Gone With the Wind
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Good morning, students. Quiet down now. Barry! Put that BlackBerry away--I know you're playing games on it.

All right now, class. I thought today we would take a break from our usual business subjects and take a walk down memory lane. Sometimes it's fun to hear about the quaint things that people used to do in the old days before society was perfected, and while we're at it, to wonder how much of what we take for granted is headed for the scrap heap of history.

Did you know, for instance, that there were once paper airplane tickets? People used to go to an actual location and buy them. They were big and fat and had a lot of documentation on them, but no bar codes, and if you lost them, wow! You couldn't get on the plane! Electronic tickets are so much handier. One day, I bet, they will be gone too, replaced by chips implanted in our fingers that grant us access to the airplane and determine whether we can sit for a while in the Admiral's Club.

Did you know that there used to be left-luggage rooms in railroad terminals? There was one in Grand Central Station in New York City, right in the middle of the main hall. You went there and gave them a suitcase, or a package, or even a musical instrument you didn't want to haul around with you. They didn't scan it or put it through a metal detector; they just gave you a ticket, and when you went back later, there was your stuff.

Weird, huh? To live in a world without security checks? One day, though, people will look back at the time we live in and shake their heads. By then, the world will be completely at peace, divided into the Eloi, who live in the sunshine, and the Morlocks, who live below ground and stick to themselves, except when they're hungry and come upstairs to eat the Eloi. I know which I'll be if I want to stick with the rest of my senior management.

Did you know that there was a time in the not-too-distant past when people drank free water and went about incompletely hydrated, often going places without their water bottle? Now we know better. But in just a few years the elite will be breathing branded air. The technology is there. A sealed bag with a nozzle assembly--and inside? A liter of air from ... Paris in the spring! Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco! What? You're still breathing Bloomberg? Ha!

Some of you striplings may not even recall the days we did our presentations on acetates. Sometimes we called them "overheads" because you showed them to people on an "overhead projector," which was not a computer display but basically a light box with mirrors inside. When we mounted a dog-and-pony, we had to get our visuals in order days before the meeting, because the acetates had to be put into eight-by-ten cardboard frames.

Okay, it was lame and old-fashioned, but it changed the very fabric of time. Three days before the board sat their liver spots down in their comfy chairs for the show, you were done. What a feeling! Oh, sure, neurotic senior officers would torture the staff about the script, but they couldn't take it up to the very last moment because, my little friends, there were no computers! None! We had to work with gizmos called typewriters. We thought they were pretty cool, especially the electric ones that hummed and were capable of erasing whole sentences with a built-in sticky tape. But the great thing was that at a certain point you had to go to the final, final final draft because it had to be put into pages for people to distribute. And there was nothing anybody could do about it because of the limitations of technology.

I suppose you guys think that nothing can supersede the tech we have now, but you're wrong. We're not Neanderthals, but we're no more than Cro-Magnons. One day there will be holographic flow charts hanging in the air in front of each board member in the darkened room, virtual objects they can touch to see the underlying financial assumptions. And you know what? They'll still all be asleep.

Yes, I tremble to think about how Stone Age we'll appear to our successors. Yesterday there were discrete towns and villages. That's over. But in the future you'll be able to leave New York in your personal monopod, which operates solely on the excess body fat of the driver, and arrive in Los Angeles without having seen an unplanned plot of land.

Well, spudnuts, I'm sure there are more examples of stuff that's as gone as the dial-up modem, but right now class is over, and I'm going down to a place I know that's been there as long as I can remember. I'm going to have a big analog glass of something that took 18 years to make and whose flavor hasn't changed since the time of Macbeth. It won't bring back the days before there were faxes. But on the bright side, it does kill memory and stimulate dreams. ■

STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.