such as, where those deceived by photos taken from juuust the right angle can report to the masses that Mr. Right on is, in the flesh, actually Mr. Fat, Married and Ten Years Older.

Mix Tapes

b. 1963 -- d. 1990s

These plastic gems once acted like aural diaries. Painstakingly recorded from the radio or other people's music libraries and then labeled with loopy script or scribbled drawings, mix tapes -- which made it possible to listen to a customized set of songs without having to put money in a jukebox or hop off the couch mid make-out session -- defined our breakups, our summers, our crushes. They gave every 15-year-old the ability to play deejay and album-cover artist without leaving the bedroom.

Niggling matters such as illegal duplication and copyright infringement never entered the mind of your common mix-tape maestro. Those were simpler times -- and there were more subtle laws to abide. (As the music-snob protagonist mused in Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity:"You can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs.")

But mix-tape making, like the audiocassette itself (which is now more than 40 years old), has become a relic. It's been replaced by the burning of CD compilations and the trading of MP3 playlists -- neither of which involves the creative cookery of manually assembling a tape track by track or, ahem, the artistic aplomb that went into the homemade packaging. These other formats also lack the ephemeral quality of a self-recorded 90-minute Maxell -- unless many copies were made (each slowly dubbed by hand), a broken or lost mix tape was not easy to replace.

One thing, though, will likely never change: the nomenclature, which gets recalled every time a rap deejay bundles together his latest collection of singles. Says Universal Republic Records president Monte Lipman: "Cassettes may be gone, but we have mix tapes in other configurations now. And, no matter what the medium, I think 'mix tapes' is what they'll always be called."

Land Lines

b. late 1870s -- d. early 2000s

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company