Obsolescence and the Philosophy of Impermanence

VHS tapes are now obsolete

I passed by a Blockbuster store recently and it reminded me of how quickly things have changed in our world. The store was a mere shell of what it used to be. In its heyday, it was was a place where our family would convene on a Friday night  to plan what movies we’d watch over the weekend. Now, the concept of a “bricks and mortar” video store in and of itself seems obsolete.

Obsolescence. More than ever before, it’s a reality in our daily lives.

For many of us, we view everything digitally, whether it’s movies, TV shows, music videos or otherwise. With the speed and simplicity of online purchasing and immediate downloads, is it any wonder that we have collectively embraced this technology with zeal?

The video tape and its associated player are just two of the technologies that have come and gone quickly and swiftly with much of the population ignoring their demise. Why? Likely because we appear to be living in an accelerated state of discovery where the lifespan of any given product cannot be guaranteed for more than a few years, at best. We’re not only a “throwaway society,” but one that also craves the new, the most technologically advanced and the best that there is out there - which often means, in the minds of many, the newest. Our desire to have the latest and the greatest fuels the fire for the next big thing, rendering many items that are perfectly useful obsolete.


So many of the things that we considered staples of our daily lives in the recent past have all but disappeared. Don’t believe me? Let me just run down a quick list to underscore my point:

  • CDs - Digital music, iTunes and downloading is the way that the majority of us get our tunes these days, isn’t it?
  • Boombox - Along with CDs, this once cool method of playing the portable music was via these often monstrous contraptions
  • VHS Videos and Video Players - They seemed so futuristic when they were released to the mass marketplace not too many years ago. Yet now, they just appear as clunky and cumbersome relics from our past.
  • DVDs - Yes, DVDs - Again, I’d venture to guess that the number of DVDs being purchased or rented have decreased considerably in the last number of years due to the ease of digital viewing on a number of portable devices (iPads, laptops, etc.)
  • Video/DVD Rental Stores - Why rent when you can download your own digital file to be watched whenever and wherever you’d like? A whole industry has been eliminated due to digital technology advances.
  • Rotary phones/Phones with cords - Most people have touch tone phones these days as well as wireless cordless models as well. The days where you were tethered to wherever the home phone resided in your house are over.
  • Maps - We still use them, sure, but not the type that you have to unfold 10 times to see the full scope of an area. Now we can easily look for directions via Google Maps or Mapquest or, better yet, allow our GPS that’s built in to our cars and cell phones to do the heavy lifting for us. Heck, even stand-alone GPS systems - relatively new in their own right - are on their way out due to our reliance on our smartphones.
  • Paper-based Books, Magazines and Newspapers - Hard to believe but take a quick scan of the folks at your local coffee shop, on the bus or even at the library. There used to be a time when all of these locations would include the majority of people reading paper-based items but these days are long gone. Your local Starbucks is filled to the brim with coffee-loving patrons of all ages who are enjoying the free Wi-Fi and surfing and/or reading on their digital devices to their heart’s content. Same with the subway and on the buses. Why carry a book when you can carry many on a device that is both half the weight and size?
  • Wristwatches - Learning to tell the time is a different game for kids these days as digital time is used in most instances. And as for watches - many have chosen to discard these apparent relics of previous time instead choosing to check the time on their smart phones or other mobile devices.
  • Typewriters - Do they even make these anymore? Yet there are droves of us who owe our lightening-speed QWERTTY skills to typing class in high school.
  • Cursive - The rise in digital communication has facilitated the demise of cursive and the ability to neatly and legibly write or even print properly.
  • Pens and pencils - This is no joke. When was the last time you used one?
Cursive writing is becoming obsoleteWith the rapid pace in which items come and go, one has to wonder - are digital files going away too? Things seem to happen so quickly these days you never know.

Our kids are growing up in a world where things and objects are not only rapidly changing, but are going away for ever. Obsolescence is the new normal and our children are learning that permanence is increasingly just a concept, and a fleeting one at that. It’s certainly not a reality given the rapid rise and subsequently swift demise of many of our daily items. Nothing stays the same, after all…isn’t that the takeaway message?

