When we think of how far we’ve come since the year 2000, it’s easy to focus on what we’ve gained. In the past 17 years, we’ve gotten iPods, smart phones, driverless cars, text messaging, GPS, social media where we can “like” our exe’s children, Wikipedia, every TV show and movie in human existence available on demand, and a freaking computer that can kick anybody’s butt at Jeopardy. It’s amazing and wonderful, no doubt about it. But what about what we’ve lost?


Let’s take a moment to look back at 33 things that everybody took for granted in the 20th century but have become almost entirely extinct today.

1. Calling somebody and getting a busy signal

It’s strange the things you miss. Back in the days of landlines, calling somebody and getting a busy signal used to be annoying. But today, in an age of digital phones, we’d give anything to hear a busy signal. Because if you heard one, you had some solid information. The person you were trying to reach was home, just on another call. Going straight to voicemail could mean anything. But that beep-beep-beep was a reason for hope!

2. VCRs

DVDs arrived in the the U.S. in 1997, and it didn’t take long for the new format to make VCRs feel like cave drawings. It looked bad when the Washington Post gave the antiquated technology a tongue-in-cheek obit in 2005—”It passed away peacefully after a long illness caused by chronic technological insignificance and a lack of director’s commentary tracks”—but when Japanese newspaper Nikkei rang the death knell for VCRs last summer, it was officially over.

3. Getting film developed

Walking past a “film processing” desk at a pharmacy can be downright creepy. It’s like driving by an abandoned drive-in movie theater. You want to crane your neck just to get a better look, as if maybe you’ll see the ghosts of former customers, picking up their photos and saying, “I can’t believe I got these developed in under 24 hours!” Next time you’re there, take three dozen photos of the film-developing station with your phone, then look at them immediately, just to remind yourself how far we’ve come.

4. Dot matrix printers

The only places where perforated printouts still reign supreme are Goodwill or Salvation Army “electronics” sections and at car rental offices. Even though they were a pain in the ass even during their prime, especially when the damn things jammed (which was always), we can’t help but get a little misty-eyed when we hear the purring of a dot matrix in action.

5. Television static

If there’s no picture on your TV in 2017, it just means you didn’t pay your cable bill. But even then, we never get the electromagnetic noise that was so frustrating (and weirdly comforting) for several generations of TV watchers. If you’re feeling sentimental, here are ten hours of TV static.

6. Phone sex ads in the back of free weeklies

Actually, this is more like three things that have (mostly) disappeared: Free city weeklies, if they exist at all anymore, are the size of Chinese takeout menus. They were once overstuffed with content, with the last dozen or so pages taken up almost entirely with ads for phone sex services like 1-900-Hot-Bush. You can still get news for free and pay to have women talk dirty to you, but it all happens on computers today.

7. Fax machines

When was the last time you made a new friend and he or she said to you, “Let’s keep in touch. Wanna exchange fax numbers?” Okay, maybe that didn’t even happen in the 20th century. The point is, nobody has a fax machine anymore! And if you have one, nobody wants the number, because nobody is going to send you a fax. Ever.

8. Cassette tapes

Yes, we’ve read the stories that cassette tapes are making a comeback. And apparently it’s all Justin Bieber’s fault. Here’s a spoiler alert for you: cassettes, not unlike Justin Bieber, probably won’t last. You know what else is making a comeback? Smallpox. At least until we realize, oh yeah, we have technology to stop this.

9. Not being accessible

It sounds like fiction today, but there used to be something called the separation between your work life and your personal life. You worked hard all day, and then you came home and didn’t think about work again until the next morning. That doesn’t exist anymore. Even when you go on vacation and activate the out-of-office auto-responder, that doesn’t mean you stop checking your email. Like that old saying goes, “I’ll sleep (and stop being available 24/7 to my employer) when I’m dead.”

10. A phone connected to a wall

Phones were once connected to walls with fibre optic cables. No, I’m totally not kidding. They worked just like any other phone, except there was no screen, or Internet connection, and it didn’t tell you the time, and it had zero apps. Most shocking of all, it could only be used in the room where it was connected. Unplug it from the wall and it didn’t work. Like at all! So why do we miss them so much? Because there’s something comforting about cradling a phone receiver between your neck and ear while having a conversation. You can’t cradle today’s phones like that.

11. Computer rooms

Wait, wait, hear us out. In high schools and even colleges, there was a specific room on campus where they kept all the computers. No, seriously, all of the computers. Nobody had their own computer. That was as absurd as saying “I could fly commercial, but I prefer to fly my own plane.” So you went to these rooms and used one of the computers, and then you left and you didn’t have access to a computer again until you went back to that room!

