11 Life Skills That Are Now Completely Obsolete

Just 30 — heck, even 20 — years ago we had to do most things using our hands and our brains. Some would argue that life is more convenient because of our technological advances since then, but somewhere along the way we lost a few valuable skills. From reading paper maps to balancing a checkbook to resume writing, take a look at all the things we used to know how to do that — for better or worse — are now becoming obsolete.

1. Reading Paper Maps

I remember riding to West Virginia when I was a kid for a weekend getaway with my parents who were using a paper map to navigate. As was common back then, we got lost, my dad's pride wouldn't let him ask for directions, and it took far longer than it should have to arrive at our destination. That's the upside to having GPS systems show us the most efficient way to get someplace nowadays. The downside, however, is that nobody — myself included — knows how to read a map anymore; it might as well be an abstract drawing of a fictional land.

2. Cursive Penmanship

Most of us know how to write in cursive — it was a big deal back in the day. Everything had to be in cursive from grade four onward, and if you didn't do your swirls or hooks correctly (or if you made your lowercase Ds look like lowercase Cs — and maybe still do), you got points taken off and a letter sent home to your mother explaining how if you didn't become a master of cursive by age 11, you would essentially fail at life. Ah, the good ol' days.

Yet as obnoxious as it seemed in elementary school, today the nostalgia of cursive reminds us of how important it is to writing correspondences (well, the one correspondence we send per year anyway; more on that coming up), plus it's just easier to beautifully blend all your letters together instead of writing them out individually like a weirdo. Personally, I don't trust anyone who can't write in cursive (I'm suspicious of people who didn't have cable as a kid, too, by the way), and you shouldn't either.

Alas, if you're hoping against hope that cursive will make a comeback, put on the brakes. Headline after headline is decreeing the death of cursive penmanship — "Cursive handwriting is disappearing from public schools," "Cursive writing is obsolete; schools should teach programming instead," "Cursive handwriting will no longer be taught in schools because it's a big, old waste of time" — which probably means that the government will make the replacement of our useless human hands with voice-activated smartphones mandatory by the year 2025.

3. Letter Writing

It wasn't long ago that I was in college dating a guy several hundred miles away, and we wrote letters to one another. We had email, but that was fairly new to the mainstream world, and it was still common to sit down and write your thoughts on paper and take them to the post office. Seems like a whole other life now, doesn't it?

As such, today's youth not only lack the wherewithal to form coherent sentences that they'll write using opposable thumbs, but they also have no idea how to properly format a letter (ask your child to do that and see what kind of look you get). How do I know this as a non-parent? Because as a small business owner, I sometimes receive letters from recent college graduates that I swear were plagiarized from cave people seeking employment in the Bedrock.

4. Writing Checks and Balancing a Checkbook

I learned how to write checks in 8th grade as part of a Junior Achievement class, and it made me feel like a boss. From that moment I embraced adulthood, and I wanted to buy everything by writing out checks with the zero dollars I had in my fake bank account. Now 20 years later, I still prefer paper checks to pay my bills and for accounts receivables because it feels like tangible money in my hands — and that's psychologically important for me whether it's coming or going. Talk about being a weirdo, eh?

Can't say I miss the old days in this regard, but as a personal-finance expert I do wish people took their bank accounts more seriously and monitored them more closely. Millions of us teeter on the edge of broke because, partly at least, that money is just numbers on a computer, not ones that we're logging by hand as a representation of our actual funds. Those two distinctions subconsciously affect how we regard our cashflow, according to the School of Because I Said So.

5. Telephone Etiquette

Have you heard a teenager answer a phone call recently? Traditional and acceptable greetings like "Hello" and "How are you?" are all but dead, having been replaced with more modern equivalents like "Sup," "Yo," and "What's poppin'?" And that's if they even pick up the phone. It's not just the youngins who have an aversion to calls though; increasingly, our society is transitioning to communication completely by text, and I'm not exempt. Much to my mother's chagrin, I rarely answer my phone, instead preferring short messages. Because why do we need to have a 20-minute conversation that can be accomplished in a few quick clicks? I know, I know, I'm part of the problem.

6. Proper Grammar Skills

I feel like I can serve as an authoritative voice on the value of proper grammar skills and the impending disaster that is our future since I'm an observant writer who has solid grammar skills. As one of the last living bastions of hope, I can tell you that the problem didn't just start a few years ago. It started way before that, somewhere around the time of the tail end of the Boomer Generation who were school age in the 1970s. How can I be sure? Because based solely on the speech patterns of most of the adults in my life growing up, they wouldn't know a past participle if it was stuffed in their cigarettes.

7. Sewing

I could sew a button back onto my shirt if my life depended on it, but everything else is a job for my tailor or my mother. Though I do envy people who can work a needle and thread like it's their magic wand. My grandmother in particular was a boss on her Singer, making whole outfits, quilts, curtains and more like a pioneer who just got off the Oregon Trail. Her prickly prowess saved me a lot of money when I was starting out on my own, too. Thank you, lady.

8. Ironing

I have an old college friend, who I love for her incredible sense of humor, who said that she's successfully navigated her whole life without ever ironing a single article of clothing — and she wasn't kidding. She's sadly not alone. My observation is that the majority of Americans in this new millennium are now split into two factions: Those who have only seen an iron on a classic TV show, and those who get their clothes pressed by a third party (significant other, mom, lady/gentleman at the press-and-fold, etc.). Me on the other hand, I hold my head high as a member of that third party. I iron everything I pull out of my closet, and I'll iron your clothes too if it means we don't have to go out in public looking like you pulled your outfit from a ball on the floor. It only takes five minutes to look pressed and put together.

