The cable news outlets should have added this recent headline to their Breaking News scrolls cluttering the bottom of my TV screen: the cost of a postage stamp has dropped two cents! The roll of 100 Forever Stamps I bought for $49 two months ago is now worth a mere $47.
Still, I consider the service available with a single postage stamp – delivery of a card to a nephew way out in Arizona or clear down in Arkansas – is one of the best bargains around. Oh, we all complain about the occasional misdelivery or mutilation of a piece of mail. However, most USPS services go off without a hitch, considering how sloppily some people interpret postal rules with illegible handwriting or poor package preparation.
But a drop in the price of a stamp? That has not happened since 1919 when the three-cent fee decreased by a penny. In my lifetime alone there have been 23 increases, with nine of them since 2000. Actually, this mandated decrease was part of a deal with Congress that permitted a three-cent increase in 2014.
Clearly the Post Office has experienced unprecedented financial problems since people began opting for technological communication. Although I also stay in touch by e-mail and Facebook, I do my part for the USPS by using several stamps each week for the outgoing bills and birthday cards my mail lady picks up. I doubt the complete elimination of postage stamps, but I think many people already consider them obsolete.
Another staple of most homes, the telephone book, faces more certain obsolescence. As recently as just a few years back, I annually replaced existing copies of various directories when the new ones arrived in the general vicinity of my doorstep.
Now I immediately discard the updated listings of residential and business information; most of these unsolicited publications are no longer of use to me. My aging eyesight and their smaller font size are not a practical combination, and the dwindling list of landline telephone numbers provides only limited help. The one phonebook still in my drawer is dated 2006 – at least I can see the numbers without magnification.
Therefore, I knowingly participate in the disappearance of an American icon each time I turn to Google or White Pages for my address and phone number needs.
By also using the internet for driving or geographical information I am contributing to the demise of another item now falling out of regular use: the road map. My collection of maps once included three of Ohio (for my house, my car, and my classroom), a regional one showing neighboring states, an assortment from European countries – and none of them was ever folded correctly. The flat, crispness of a brand new map invariably disappeared the very first time I touched it.
Be that as it may, I have always enjoyed deciphering the loads of information ingeniously packed onto one large, double-sided sheet of paper. However, there are also advantages to checking online maps, especially the ones that allow users to zoom in or out at will. I do not have a GPS device in my car, but a set of directions printed out from MapQuest right next to me is quite sufficient – even if they are so specific as to include the 0.03 miles from my house to the first right turn just down the block.
To this list of paper items slowly slipping from our daily lives, I will add a more dimensional example: the clock. I was shocked when a sibling recently reported that one of her children has no clocks in the house. Having taught for forty years with one eye on my classroom clock and still glancing frequently at the atomic clocks gracing my walls at home, I cannot imagine keeping track of time on a phone or my kitchen stove.
When digital displays began to regularly appear on clocks and watches, I wondered what effect that might have on children learning to tell time. But no clocks at all? Suffice it to say my mind is boggled.
People use their smart phones for calls, text messages, calendars – well, most anything these days. My sister’s phone emits such a variety of beeps and pings, I need a scorecard to distinguish among incoming information. But I also know people use their phones as alarm clocks as well as alerts for other time reminders.
I am currently considering the acquisition of a smart phone so that I can join family and friends in texting. I will, however, always need a clock on the wall to really know what time it is.
So, is it all that important to lament the eventual absence of postage stamps or phonebooks? If we successfully arrive at our destinations, should we debate the method that supplied the directions? Is there any need to discuss how we know the time of day? We are all getting along fine without the iceboxes and horse-and-buggy transport we heard about from our parents. Progress simply dictates that soon enough, phonebooks and stamps will also fall by the wayside and become quaint items our children’s grandchildren may one day not even recognize.
But ice boxes and even road maps are symbols. They represent bygone times, times no easier but somehow sweeter, times when our futures contained more years than our pasts, times we miss as they slip slowly away…