12. Being a dick to somebody’s face

Pre-2000, trolls were mythical creatures who lived under bridges, and if you wanted to say something horrible to another person, you had to do it to their face. Sometimes there were consequences for being a spiteful little prick. Yes, consequences. As in, you made the decision to say something unbelievably insensitive and cruel, and now things will happen to you because of it. In the 20th century, you couldn’t say mean stuff “anonymously,” unless you were a kidnapper delivering a random letter with different-shaped letters cut out of magazines. You had to say the mean thing in your head out loud, and then everybody would be like, “Jesus, (your actual name), why would you say that? Are you clinically insane?”

13. Watches

Of course analog wrist-watches aren’t obsolete. We’d never suggest that. People everywhere are still wearing them. Watches are really stylish and cool. What we mean is, nobody uses watches. They don’t have the same function anymore. Ask somebody who’s wearing a really expensive Rolex watch what time it is, and he’s gonna check his phone. You know it’s true.

14. Having to look for porn

Photos or movies of people having sexual intercourse with each other weren’t always easy to come by. You had to make an effort. You had to say, “I really want to see people I don’t know doing intimate acts to each other whilst naked. I wonder where I could find that.” You might be able to find magazines with pictures of carnal exchanges at your local convenience stores, or movies of dirty people being dirty at your local video rental shop. But then you had to face another human being, and say, “I would like to pay you money to take this magazine or video with images of people fucking home with me and… well, you know.. Please don’t judge me.” But of course they were judging you, and that made you feel weird. Sometimes you dreamed of what it would be like to just pick up your phone and magically conjure up all the pornography you could ever desire for free. Hahahahahahaha! Yeah, like that could ever happen.

15. Slide projectors

Is it possible that future generations will never know the horrors of sitting through an aunt’s vacation photos in a living room slide projector show that feels like waterboarding torture in which you have to pretend to smile? How is that remotely fair?

16. Forgetting

As the New York Times once reminded us, “The web means the end of forgetting. The Internet records everything and forgets nothing.” The Times published that in 2010. seven years ago. During the last century, if you asked somebody, “Do you remember that story the TImes published seven years ago,” they’d say, “No idea. Maybe you can find it at the library?” Then you’d go to a library, and they might have it on microfilm, but maybe not. And you’d end up spending your whole afternoon looking for it. Today, you can find what the New York Times wrote seven years ago in a five second Google search. Nothing will ever be forgotten again.

17. Dial-up

To connect to the Internet once required a phone line (see #6 above) which you would plug into your computer. Then your computer would attempt to “call” the Internet. It was a whole thing. And then sometimes your connection would get interrupted if somebody in the house picked up another phone, and you’d yell, “Mom! I’m trying to check my email!” Compared to what we’re used to, it was a nightmare. But there was something about that sound, the jarring electronic caterwauling that meant you were aaaaaaalmost online, that was exciting in ways nobody in today’s impatient world could understand.

18. Things on paper

So much of what a person needed to circumnavigate life in the last century required things printed on paper. Phone books. Newspapers. Utility bills. Maps. Beautiful maps! If you lived in California in the 20th century and didn’t own a Thomas Guide, it was like you were asking to get lost. And speaking of…

19. Getting lost

Before every car and cellular phone came with their own global positioning systems, it was entirely possible that you could venture out into the world and not have any idea where you were. It was called “being lost,” and you either had to find somebody to give you directions or find a map (see above.) Or maybe you’d just stay lost, and keep wandering until you stumbled onto something familiar, or just figured out where you were going out of dumb luck. Being lost wasn’t so bad, if you can believe it. It was a weird thrill to have no clue when, or even if, you’d arrive at your destination.

20. Having an ugly sense of humor without everybody in the world noticing

It used to be that you could make a tasteless, derogatory, totally disgusting joke, and at most you’d offend a few people. Today, if you make that same terrible joke on social media, within seconds there’ll be millions of people across the globe screaming for your head and demanding that your employers fire you. A jerk in 1997 is no different than a jerk in 2017, but the only difference is that today everybody in the world knows who the jerks are.

21. Watching crappy daytime TV on sick days

You know why so many people who came of age in the late 20th century have such fond memories of former Price Is Right host Bob Barker? Because when we stayed home sick from school and watched TV all day, we always ended up watching The Price Is Right because it was the only thing on. It was that or some terrible soap opera or the local news. Can you imagine anyone today watching a game show they were vaguely interested in over and over and over because it was the only option?