9. Resume Writing

When I first moved to New York City, I was jobless. I left Baltimore with about a thousand dollars to my name, banking on getting hired once Manhattan met my awesome personality. Stop laughing.

Of course, I didn't land a gig immediately so I had to find work wherever I could. One of those places was on Craigslist helping people write their resumes. Notwithstanding the irony of the situation (a boy who couldn't get a job was writing resumes for professional candidates), it was the single most exhausting thing I've ever done. Based on what I was provided by the clients, you would have thought I had posted an ad offering magician services. Nearly every resume I received was abominable. Zero formatting, spelling and grammar errors throughout, hardly any real skills to speak about, and I was supposed to turn it into a glowing testament of their work ethic that Donald Trump himself would endorse.

I'm so glad that's coming to an end. Personally, I want to see what a potential employee has done in the past — actual work that they've completed, whether it be in a portfolio, on a website, via photos, whatever. Show me — don't tell me — what you can do. The rest of the information I need to make a sound judgment on the person comes via social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Some of you may roll your eyes at that, but there's much more value in learning about people where they're being real opposed to the BS they cram onto a single sheet of paper. I haven't hired a lackey yet.

10. Driving a Manual Transmission

Why would I want to drive around town grinding gears when I can put the car in one gear and go about my business? The manual transmission isn't 100% obsolete yet — though its death is on the horizon — so it still may not be a bad skill to learn. Ya know, for those times you're trapped in the desert with your friend who drives a Jeep and he gets bitten by a rattlesnake and you're his only hope for survival. Everyday occurrences like that.

11. Finding Dates IRL

We swipe left and right, we "friend" each other, and we hook-up. But personally, I love dating and connecting with someone on a one-on-one level. I like organically discovering their idiosyncrasies, sharing experiences together like going to a ballgame, and feeling their hand in mine. I'm afraid I'm in the minority in that regard, but I wholly believe that there's no possible way that we can continue to shut one another out emotionally and survive as a species. It's not altogether biologically impossible to continue on that path, but it would certainly be unfortunate.

Do you have other life skills to add that are now completely obsolete? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Hmmm..... I've six of those skills in the last month. I think driving a manual transmission is a very useful skill and being able to read a paper map is almost an essential skill when I travel and want to get the big picture or look at interesting side trips. It's especially useful as a cross check to digitized maps.

Guest's picture
janie gentry

My nine year old grandson wrote a personal letter to me last week. He only lives 42 miles away, but he wanted to practice what he had learned in language arts class. Elijah used the correct form for a personal letter and he wrote it in cursive, too.

Guest's picture

This post has to be tongue in cheek. ;-)

I am a baby boomer, born 1949, and I started school in the 1950's - graduated high school in 1967 and started college in 1967. Graduated college in 1972 and taught middle school English, theater, and speech. Kids couldn't communicate back then either...cursive is still a good idea...it's faster and more clear to read than speed printing.

I LOVE maps. If you need to you can use it for a fire starter (campfire!).

I would love to have my old VW back...no I wasn't a hippy. It's wonderful to have manual transmission where I live, in the Southern California mountains. Actually, you should have a jeep up here, especially if it ever snows again.

I'd invite all of Wisebread to play in the water at the falls, but everything is on fire right now. I wish wildfires could be obsolete. Does Wisebread have any thoughts on how make forest fires obsolete?

Guest's picture

Don't agree with the article....GPS sucks... I can look at a map and find the best and quickest route and guarantee that I will get there faster first reason, on GPS you are driving blind, you wait for the gps to tell you how far to go and when to turn. Your brain sits there in limbo waiting. Driving today is a hard enough skill, people are getting worse and worse at driving. You want to involve your brain, you want your brain to be the GPS and know how far to go and when to turn.....

Guest's picture

I totally agree with you regarding GPS. I don't have it - nor do I have a cell phone - but I've driven with friends whose GPS talks to them and it drives me nuts. One of the advantages to one's children growing up is that there's nobody talking when I'm driving and I really, really like that.

Guest's picture

I am part of the lost-art generation, now worried about the trend toward communicating in emoticons.... much like carving messages on a cave man's wall!

Guest's picture

I'm learning how to sew. I've made one dress thus far. There are similar dresses in stores, but they are more expensive and made of rayon or polyester. I love being able to pick my own fabric. I enjoyed the increased creativity that making this dress provided.

Guest's picture

1. Paper maps are far superior to GPS.
2. Proper grammar skills are essential to effective communication, which is what talking and writing are supposed to be.
3. Ironing means you don't look like you slept in your clothes. (Do I sound like my mother yet?)
4. How sad that we've got generations of kids who will not be able to read their grandparents' and great-grandparents' love letters, war letters, diaries, etc., because they never learned to read or write cursive.

Guest's picture

I think, taking a photo only once is obsolote. We press the button at least three times and our photographs are no more natural. By the way, printing photographs on the papers are about to be completely obsolote. We are satisfied with it only if it is shared on social media or exists in our mobile devices.

Guest's picture

Real outdoors people & travelers use maps. My husband has gotten lazy about map reading & I saved our asses. He was using Google maps when we got caught in an area that had no cell phone reception. I whipped out the map & compass, which got us back on the main highway in no time at all. Sewing & ironing are still valuable skills. My son is 21 years old & he's had to iron his own shirts after forgetting to take them to the cleaners. He had a presentation the next day before the UN!