Sunday, February 3, 2013

Going the way of the Slide Rule

I suppose that I have known since the early '60s that the engineer's slide rule was iconic. It was the most well identified tool of the engineer.  Slide rules were the Siamese twin of the the engineer "connected at the hip" with their engineering brethren, so to speak, quite literally since they were oftentimes strapped to the belt loop of their owner right at the hip. I even remember way back then that engineers sometimes wore tie clips that were miniature slide rules. How emblematic can you get.

But lately, I have noticed that the slide rule has been raised to the status of an icon outside the field of engineering.  It is now considered the standard to which things are measured as a gauge of their obsolescence by people who probably wouldn't even know how to use one. So, for example, while it is perfectly straightforward nowadays to say that the rotary dialing telephone "has gone the way of the slide rule,"  the speaker of such a comment is probably old enough to remember that slide rules used to be used by engineers and aren't anymore.  Most younger people do not even know what a slide rule is, no less than the fact that they are obsolete.

Obviously, before the early '70s the term had no meaning at all since the slide rule was not obsolete.
So, it would be inappropriate to say,  "the clipper ship has gone the way of the slide rule", since the clipper ship  became obsolete well before the slide rule did.  I suppose that is why I use the tall ship as the lead image on this blog. It predates the obsolescence of the slide rule which I write about so often. It is an anachronism when seen in the context of the high tech world. A counterpoint!

The use of the term, however, is most frequently posed in the form of a question.  Pundits may ponder, "Is the newspaper going the way of the slide rule?" Or, "Is cursive writing going the way of the slide rule?"

Just what was the previous icon for obsolescence used before the slide rule took that title?  And when did that happen?

How many items can you name that fit the definition of "having gone the way of the slide rule"?
I have complied the following list:

the telephone with a cord
a rotary dialing telephone
operating a Dictaphone
taking shorthand
45 rpm records
8 track tapes,
mini cassettes,
the chalkboard
the typewriter
logarithmic tables
silver emulsion film

Here is my list of the items that might be added to the above list in the near future, or, "is the item going the way of the slide rule?":

the printed book
the PC
cursive writing
our signature
the newspaper
spelling skills
the timepiece
a walk in the suburbs
the milk carton (waxy paper kind)
diaper service
defined benefit pension plans
the analog clock
textbooks
the university lecture
shoelaces and tying bows
being able to make change without a cash register
recess and physical education in grammar school

I have found only one case where the negative form has been stated: "Social media is not going the way of the slide rule."  I find this a very odd statement.  Had someone predicted that social media would go the way of the slide rule?

If you have any good additions to any of my lists here I would really appreciate your commenting upon this post.