The fleeting and transient life cycle of so many things in our kids’ lives should lead us to ponder some important questions. Most obviously, the fact that permanence and stability are not attributes that can be applied to many things. I know that in this particular instance we’re referring to physical objects, but would it really be a stretch to imagine that kids may apply this reality to the relationships in their lives as well? Children are both insightful and imaginative, and while we would like to think that the latter is what would fuel their concerns and insecurities about permanence (or lack thereof), it is very possible that the former is really the driving reality behind their fears. In other words, kids are not imagining things; children realize that more and more things - including intangibles such as relationships and security - are fleeting as well. And this reality can’t be a good thing for a young child.

With our society’s penchant for planned obsolescence, throwaway goods and the “must-have” gadgets and comforts that have almost become the norm, is it any wonder that we’ve passed on this philosophy of impermanence onto our children? We chide them for wanting us to buy them an iPad yet by our own actions, show them that the latest and the greatest items are the only things that they need desire. We upgrade our smart phones with every new release, throw or give away our perfectly fine computer for one that has more “oomph,” and rail against the fact that we may have to wait a couple of months to purchase a late-model vehicle.

We teach by our actions and our kids learn through their environments. We show them consumerism and transience; they become greedy and insecure. Seems so simple, doesn’t it, yet we refuse to take responsibility about how we are affecting our children with our actions. Our collective inaction in changing our ways is really action against what we should be doing.

So what is it that we can do to reestablish a sense of permanence in our children, as well as steer them away from the consumerist culture in which they live? It may be difficult, given the fact that children these days have seen so many things come and go in their short lifetimes, but we should at least make an effort. Here are some ideas that may help to counter the growing philosophy of impermanence:

1) Teach them the value of money - It may seem somewhat incongruous with the discussion but it’s not, really. When children understand what it means to earn money and what hard work can provide, they will be less likely to adopt a “throw-away” mentality. Understanding that mom and dad had to go to work for X amount of hours in order to be able to purchase that iPad may make the kids think twice about wanting to replace it after a mere few months.

2) Emphasize your commitment to them - The permanence of you as the parent - the mother or father - is what kids cherish over and above anything else. As the speed of day-to-day life increases and the everyday comforts change just as rapidly, your kids need to know that you’re not going anywhere. Despite the pace of technology and life in general, kids need to know that the one thing that they can count on is your love for them. Remind them of this daily.

3) Remind them that it is better to give than to receive - Giving back and/or helping others is a way in which all of us - parents and children - can understand what is truly valuable in this world. While gadgets and goodies may be in the sights of most kids, you’d be surprised at how much empathy and understanding even the youngest of tots can gather through giving to and helping others.

4) Have fun at no cost - Teach your children that having a good time doesn’t have to come with a price tag. “Free” is not a dirty word, and hopefully your children will learn that the best things in life truly are free. Have fun playing games - the old fashioned way - at the dining room table. Engage in fun and games with the kids outside, far away from the XBox or Wii. Visit local parks, free exhibits in your city and cultural events that will give your child a greater understanding of the world. In doing so, your child will be less likely to crave the latest  “fad” toy, instead realizing that money doesn’t buy happiness.

5) Make do with what you have - This is one of the most important lessons that you can teach your children. For as many children that there are living in an age of change, materialism and the next big thing, so are there kids who would be thankful for even just one toy to play with. The holidays are a particularly good time to underscore the fact that there doesn’t have to be a multitude of the latest and greatest toys in the hands of your kids; instead, why not ask your child to pick their favorite few toys and donate the ones that are not being played with to charity? They’ll quickly realize that what they thought they wanted or needed was not what they required at all. Surprisingly, all of us can make do with so much less.

Do you agree that things are becoming obsolete so much quicker than before? How should we as parents counter the prevalent philosophy of impermanence? Answer  in the comments below.

VIDEO: The Twilight Zone - Obsolete Man


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Image courtesy of www.savvymom.ca


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Image of cursive writing courtesy of www.wikipedia.com and www.memoriapress.com

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