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Stephanie Salter

November 27, 2011

STEPHANIE SALTER: Times change. Things disappear. Toilet paper here to stay

You may have seen an email going around with “Nine Things That Will Disappear in Our Lifetime.” The message says the changes may be good or bad, depending “in part on how we adapt to them,” but it dooms to the dustbin (along with dustbins):

The post office, checks, newspapers, books, telephone land lines, music (illegal downloads and greed in the music industry are to blame), the television set, the things we “own” (such as downloaded music collections, which will be in the cyberspace cloud) and No. 9, privacy — as if there were any left.

We of a certain age can easily add another nine or 19 items. (Maps and the ability to read them. Good penmanship. The response, “You’re welcome,” which has been replaced with, “No problem.”) But the list of the doomed got me to thinking in another direction:

Nine Things That Will NOT Disappear in Our Lifetime (at least in the United States)

1. Diapers and Toilet Paper — Technology has not led to any better method for containing or cleaning up after the last stage of the human digestive process. We have aloe vera and velvety fibers woven into our quilted or crosshatched TP; diapers can be cloth or disposable with built-in “wetness indicators” in sizes to fit every body from preemie to linebacker. But the basic approaches are the same as they’ve been for hundreds of years — and a growing population needs more.

U.S. consumers buy about 26 billion rolls of toilet paper each year — some 50 pounds of TP per person. As for didies, babies require nearly 3,700 to 4,200 each before they are potty-trained — and U.S. parents take far longer to housebreak their kids than do Europeans or Asians. Adults, meanwhile, use about 38 million diapers each year and that number is expected to grow to 45 million by 2020.

2. Dieting — It’s a $61 billion a year industry. Most of us have been on at least one and most of us ended up reclaiming what we dropped. (Humorist Jane Wagner’s great line: “I’ve lost and gained the same 10 pounds so many times, my cellulite has déjà vu.”) Rumors of magic pills or devices abound, but they are just rumors, especially given the way Americans eat.

3. Trash/Garbage — Through aggressive and mandatory recycling and composting, a few forward-thinking, green U.S. cities have minimized the volume of trash that ends up in landfills or on floating barges. Most places and people, however, still dump obscene amounts of material into bins, cans and country road ditches.

The EPA’s estimated annual tonnage of U.S. trash: 250 million. Likelihood in an economic slump of expanded mandatory recycling and composting in most cities: (my estimate) Zero.

4. Leaves and snow — Climate change notwithstanding, they will never disappear on their own.

5. Over-the-counter Acne and Anti-Aging Treatments — Dermatologists can tell us repeatedly that — with the exception of sun block — most of what we throw at our pimply or wrinkling skin is ineffective. We don’t care. We don’t hear them. U.S. consumers spent $350 million in 2010 on over-the-counter acne products, and a staggering $20 billion on anti-aging serums.

Promise us the clear, creamy complexion of a professionally made up or photoshopped model, and we buy by the boatload. We ignore science, particularly if we are still in tanning-bed denial. As long as there are humans who aren’t happy with their face, the bottom will never drop out of the do-it-yourself skin care industry.

6. Retail Therapy — Yes, we are in a prolonged economic downturn. Yes, unemployment hovers at 9 percent and most Americans’ wages are stalled or heading backward. No, Black Friday and the ensuing 29 shopping days do not produce as they once did. Yes, Americans finally are saving some money and (slightly) lowering their credit card debt. But abandon the real national pastime?

This is a nation in which consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the domestic economy, a country whose citizens were advised by their government after 9/11 to show their patriotism by going shopping. And Target opened at midnight after Thanksgiving 2011.

7. Mood Altering Substances (Legal and Il-) — We may have the highest standard of living of any people who’ve inhabited Mother Earth, but we also are an unhappy, anxious, sleep-deprived, distracted, unfulfilled, oblivion-seeking lot. And we tend to combat these states by ingesting things that will tweak — or transform — our state of mind.

Whether it’s a quart of Jack Daniels, home-cooked meth or scores of available mood-altering prescription drugs, our need to mitigate or escape our misery should ensure the long future of Big Pharma, the liquor-beer-wine industry and the neighborhood pusher.

8. Sports Metaphors — Pro football teams may go 0-10, the NBA may argue itself into non-existence and baseball may become the purview of the terminally nostalgic, but sports lingo will not soon disappear from the English language. Just the clichéd “Step up to the plate” and “Level the playing field” can keep sports metaphors alive through the next 200 years.

Not to mention: “No harm, no foul.” “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” “Swing for the fences.” “He (she, they) hit a home run (or grand slam).” “Hail Mary pass.” “Three yards and a cloud of dust.” “Drop back and punt.” “On the ropes.” “Down for the count.” “Out in left field.” “Neck and neck. “By a nose.” “Into the homestretch.” “Rounding third.” “Strike out.” “Take one for the team.” “Goal line stand.” “The whole nine yards.” “For all the marbles.” “Game changer.”

9. Balkanized Christianity — We proclaim ourselves, “One nation under God,” but that’s pretty much where the unity ends. From ancient denominations to newly minted storefront sects, it’s a vigorous game of “My God’s better than your God.” Unless the American Civil Liberties Union is involved as an adversary, Christians are about as united as Congress in word, practice and paths to salvation.

The Bible? There are more than 75 published versions of it in North America, alone, not to mention myriad (and conflicting) interpretations of chapter and verse. Perhaps if a Mormon is elected president, all will be well. Congress and Christians will come together as one and … oh, never mind.

In the meantime, the following email address is now open for further submissions to Things That Will NOT Disappear in Our Lifetime.

Stephanie Salter can be reached by email at

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