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6 Familiar Things That Are Disappearing

The days are numbered for these once-loved products and services 

spinner image an old pay phone in a desert

Like fax machines, pagers and cassette tapes, nothing lasts forever.

Tastes change, products improve, technology advances, and what was once dear to us fades away. The biggest reason: technological advances, namely smartphones.

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“Airline tickets, cameras, alarm clocks and so forth, it’s not that these things are becoming obsolete. It’s what’s replacing them and how they are being incorporated into other items,” says Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a clinical professor at the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University. “The smartphone is our new home. It provides locations for all these things in one device.”

Take alarm clocks. They still have their fans, but many people rely on their smartphone to wake them up. Here are six things that technological advances are also threatening to kill off.

1. Cash 

While cash is king for many consumers, carrying it is a hassle that more people are avoiding. We have debit cards, credit cards and digital payments to thank for that.

With a tap of your card or scan of your mobile device, you can be through checkout in seconds. The rise of e-commerce and contactless payments during the pandemic forever changed the way we use cash and shop. 

Forty-one percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center in October 2022 that they don’t use cash for any of their purchases in a typical week. In 2018 that was 29 percent, and in 2015, 24 percent. Consumers younger than age 50 were more likely to eschew cash.

2. Pay phones

At their peak in 1999, more than 2.1 million pay phones were in service across the U.S. Fewer than 100,000 were in operation by 2016, according to the Federal Communications Commission. 

And it’s only gotten worse. The last public pay phone was removed from New York City in May 2022. Pay phones disappeared as mobile phone usage exploded. 

“The steady and steep decline over more than a decade of the number of pay phones in service demonstrates that they no longer play as critical a role in society’s communications as they once did, as would-be users rely instead on mobile subscriptions,” the FCC said in a report analyzing pay phone usage.  

So where can you find pay phones these days? Some hotels, gas stations, convenience stores and hospitals may have one, but it’s a rarity.

3. Desktop computers

The market for clunky desktop computers has shrunk as slimmer and lighter options have emerged. This year the industry expects to ship more than 68 million desktops, down from 76 million in 2022.

By 2027 shipments are projected to remain flat at around 69 million units, according to researchers at International Data Corp. in Needham, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, laptop shipments are forecast to be more than 214 million units in 2027, and tablets and smartphones are being used for many tasks that had been done on home computers.

Desktop computers aren’t expected to disappear completely, but they are becoming a niche product for gamers and some businesses.

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4. Digital cameras

A steady decline in sales of digital cameras through the years can be attributed to improvements in smartphones. Your phone is always nearby, and these days the built-in cameras are good enough to capture Instagram-ready pics. 

In 2010, sales of cameras hit an all-time high of 121 million units. Last year consumers bought 8 million units, according to the Camera & Imaging Products Association.

5. Paper checks

Since 2018, the number of checks written has declined by an annual rate of 7.2 percent, according to the Federal Reserve. At its peak in 1995, 49.5 billion checks were written. In 2022 it was down to about 3.4 billion. 

Checks are losing their luster as many people go online to pay bills, whether through a bank or a company’s website. It’s convenient and also avoids the growing problem of check theft and subsequent fraud.

Banks and companies are also all for electronic payments: They are cheaper and quicker to process those than checks. 

6. Paper airline tickets and boarding passes 

Most airlines still have paper tickets and boarding passes, but increasingly they are asking passengers to go digital.

Emirates is the only airline to publicly ban the use of paper boarding passes for most passengers flying out of Dubai, but many others try to encourage digital boarding passes. 

Alaska Air, for instance, is getting rid of kiosks at airports that print boarding passes. Travelers have to either download the boarding passes to their app or print them at home.

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