Nine Obsolete Things That Refuse to Die


Over the last couple of decades, we have effectively laid to rest such now-outdated contraptions as the VCR, the audio cassette, and so forth. Hey, when you have something that works better, you use it... right? Well, yes, unless it's the following nine things, which we just can't seem to part with.

  1. The QWERTY keyboard. The somewhat arbitrary layout of today's computer keyboard came about during the early years of the typewriter. As the story goes, people simply typed too quickly on the typewriter's original alphabetical layout, and the keys would jam. So inventor Christopher Latham Sholes developed the oddball QWERTY layout in order to slow down typists, by placing the most frequently used letters far apart from each other. Now that almost nobody uses typewriters anymore, there's no reason we should be using a keyboard that was literally designed for inefficiency.
  2. Daylight Savings Time. The rationale behind this annoying semiannual ritual is murky; it was developed in 1895, during the advent of the electric age, so that light usage would be lessened during warmer summer nights. Or something like that. Many argue that DST had no real purpose then and has even less now, and I agree. Most national governments have shortened the "savings period" in recent years. With luck, this meaningless practice will one day be abolished altogether.
  3. Circumcision. Male circumcision originated as an ancient Egyptian and Jewish religious rite. Its 20th century prevalence is thanks to puritans like John Harvey Kellogg - the cereal magnate - who recommended it in the late 1800s as a means of preventing masturbation. After a few generations, most parents forgot exactly why they circumcised their little boys. Doctors may disagree on the benefits, but it's been seen more and more as a pointless, barbaric surgery.
  4. The dollar bill. Almost every developed country in the world has disposed of the paper equivalent of the U.S. dollar. Why? Because although a dollar coin costs more to mint than a piece of paper, it lasts years longer, so in the long run it costs less to produce. We Americans have had some form of a dollar coin since 1840, but the damn thing has just never caught on, whether it's adorned with Lady Liberty or Dwight Eisenhower or Susan B. Anthony or Sacajawea. We whine that it's either too big (like the Ike coin) or too similar in size to the quarter. It's time we grew up.
  5. The penny. A far bigger waste than the paper dollar, the American penny costs 1.62 cents each to mint, meaning the U.S. Mint loses money right out of the gate. Most other nations have retired their one cent-equivalent coins as they are nearly worthless in terms of today's prices; the one Euro cent piece exists, but even some EU countries have rounded prices to the nearest five cents. Americans would adjust to a penny-less life just fine.
  6. Mandatory phone books. Telephonic technology has gone through its biggest shift of all time over the last two decades. Today, some say that even land lines and fax machines should be scrapped. Well, yours truly still uses both of those doohickeys, but I'll agree that, while some old timers who don't want the Internet still have a use for the white and yellow pages, the vast majority of us do not. Yet if you have a home number, you get your phone books, year after year - charged to your phone bill. Fortunately, phone companies are becoming aware of the waste, and it shouldn't be long before phone books will only be delivered by special order.
  7. The Electoral College. Americans do not have direct elections for their president; a small team of electors representing each state casts their vote for president, based on the majority vote in their state. Each state is given a set number of electoral votes, based on its population. In short, this is why Al Gore got half a million more votes nationwide than George W. Bush in 2000 yet lost the election because of some 500 votes in Florida. This notorious incident caused a large number of Americans to question the value of the Electoral College.
  8. The MPAA rating system. The Motion Picture Association of America has a tiny, secretive committee of individuals (almost always without film backgrounds) who screen movies and decide who in the public gets to see what, based on their age, by slapping a particular rating on each movie. Year after year, filmmakers decry their seemingly random decisions about which films get an "R", which get a "PG-13", and worst of all - which get an "NC-17", the ill-fated replacement for the "X" rating. Typically, this committee blackballs sex and nudity far more than violence and gore, contributing greatly to American society's warped priorities about what children should be exposed to. It's time for a new system.
  9. The Internet Movie Database. The IMDb is a valuable tool for film professionals and fans alike. It is the website to go to for filmographies and other relevant data. Yet like the MPAA's rating committee, it's run by a very small number of people - perhaps less than 40 - and has a secretive and indefensible user rating system that favors unfavorable votes over favorable ones, often to the detriment of small indie films (like, well, mine). Its search functionality is a decade behind the times. Its clumsy redesign of cast and crew pages is terrible. Its message boards are a cesspool. Yet we can't go anywhere else, because the IMDb - owned for years by - simply has no competition.