Four Products That Are Going Extinct

Some 66 million years ago, land-based dinosaurs ceased to exist.

In what is known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, roughly three-quarters of plant and animal life on Earth went extinct. It is widely believed that the cause of the event was a massive asteroid throwing the Earth’s environment out of balance. Sunlight became sparse. An endless impact winter rendered the Earth cold and inhospitable.

And yet, in this silent winter, this frigid moment trapped between eons: not all was lost.

From the cold emerged new kinds of life. Undergoing adaptive radiations, unseen species sprung forth, defying the cataclysm and seeking to fill old niches with new forms. Primates, whales, fish, horses: all new life forged in disaster, bestowed as they were with strange purpose and stranger reflections. Them, us, you, me: we are all children of extinction. Our lives have been made possible by an impossible winter and we owe our existence to the sacrifices made by the inhabitants of a thin layer of sediment called the K-Pg boundary.

Just as new species have been built upon what came before, so do new products often owe their existence to the extinction of their predecessors. Without the typewriter, what would our modern keyboard be? And without the phonograph, would we have compact discs and MP3s?

Richard Fortey said, “Without death there is little innovation. Extinction — death of a species — is part and parcel of evolutionary change. In the absence of this kind of extinction new developments would not prosper.” For technology, science… life to move forward, it is often necessary that some part of it be rendered obsolete.

So, from the untimely death of magnet clad plastics to the death of an office icon, here is a list of four products marching — bravely, foolishly — towards their own extinction.

4 Credit Cards

As of 2012, over 1.5 billion credit cards were in circulation in the United States. Over 71% of the population carried at least one card with them. With statistics like that, it’s difficult to envision a world where we don’t open our wallets, reach for a little plastic card and swipe it to pay our debts.

Contactless payments — payments made via cell phone — are predicted to reach $22 billion by 2015. The increasing popularity of these payments is expected to chip away at the monopoly that credit cards once had on swift, easy payments. In fact, the methodology for contactless payments is largely identical to that of credit cards: the consumer simply waves their phone in front of a reader and the payment appears on their credit statement just as if they had used their card.

Another threat to the credit card’s throne is Coin. Coin is a device linked to a consumer’s cell phone that behaves like all of the credit cards they would carry if they didn’t have Coin. Rather than carrying 4 credit cards, a consumer programs their Coin with their credit cards’ information. Afterwards, Coin is able to cycle through the user’s cards and function exactly as if it were one of the original cards.

3 Yellow Pages

It’s almost unbelievable that the Yellow Pages still exist. As of last year, the company’s revenue had plummeted 30% in the last two years alone. With consumers turning more and more to online directories and advertisers seeing less and less of a return on their investment, the big yellow book has been in something of a tailspin for the last decade.

Failing to adapt to the changing marketplace, many advertisers feel that Yellow Pages’ pricing structure does not adequately reflect or scale in regards to the potential benefits they could realistically provide. For example, according to one source in Massachusetts, at a payout of $58,800 per year, a client could purchase a “national campaign” through Yellow Pages that would net them a paltry 60 searches per month.

Furthermore, in a survey conducted in Melbourne in 2010, over 50% of people responded that they hadn’t even used a printed phone book in the last year. Of those respondents, 100% of them admitted to using Google every day. With consumers migrating away from printed directories, potential advertisers are rightly lining up directly behind them. Online advertising — specifically pay-per-click models — allow businesses to better tailor their marketing and to target users that are specifically interested in the services they provide.

2 Business Cards

Much in the same way that smart phones are driving the credit card towards extinction, social networks have taken aim at one of the business world’s oldest traditions: the exchange of business cards. Sites like LinkedIn allow users to store, display and send their relevant credentials to possible employers. The days of trading business cards and discussing job opportunities over lunch are disappearing. Instead, candidates are often asked to submit resumes, portfolios and — of course — LinkedIn addresses via email.

With an increasing number of employers moving their application processes online, the purpose of the business card is eroded. Where once it was a necessary aid for initiating contact — and in many ways, still is — it is shackled by the requirement of physical proximity in a world where a large portion of commerce occurs virtually.

Further complicating this, smart phones are beginning to assume responsibility for the physical exchange of contact information. Rather than carrying around a stack of business cards, people are storing their information on “virtual cards,” such as those created by Apple’s iTunes, that can be sent to other smart phone users.

Though the expectation of exchanging business cards still exists in most business circles, many experts predict that the expectation will wane as the newer generation assumes positions currently held by the old guard.

1 Desktop Computers

According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, younger users prefer mobile computing options to traditional desktop setups. More inclined to purchase laptops and tablets over desktops, this new generation is defining the market options and shaping the way that future users will experience computing.

As technology closes the gap between desires and reality, users are no longer forced to sacrifice mobility for power or vice versa. Manufacturers are now capable of creating laptop computers that offer power nearly equal to their desktop counterparts. Furthermore, cloud computing has enhanced the allure of mobile options and eliminated one of their major drawbacks by offering near unlimited storage.

Compounding these facts, an increasing number of modern workers are performing their duties on the go. According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 10% of the American workforce telecommutes at least once a week. Additionally, according to the American Community Survey, “5.8 million or 4.3 percent of the U.S. workforce worked the majority of the week at home in 2010.”

With such a large portion of the population working outside the office, the need for mobility becomes paramount. Employees must be able to efficiently transfer their work from their homes to their offices and everywhere in between. As this need continues to grow — as it has over the last ten years — laptop and tablet sales will continue to rise as desktop sales fall.

While the desktop may always maintain a modest share of the market — especially amongst the gaming crowd — some experts predict that within the next decade the platforms we use to facilitate our computer experience will bear no resemblance to the traditional desktop PC.

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