By Miles Jaye
I recently wrote an essay on the topic of books. I used the principle of forced obsolescence as a backdrop or canvas on which to paint a picture of a thing suffering from gradual or rapid decline, depreciation of purpose and the resulting loss of useful value. The combustion engine and automobile forced horses out as the number one mode of transportation. Gunpower and guns forced swords, knives and the bow and arrow out as weapons of choice. That’s forced obsolescence!
Television and film forced books, bookstores and libraries out of their proper places of prominence and popularity in personal entertainment. Computers, smart phones and social media have made a bad situation worse by replacing books, book- stores and libraries as primary sources of information, learning, and knowledge. Truth is no longer vital, and facts are diminishing in significance and importance with increasing rapidity, and now words themselves are suffering the threat of extinction. How is that possible? How can it be that words are at risk of obsolescence? Words are the very measure of civilization. I would argue that without words there can be no culture. Without words there can be no science, philosophy, or law. Without words there could be no fiction or non-fiction, comedy, history, poetry or prose– no Shakespeare, no Baldwin. Would there be religion without the Torah, Bible or Quran?
I make a distinction between Forced Obsolescence and Planned Obsolescence. For instance, one is the result of a natural progression made by advances and breakthroughs in science and technology. The other is by design– intentional obsolescence, where a predetermined limited shelf-life is built into the product design, thereby reducing the replacement cycle. When you purchased your iPhone 13, you could be all but certain that the 14 is most likely already in pre-production and the 15 is not far behind! That’s Planned Obsolescence!
Forced Obsolescence can end an industry like the horse and buggy, horse stables, carriage makers, or the Blacksmith, but not all forced obsolescence is bad. Simply put, forced obsolescence changes the way we see or do things. Garrett Morgan’s three position traffic signal has saved countless lives, as have his gas mask design and Dr. Drew’s blood plasma. These inventions changed our culture and altered our ways of life.
How, though, can we lose the use of words? For starters, with the use of OMG! SMH! and WTH! We don’t write anymore, we send tags and abbreviations, but not words. The IM, text, email, and tweet are costing us the use of language as an art and as a skill. I write as a means of clutching onto the power of the word. I don’t want to lose it. I can’t afford to lose it. The power of expression is at the heart of the power to resist and to protest injustice, to educate our youth, to share beautiful sentiments, to thank, to promise, to praise, and to mourn.
Words are immensely useful. Remember, the old adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Words are not unimportant, practice them and familiarize yourself with terms like syntax, linguistics, and lexicon. Read, and use your dictionary and thesaurus. Make notes of synonyms and antonyms. Purchase a rhyming dictionary. Learn a foreign language– for fun. Our language was taken away once, don’t allow it again.
Finally, words express depression, despair and fear. Speak to one another. Words save lives. Have discussions with your children and ask them questions even if it annoys them. If a conversation could prevent a suicide, wouldn’t you have it? Just think, the very same digits you use to text can actually be used to make a call. The next time you receive a text from someone you care about, don’t text them back, call them back… and speak! It’s unlikely you’ll use abbreviations on a phone call and if you do all I have to say is… WTH?