Yesterday’s News: Telephone Operators, Pay Phones, and Postage Stamps

I was reading an article recently about the possibility that the US first class stamp may rise another three cents and I wondered if maybe the US Postal Service is heading towards becoming an anachronism. At most, I use maybe fifty stamps per year, right now. At the rate I am going, I can probably buy enough forever stamps to last the rest of my life. I then pondered the reason for the slide and I believe that it is due in large part to technology. I pay a lot of my bills electronically. I can transfer documents electronically and get notices electronically. I use e-mail extensively, so I no longer send or receive personal correspondence through the traditional mail. The mail that I do get is largely unsolicited.

I think this is a case where technology will soon make a long-standing service obsolete. I then thought about other services that have already become what I call technology-induced anachronisms. Here is my list:

Telephone operators

When was the last time you placed a phone call that required a telephone operator? When was the last time you called “information” for a phone number and talked with a live person? Advances in phone switches, networking technology, and voice-activated response systems have made the telephone operator largely obsolete. I am even not sure what would happen now if you dialed “0” from your phone.

Public pay phones

Along those lines, when was the last time you saw a functioning public pay phone? These have been made obsolete by cell phones. Even if you forgot to bring your cell phone from home, chances are you could borrow one from a friend or stranger.

Photo film and film processing

Think about how quickly we have moved from traditional silver halide film to digital photography. It is difficult to find traditional film today, let alone a photo processor. Digital photography does have a lot advantages over traditional film such as the fact that it is less expensive, you get instant picture review, and you can take many more photos, depending on your storage capacity.


How much cash do you have in your wallet or purse right now? I have $16 and that is probably enough to last me for the next two to three weeks. While this one will not go obsolete as quickly as some of the others, I think that debit and credit cards and some of the latest apps will reduce or eliminate the need for consumer cash transactions. With the new phone swipe apps and devices, even my neighborhood lemonade stand will soon be able to take a credit card.


I hope you will take a minute and think about all of the changes that you have seen in your lifetime or even in the last twenty years. Take a minute and reflect on how technology has changed your life, hopefully for the better. What is your favorite technology-induced anachronism? Do you think there is a product or service headed for obsolescence? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.

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