As much as I pride myself on being forward-thinking, staying relevant with the changing times, and ruthlessly suppressing all forms of nostalgia—What’s gone is gone, so what’s the point of whining and moaning about it?—I still went through a moment of intense sadness recently when I remembered some of the things that are no longer part of my life.
These were things that I loved and once felt that I couldn’t live without. Things that I clearly remember using, even a decade back. And that made me think about the ruthlessness and savagery of modern life.
And how life doesn’t stop for anyone or anything.
Like I said, I’m not one for nostalgia but knowing that I don’t use any of the following five items makes me extremely sad and gives me a chance to think back to the good ol’ times—back to life in 2012!
1. Using a land phone
The first time I realized that a land phone was a relic that had been relegated to the past is when a student of mine in Shanghai asked me, “Roopa, what’s a land phone?”
I was in the midst of my sociology lecture where I talked about how there are certain technologies that communities completely bypass. I gave them the example of countries in Africa that went from not having any phone (like never experiencing what an actual phone was) to most of the countries now having cell phones. I said, “These countries in Africa leapfrogged over the land phone technology directly to cellular phones.”
As I paused for a second to see if their minds were blown by this pithy piece of information, I just saw blank faces in return. I raised my eyebrows and then looked each student in the eye…hoping for anything. Nothing. Until, finally, one of them bravely asked me, “What’s a land phone?”
And that made me think. Having a land phone in the house even 10 years back was like having water to drink. It was part of the furniture. Even now, many in the older generations still like having a land phone because it’s always in one place, unlike the cell phone they misplace. The lines are clear, unlike the unclear connections on cell phones. And the elders in my family tell me repeatedly that they can speak on a land phone for hours on end for “no extra charge.” Never mind that my throat has gone hoarse trying to explain that the same deals are available with cell phones as well. And no, that did not go down as I’d hoped. A land phone was what they loved and it’s what they still use.
Back to the kid in my class who asked me what a land phone was. I tried explaining. Either I couldn’t describe it correctly or the kid just couldn’t understand. Either way…the blank looks continued till the end of class.
2. Turning on my television
I haven’t watched TV in over a decade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pretending to be some diva who “doesn’t watch TV” because it’s bad for your mental health. Perish the thought. I watched and loved all kinds of nonsense back when I did watch TV.
And I still devour movies and TV shows and sports and news. I just don’t watch any of it on an actual television set. In fact, it’s been well over a decade since I’ve even turned on the TV. I just watch my TV on my computer, and have been now for close to 15 years. I’ll probably never get credit for it but I binged on TV shows before it was even a thing. Even then, I hated waiting for new episodes week after week of my favorite TV shows, so I’d just download them on my computer and then watch the entire season in one go.
I do have a TV in my house now. And just for kicks (and because I was writing this article), I turned it on. All that showed up was a white screen with static on it. Turns out the TV needs to be connected to a network for it to work. I just shrugged and turned it back off. Needless to say, I haven’t missed it.
3. Using CDs and DVDs
There’s an Indian movie that I love. I’d mentioned it to this kid who is my neighbor. He said he wanted to see it but he couldn’t find it on any of the streaming platforms. I asked him not to worry since I had a DVD of the movie and would be happy to loan it to him.
In return, I got…another blank face.
I repeated the part about him borrowing the DVD when he interrupted and said, “What’s a DVD?”
Oh, come on, I thought to myself.
Sure, my student in Shanghai did not know anything about a land phone but now DVDs? I retorted that a DVD player was the tray-like thing that ejected from the side of his laptop, and I showed him what a DVD actually looked like. Still blank-faced, he took out his laptop and looked everywhere. He then gave it to me. So, I looked everywhere and I couldn’t find the tray-like thing that comes out either.
I was pretty cheesed off by then and decided to show him what I meant on my laptop. I took mine out and guess what? My own laptop (which is only two years old) does not have the CD/DVD player either. Thing is, I haven’t used either for so long that I had no idea that newer models of laptops don’t even have the slots anymore. I just assumed that my laptop had it.
That’s when I got rid of my entire collection of CDs and DVDs, which I hadn’t even looked at for over a decade, and gave them all away. That day made me so sad. I still remember how I used to buy CDs/DVDs or borrow them from friends and burn them on blank CDs. And, I guess one day I just…stopped. I’d stopped using them and I had no idea that would be the last time. Unbelievable.
4. Reading actual books
I know. I know. There is something utterly magical about picking up a book, taking in the fragrance of paper, feeling your way through the words, making dog ears to remember where you read last, or collecting different bookmarks just so you can use them in your books.
I know! And I 100 percent agree.
But, unfortunately, life and needs take precedent. As someone who traveled a lot until the pandemic put my nomadic life on hold, and someone who is an avid reader who needs books like a fish needs water, lugging heavy books everywhere just became impractical. And airlines are so stingy now. Remember back when airlines allowed you to check two big suitcases, allowing 65 pounds per suitcase…well, those days are long gone. These days, they even check the weight of your online carry-on to make sure it’s well under the allowed 15 pounds.
That’s when it started for me. Replacing physical books with eBooks. And once I got over my initial resistance to reading on eBooks, I did a full 180 and started to really love them. There is a sense of peace and serenity inside of me when I go somewhere with my Nook and know that I have over 10,000 books on it—that I will never run out of books to read. When my Nook is with me, I don’t need anyone else when I go to a coffee shop or have lunch on my own. And unlike actual books, which are difficult to read with dim lights at night, having an eBook is a lifesaver. Also, I can increase the size of the letters if I want.
This may be utterly blasphemous, but I genuinely, 100 percent, do not miss reading an actual book anymore.
5. Going to a bank and using my checkbook
I don’t remember the last time I went to the bank or the last time I wrote an actual check. When I last lived in Shanghai, apart from the first day I opened a bank account, I never even went to a bank. I also don’t remember the last time I used my checkbook. Over the past decade or more, I used it a few times in the U.S., never in Shanghai, and a handful of times in India. That’s it. I do all of my transactions online. And when I withdraw money if I need cash, which, increasingly, is never, I use an ATM only.
While I’m not nostalgic by nature, writing this did feel emotional. It’s like a whole other life of mine is completely gone. I feel like a different person than who I was not even some 50 or 100 years back, but just 10!
Life and time wait for no one. Writing this list made me realize that there are so many of these once-so-important items in our lives that are now completely irrelevant. And I’ll write about them in another piece for Elephant soon.
After all these emo feels, I decided it was time to snap out of it. So I did what I do best in such a scenario, which is to find something to do that will distract me.
So, I decided to read the newspaper and see what the world has to say. But, wait…