22. Going on a “blind” date

There was a weird thrill to showing up for a first date and having no idea what he or she looked like. Oh sure, you could say “blind” dates still technically exist, because you can’t always trust the profile photos they use on dating sites like Zoosk, eHarmony, or Badoo. But it’s a different thing. If you show up and your date doesn’t look anything like their photo, then they’re the asshole. But show up for a “blind” date in the last century and your date doesn’t look like what you imagined in your head, well, the only asshole in that scenario is you.

23. CD case binders

There’s a whole lot that feels conspicuously absent now that music has become digitized and is no longer a physical thing. Nobody owns a Walkman or Discman anymore. But the weirdest disappearing act is the CD binder, which you’d fill up with music before a car trip or any outdoor excursion, and then invariably realize too late that you forgot the one CD you wanted to hear. Damn you, limited number of plastic storage sleeves!

24. Polaroid “instant” pictures

Kids today have it so easy. For them, an “instant” picture is any image they capture on their smartphone, and it’s accessible nanoseconds after taking it. But with Polaroids—which ceased making instant film in 2008—“instant” meant “in a few minutes, after you shake the photo violently for some reason and then wait and wait and wait for what seems like an eternity for the image to sloooooowly appear.” It’s hard to believe that we were ever so patient.

25. Beepers

If even drug dealers don’t want to use you anymore, you’ve officially outlasted your cultural usefulness.

26. Cursive writing

Kids today not only can’t write in cursive, some of them can’t even read it. Does it matter? Other than signing a check (another thing we stopped doing in the last decade), cursive might very well be a lost art. Sure it’s cool, but it’s cool like being able to read Beowulf in the original Old English is cool. It doesn’t have real world applications.

27. Backing up your data with floppy disks

Pre-2000, a cloud was a collection of condensed water vapor hovering in the sky. It’s what made rain, not where you stored all of your computer files. If you wanted to save important documents, you needed something like a floppy disk, which could hold up to 240 MB.of memory. But then came the floppy-less iMac in 1998, and eventually the iCloud, which made floppies seem adorably quaint. If you still have dozens of floppy disks, don’t throw them out just yet. You can repurpose them as a plant holder, among other things.

28. Bookstores

We know we’ll get angry comments for this one. They’ll tell us about their favorite local bookstores, which they’ll swear are still thriving. Okay, maybe “obsolete” is the wrong word. How about… in the death throes? Sorry, but when the Huffington Post is doing “Best Bookstores closed this decade” lists, you’re maybe not in a thriving industry anymore.

29. Talking to people on the phone

This still happens occasionally, like when you realize you owe you mom a phone call. But the majority of human interaction today doesn’t happen in phone calls anymore. It’s texts or emails or Tweets or Facebook posts. When somebody says “I’ll call you,” then don’t literally mean “I’ll pick up a phone, dial your number, then you’ll pick up your phone and we’ll have a conversation.” You’re as likely to get a message by carrier pigeon in 2017 than get an actual phone call.

30. Calculators

These were like tiny computers whose only job—only job—was to do math. That was literally all it did. You couldn’t do a damn other thing with it besides add, subtract, multiply and divide. Oh sure, it could make some amusing swear words. 8008 kinda looked like BOOB. And type in 7734 and then turn the calculator upside down and it looked like HELL. But you definitely couldn’t get the weather, your email, or play Minecraft on it.

31. Library card catalogs

You know what would be a far more entertaining version of the Hunger Games? A bunch of kids from 2017 compete in a death match where they have to find a book in the library using only the dewey decimal system. In the end, everybody gets paper cuts and nobody finds their damn book.

32. Physically manipulating technology to make it work

For all the talk of the wonders of modern tech, nobody ever says “And you never have to blow on it to make it work.” That’s what we did to gameboy cartridges when they started acting funky. When was the last time you blew on your bluetooth? Or smacked the side of your HDTV to get a better picture? We’ve come a long way, baby.

33. Losing touch

It wasn’t so uncommon during the last century to have no idea what happened to friends you haven’t seen in years. Your high school classmates? No idea if they’re dead or alive. All of your ex-girlfriends? Why in the world would you know where she is now? Well, thanks to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, you can stay in constant contact with every single person you’ve ever known even in passing during your life. If you don’t know what your childhood dentist or kindergarten teacher is up to these days, you’re either lazy or a monster, and quite possibly both. A lazy monster.

[This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in Best Life.]