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Thursday, February 22 News

Living with Technology / 'Forever' is for stamps not technology

Someone recently asked one of my relatives, "How long does a forever stamp last?"

The question was about the U.S. Postal Service's "forever" stamps for typical first class letters -- and now for international letters, too. This was a brilliant idea that eliminated the need for the Post Office to sell people 1-cent or 2-cent stamps whenever the postage rate went up.

The age of the questioner was mid-20s and caught me a bit off guard.

Beyond the duration of the term "forever," it had me thinking that the younger generation doesn't send much mail anymore.

While they sometimes received things in the mail, they do much of their work online. Buy things, pay bills, send correspondence. Not a stamp anywhere insight.

Even some shipping services pay return postage if you don't like what you ordered. And they'll pick it up at your home if you schedule an appointment -- online, of course.

So the idea of going to a post office and buying stamps is for many people, quite foreign. And if one does ship, whether it be via US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS or similar service, we usually ship a box and pay the shipping cost, but we rarely use stamps.

I don't care to reminisce about how things were "in the old days," but this got me thinking of the things that were common to me but are foreign to my children, ages 9 and 16.

Here are a few examples:

My 9-year-old saw a typewriter the other day and asked what it was.

My children saw a cassette tape and didn't know what it was. One of our cars has a cassette-tape player in the dash, but by the time we went for a drive in the car, we had forgotten to bring the cassette tape. Even CDs and DVDs are becoming extinct with streaming becoming the preferred way to receive entertainment.

Even dialing a phone is a challenge. My children are used to mobile phones where you dial the phone number, THEN press Talk. However, with our home phone, we have to press Talk, wait for a dial tone, THEN dial the number.

TV is now on their schedules, not the broadcasters'. Gone are the days when we had to be home at a certain time to watch our favorite TV show. If we miss it, we can simply record it or watch it from one of the numerous sites set up to do this. Oh, and if we're not home, we can use our smartphone or a Web site to tell our DVR (digital video recorder) to record the show.

Video phones are now passe. I recall seeing a videophone at Disneyland when I was a young boy, thinking how incredible that would be to see and talk to people at the same time and how I would do it all the time. But, boy, was it expensive and how lucky people in the future would be to have video phones. Now with applications like Facetime and Skype, video phone calls are free. And most of the time I choose to use just a voice call.

It's clear that technologies don't last forever, but I'm glad to know that some of my stamps will.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org