Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I was ruminating on technological advances and how they have affected our lives in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle. The example I had cited was the business of buying groceries, which is a very different sort of affair than it was, say, fifty (or even thirty) years ago. What with optical scanners, electronic cash registers, and high-tech plastic grocery bags, today’s supermarket is a whole different world than it was back when our mother would drag me and The Other Elisson to the local A&P or Bohack to cop a week’s provisions.

Over the span of decades, our lives necessarily change as invention proceeds at an ever-accelerating pace. It strikes me as odd, however, that even as we concoct neologisms or repurpose existing words to deal with the things that populate our daily reality (verbs like Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, e.g.), we continue to use terms that no longer have any actual connection with the items or activities they describe.

To revisit the example I wrote about two weeks ago, we talk about the cashier “ringing up” our purchases at the grocery store and elsewhere... but when was the last time you actually heard any ringing? Nowadays “booping up” might be a better descriptor, but I see no signs of it catching on.

Even in this age of the smartphone we still talk of dialing a number, a locution that dates back to the days of the rotary dial telephone. I don’t know about you, but I cannot remember how long it has been since I actually dialed a phone: it has probably been over thirty years.

With respect to recorded music, some of us still talk about “cuts,” “sides,” and “albums,” but none of those expressions really makes sense in the age of the digital download. They’re holdovers from the Age of Vinyl, and that last one (album) is actually a throwback to the days of 78 RPM analog disc recordings. Back then, an album was literally that: a book-like affair that held several thick shellac discs. You would stack them on a turntable, and the automatic record changer would drop the next disc onto the rotating platter when the previous one finished playing. When the pile was done, you’d flip the whole thing over and start again. When the long-playing 33⅓ RPM vinyl discs, AKA LP’s, appeared, that whole stack of 78’s was replaced by (usually) a single disc... yet the moniker “album” stuck and is with us to this day.

I still hear people - even young people - refer to recording a video on a smartphone as “videotaping.” That one is about as old as the Television Age, but it was mostly TV industry jargon until sometime in the mid-1980’s, when cassette videotapes and portable video camcorders became affordable and popular. (Prior to that, most home video was in the form of home movies shot in either 8 mm, Super-8, or (for the well-heeled) 16 mm film formats.) Videotape cassettes have now gone the way of the passenger pigeon, and even their successors, the DVD and Blu-Ray video discs, appear to be losing ground to digital streaming. It sure is a long way from the days of home movie projectors.

It provides me with no end of amusement that, when I take a photograph with my iPhone, the device makes a sound exactly like an old-school 35 mm SLR with a motor drive. That mechanical “kerchunk-whirr” is familiar to anyone who was a serious photographer back in pre-digital times, so I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense to use it as a way of saying “Hey, there - I’m taking a picture!” But the programmers could have selected any number of sounds instead, just as they have created new sounds that we associate with routine Digital Age activities like receiving e-mail or text messages.

I’m sure there are plenty of other linguistic and acoustic anachronisms... can you think of any? Share ’em in the comments, why don’tcha?

1 comment:

leelu said...

I swear that, when I bought my first condo in Huntington Beach, Ca in 1984, I had the last, hard-wired rotary phone in existence. It had an extension cord, so I could sit in the living room and talk if I desired, or in the bedroom, too.

The connection was on a wall in a closet, right across the hall from the kitchen. When I didn't want to be awakened by it, I would put it in the fridge.