Gather around the campfire, children.
Here’s a tale from years ago, even decades ago, of how things we used to talk about obsessively just seemed to vanish.
Once upon a time, there used to be beds filled with water and people would pay thousands of dollars to sleep on them. We also worried incessantly about something called acid rain. And many of us would get together in a seeminly random way and bust out our dance moves.
A new Reddit thread in “r/AskReddit” by user u/lukiiiiii simply titled “What quietly went away without anyone noticing?” has more than 45,000 comments, many of which inspired responses from other users chiming in with their own memories of things that were once huge popular or covered heavily by media outlets that have seemingly disappeared from public discourse.
Here are some of the responses:
“It was a huge environmental issue in the late 70s thru the early 90s. Rain was acidic and damaged fertile areas among other things,” posted one user.
In 1991, then-leaders Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. president George Bush signed a treaty on March 13 promising to reduce acid rain that was poisoning lakes by the tens of thousands.
In 2021, sulphur dioxide emissions had fallen by 69 per cent, and continued to drop.
“Interesting thing about acid rain,”
“You probably haven’t heard very much about it anymore,” Mulroney told The Canadian Press in a story in the Star in 2021.
“It doesn’t exist anymore because we got rid of it.”
Sears Wish Book
The company faded from the Canadian retail space in 2017 when it shuttered operations across the country, but many families recall with fondness the excitement and dependability of Christmas catalogues like the ones from Sears and Eatons. The company also stopped printing its infamous Sears Wish Book around this time.
And although some companies like Ikea have stopped printing catalogues after 70 years of doing so, others continue to find worth in print, according to this piece by Star reporter Janet Hurley.
Collecting vintage Christmas catalogues has proven to be a smart investment for some, as old Sears Wish Books are listed for as much as $200 on eBay.
Facebook poke wars
The infamous Facebook poke wars. Simpler times. When the social media platform first launched in 2004 — back when it was still called “Thefacebook” — there was little to do except look at other user’s profiles (no news feeds, no timelines, no videos, what were we even doing there?!)
Enter the poke.
Poking was available even then, people could use the feature to “poke” other users.
“When we created the poke, we thought it would be cool to have a feature without any specific purpose,” explained Facebook in this piece by the Guardian in 2007. “People interpret the poke in many different ways, and we encourage you to come up with your own meanings.”
In 2017, TechCrunch reported Facebook was trying to make pokes great again by giving them “prominent placement” and including other possible greeting options like the infinitely cooler winking or high-fiving.
The feature never really went away. You can still send a poke and see who poked you on Facebook’s pokes page even in 2023.
Merriam-Webster defines it as “a group of people summoned (as by email or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing.”
According to Guinness World Records, the first notable flashmob took place in May 2003 at a shop in New York. It was organized by writer and cultural critic Bill Wasik.
Since then, the popularity of large groups of people suddenly taking over and performing in public spaces exploded.
What began in 2003 as a social and cultural experiment took on a life of its own.
Flash mob engagements, flash mob protests, flash mob school dances, flash mob weddings became a part of our daily vernacular, and it seemed there was no lack of media coverage over the latest flash mob event.
Internet terms like cyberspace, superhighway, surfing the web
There was a time in the 1990s when the internet was referred to as the “information superhighway,” as people tried desperately to find terminology in order to explain the phenomenon that was changing the way we did, well, anything.
“Everything we do online we do with some kind of metaphor,” Judith Donath, who studied interface design at Harvard’s Berkman Center for internet and Society once told The Verge.
Cyberspace, a term first coined by American-Canadian author William Gibson in his 1982 novel “Neuromancer,” referred to the creation of a world filled with artificially intelligent beings living within computer networks.
The term was adopted in the 1990s to describe the invisible space where people connected with each other over the internet, in online chat rooms and within the online gaming community, Britannica’s website explains.
Keyboard classes in school
“That class for keyboard typing n stuff,” one user replied, which set off an avalanche of responses.
“As a member of Gen X who had typing ingrained into me it is painful to watch my kids finger pecking the keyboard despite having had at least a half class in typing,” another user posted.
Once revered as a skill (straight back, feet flat, hands on the “home keys”), the ability to “keyboard” is now just an assumed one since most people, even young children, have some kind of experience typing on a phone, an ipad, a laptop or a keyboard.
However, as this MIT Technology Review article written over a decade ago explains, instead of learning to type with speed and accuracy with all of their fingers, “most (kids) develop idiosyncratic, personalized hunt-and-peck methods” and many don’t touch type or can’t type without having to look at the keyboard.
“Land lines in residences. The jacks are still in almost any house but I rarely see anything plugged in anymore. The only people I can think of with them are all over 60,” posted one user.
Another user responded to the thread, saying they live in a rural area and are forced to pay for landline service in order to have access to the internet.
Others also mentioned that family members in rural areas that are prone to losing power rely heavily on corded land lines in order to communicate with others.
However, for the most part, land lines in personal households are a thing of the past.
Like flash mobs, “planking” was a viral internet meme that exploded in popularity seemingly overnight. There was a time when we couldn’t log onto social media or watch TV without planking enthusiasts filling our timelines and screens.
Planking, lying prostrate on the ground while having your picture taken, may or may not have been created by Canadian comic Tom Green in 1994.
Katy Perry, Rosario Dawson, Kristen Bell, even Flavor Flav have photographed planking over the years.
Justin Bieber even shared a picture of himself planking in 2021, but alas, he was unable to bring the trend back.
Custom ring tones
Or, as the New York Times wrote in a 2007 piece, “an insanely profitable industry — to the tune of $5 billion a year, worldwide.”
Short clips of popular songs converted into ring tones were once bafflingly popular. Apple once charged users $1 a song, of which some were available to be edited into 30 second clips that you could then pay another $1 to use as a ringtone.
Now they’re just footnote in history of weird things we spent money on.
Once a sexy status symbol of the 1960s and 70s, during the height of its groovy popularity, the waterbed industry was worth billions. And though some have tried to bring back the beds with pillow top versions and “waveless” forms that promise better sleep and less seasickness, the waterbed still remains steadfastly in the past.
Other notable things that people reported went away quietly: Ronald McDonald (the charities named in his honour remain, but his scary presence immortalized inside the restaurants in the form of a towering plastic figure does not), prizes in cereal boxes, phones that look like hamburgers or lips, telephone books and payphones.
So while kids are two-finger typing and millennials have traded in planking for TikTok dances, if the return of lowrise flared jeans, 90s indie grunge, and vinyl revival are any indication, what’s “old” never stays that way for very long.
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