My wife and I were in a fast-food store and a “not yet fully trained” new hire was at the counter. We ordered, and the total was, let’s say, $11.37. My wife (the treasurer) looked at the amount, handed over a twenty dollar bill, a one dollar bill, and 37¢ in coins and said, “Just give me a ten.”

The clerk looked at the money, looked at the register, looked at us, and said helpfully, “This is too much.” She then handed back the coins and the $1 bill, kept the $20 bill, and allowed the register to tell her how much change we should get back.

Something has changed.

In fact transactions like that show that several things have changed. One is that many young people these days have not been taught basic addition and subtraction. They have used calculators in math tests, and they use a very fancy one when they work “the register.”

Of course even that has changed from being a cash register to being a POS — a Point Of Sale machine. It usually doesn’t ring, but it does math very well.

Another thing that has changed is that very few people pay with cash, including me.

The first chain to accept Apple Pay was McDonald’s. The second day it was in use I went to the McDonald’s closest to our house and bought an iced tea just so I could use Apple Pay. That was 9 years ago (October, 2014), and I haven’t stopped using it since. Just ask my wife (the treasurer).

Everyday changes

Change, as in money back from a seller when you give them more cash than the amount required, grows more rare.

At the very same time change, as in a different way of doing something, continues unabated.

Younger people doing simple math mentally seems to be diminishing. On the other hand, their ability to use a machine (calculator, phone, POS) is amazing.

Many younger people today can’t read cursive writing. In cursive the characters are joined. To accommodate that, some letters (notably s and r) are formed differently than they are in print. What is lost is a form of art, beauty and personality.

Should we keep cursive for those reasons? Many teachers seem to think not, preferring the pragmatic advantages of non-cursive writing.

Along those same lines, very few of us these days write letters — or even postcards. Christmas cards are often personally printed and mailed through a service. That is convenient, to be sure, especially for those with large lists, and I’d rather receive one of those than none at all. Still, I wonder if that “personal story” from the year means as much as a handwritten “Merry Christmas!” with a signature.

Just to finish this section — especially being an author — I have to say a word about books.

I am happy to report that eBooks have not fully displaced printed books. I am also happy to admit that I have at least three different eBook readers and use them. A few years ago I reread The Count of Monte Cristo completely on my iPhone. Sadly, the reader software I used (I could scroll by tilting the phone) is no longer available.


What started this whole thing for me was a section in a newsletter from Bill Murphy in which he wrote about anachronisms. Here are some he listed with his (lightly edited) comments:

  • Telecommuting. Please: It’s remote work.
  • A big Rolodex. Those were state of the art … 30 years ago.
  • Please leave a voicemail. Nobody wants voicemail anymore, and most will never be listened to.
  • Corner office. You know what it means, but it makes no sense to younger workers why being in the corner would be a status symbol.
  • Handshake deals. At the very least now, don’t you have an email setting out your agreements?
  • I’ll give you a ring. Pretty soon this will be as anachronistic as saying you’ll send a telegram.

In most cases he’s right. I’ve made a note to not leave him a voicemail, but they are still in use, even in a world of texts and DMs.

Of course if you know your audience, some of those phrases might still be usable. Bill noted that Gen Z will soon take over and things will mean what they say. Perhaps he’s trying to get ahead of the game and use their language now. I’d rather they learned some of mine, but I get that language changes, especially expressions like those above, and it always will.

Don’t go changin’…

Just as phraseology changes, so do the width of ties (not to mention the use of ties), music, and the most popular names for babies. Fine.

Now here’s my list of things that should never become anachronistic, roughly corresponding to Bill’s list above.

  • Communication, even over a distance, with your fellow workers on a regular basis. You’re a team, not a collection of individuals.
  • Connecting with other people deeply enough to “get their VCF.” Or even their card.
  • Remembering someone you haven’t talked to in a while and giving them a call. If you miss them, leave a message.
  • Humility. Even if you have a corner office.
  • Trust. A cynic once said a handshake deal “wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.” Get a contract, but let your word be worth more.
  • Giving someone a ring. Not a phone call but a promise of marriage. It is one of the greatest institutions of all time, and always should be.

One more

The dictionary on my computer had this under the definition of anachronistic: belonging or appropriate to an earlier period, especially so as to seem conspicuously old-fashioned: she is rebelling against the anachronistic morality of her parents.

Morality is about the distinction between right and wrong. Can that be anachronistic?

What changes is not right and wrong, but our acceptance of things. We should not confuse popular opinion with right and wrong. There must be, and in fact there is, an actual moral standard that never changes.

Always, in all times, this has been right and desired: do good. There is nothing anachronistic about that.


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