Monday, February 16, 2009

The Mystery of Extinction

by Julia Buckley

According to this link, there are many things about to become extinct in our country; on the list are (in reverse order from the original post):
1. Pit toilets
2. Yellow Pages
3. Classified Ads
4. Movie Rental Stores
5. Dial-Up Internet
6. Phone Landlines
7. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs
8. VCRs
9. Ash Trees
10. Ham Rado
11. The Swimming Hole
12. Answering Machines
13. Film Cameras
14. Incandescent Bulbs
15. Stand-alone bowling alleys
16. The Milkman
17. Hand-written letters
18. Wild Horses
19. Personal Checks
20. Drive-in Theatres
21. Mumps and Measles
22. Honey Bees
23. News Magazines and TV News
24. Analog TV
25. The Family Farm

I understand the logic that suggests why all of these are fading, some of them rapidly (where art thou, honey bees?), but I am troubled by the notion of extinction itself.

The thought of extinction makes us sad (at least it makes me sad), and yet extinction is a fact of life. According to this website, "Since the year 1600, a total of 83 mammals species (2.1%) and 113 birds (1.3%) are known to have become extinct. This number is expected to rise . . . " In the case of animals, I always feel badly to think that something--let's say the polar bear--will become extinct, but I feel entirely helpless about preventing it. Perhaps too many of us feel that something's extinction is a foregone conclusion, that it is a part of the ebb and flow of existence.

In the case of technological extinction, I also feel sad to think of something's loss--hand-written letters, oh my!! But ask me if I write hand-written letters and I will blush with shame. I am dependent upon my keyboard and the speed with which I can write upon it. When I occasionally jot notes to my mom and dad I am appalled by the slowness of the process--the seemingly endless motions of making characters by hand. I should be reveling in the nostalgia of it, since it is suggested that by the time my children are adults no one will be writing this way at all . . . and oh, how sad to think of all that beautiful stationary that I once bought . . .

The picture above is a small selection of letters I saved over the years, ever since I was a child. Although I love e-mail and suffer from a slight addiction to it, I find nothing special about saving e-mails. I don't have a bag of neat e-mails that I'll look at in 20 years, but these letters--what a lovely physical memory of things people wrote to me once, of a certain moment in time when they felt a certain way and made certain plans that are now long-lost to their memories.

But were they meant to be saved? Is it natural to look at things on the verge of extinction and wish them a fond farewell, or is it incumbent upon us to try to preserve what we feel to be good and worthwhile?

This is my philosophical question to you today.


Lonnie Cruse said...

I'm left-handed and most people complain that they can't read my writing. Truth to tell, sometimes I can't read it myself, meaning the hastily jotted grocery notes become totally unreadable when I reach the store. BUT I mourn the loss of letters delivered by the mailman which gave way to e-mail and cell phone, so an old friend and I vowed to write each other regularly by snail mail (using the computer and printer so we can actually read what's written.) Hers are the only letters I receive that way, everyone else using e-mail or the phone, and I really look forward to her letters.

The toilet thing you mentioned I can live without. Land line? Well, we're in an area where cell phones don't work well, so it will be a while before land lines are extinct here. Dial-up Internet? Ack, what if we need it again?

Some of the list you posted I'm okay with, some not. I've seen wild horses running free out west. It would be a shame if horses ran free no more. Sigh. Great post.

Sandra Parshall said...

We should try to save what we love. I don't care at all whether future generations write letters by hand -- let them do what's most convenient for them -- but I care about the long-term future of our planet. When we save a species from extinction, we aren't just helping the animals. We're preserving their habitat and food supply, and that makes the planet a better place for humans as well. If we won't do it for love of the animals, we should do it because we don't want future generations to choke on pollution or see their world submerged in water from the melting polar ice caps.

Sofie Kelly said...

The munchkin is still required to hand-write thank you letters for any occasion when she receives a gift--and that means an actual letter not just "thank you for the present."

I've been called everything from "a dinosaur" to "out of touch" to "mean"--all by other parents.

Julia Buckley said...

I'm with you about the horses, Lonnie. But I wonder if there are resources to feed them all--the post suggests that the experts plan to euthanize some of the few who are left . . .

Sandra, I agree that we should save what we love--I think most people would. But I think that lots of people are stymied by the question of how to do that; also, some of us just don't ASK enough questions, perhaps out of plain old laziness.

On the other hand, (in a non-animal example) I once defended books versus Kindle on DL and was roundly criticized for it (at least by those who responded), and yet what would happen if we lost our electricity? I'm holding on to my books.

Darlene, you are so right to do that. My basic philosophy is that children who do not write thank you notes grow up to be selfish people.

Sandra Parshall said...

Julia, the big saves will come only through global action, and the US government hasn't done its part. Citizens can act by keeping the pressure on their representatives and insisting that they do the right thing.

Darlene, you're teaching your child to treat others with common courtesy and appreciation. There's nothing outdated about that -- and certainly nothing mean!

Anonymous said...

You pose a good question. I have to ash trees which the gas & electric company is pressuring me to cut down. Now I can tell them the trees are endangered?

I enjoyed your list. Some of the things I will fight loosing. Others have already gone away at our house.


Julia Buckley said...

Thanks to the ash borer beetle, 30 million ash trees in Michigan alone have been killed; the link will tell you more, but billions more ash trees are at risk.

However, if they want to cut down your tree because of the beetle, I don't think there's anything you can do. If not, yes, you should tell them that it's an endangered tree.

Anonymous said...

My husband's an entomologist working on the emerald ash borer (which is indeed a very pretty color of emerald), and the threat is real. What isn't as obvious is that if you lose any part of an ecosystem, a lot more comes tumbling down.

Ditto bee colony collapse disorder, which nobody has figured out yet. Scientists are spending a lot of time pointing fingers, usually at other countries (the pet theory of the moment is that it came from Israel by way of Australia), but they don't have a solution. What happens to crops without bees? Stay tuned and find out.

The family farm, beloved in our mythology, has been disappearing for a century. Maybe the small but feisty local foods movement will reverse or slow the process, but it's hard to fight the techno-giants who produce the great majority of the world's food these days. (And contribute to our burgeoning obesity problem.)

Change is always hard to accept, but change is a constant. We need to figure out what needs saving, and let go (with regrets) of the rest.

Julia Buckley said...

Great points, Sheila. It is a worry, and yet it is a reality.

And how interesting to be married to an entomologist!