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Go ahead, open up that paper map

Jan. 15—It's easy to forget how quickly things that were ubiquitous disappear or fade into obscurity.

My grandkids have no memory, or only a vague one, of video rental stores.

People under age 25 may have, but most likely didn't ever tap the keys of an old-style typewriter.

A poll of "retro activities" found that a full third of people have never used a traditional typewriter, but some of that third likely used the "Selectric" typewriters. Even those revolutionary electric IBM machines, which used a golf-ball-shaped head that replaced the conventional type bars, have collected dust for a long time. The last one was made in 1986.

A few phone books with Yellow Pages are still produced, but 13% of people say they've never opened one.

About the same number of people have never used a pay phone.

And more than a quarter of people have never watched black-and-white television or opened an encyclopedia.

Encyclopedia sets were a delight for those who could afford to splurge on them. In the 1970s and '80s the sets by Britannica, Funk & Wagnalls and World Book cost several hundreds of dollars, often well over $1,000. People often bought them in installments, getting one or two new books every month or so until they had the full A-Z set.

While teachers today have to watch for student plagiarism swiped from the Internet, the widespread availability of encyclopedias had teachers back then looking for student papers that had a certain Britannica feel to what was supposed to be original thought.

Looking something up in an encyclopedia, which was filled with many colorful photos, prints and charts, was an experience that often led to related discoveries. After finding your entry on Baroque art, you might stumble on the history of barricades used in wars.

It was an earlier experience of what happens now when we Google "making a birdhouse" and through a series of related links and clicks end up somehow reading about the Bali Bird of Paradise.

The survey also found that nearly 20% of people said they've never used a paper map.

GPS maps are a wonderful tool, letting you see your route, road work, crashes, telling you when to turn and showing you where the nearest coffee shops are.

But I always enjoy opening a paper map, easily seeing the surrounding area, judging distances and exploring other attractions we might like to see in our travels.

Digital map interaction is good for acquiring surface knowledge — the quickest way to get from a hotel to a museum in a new city. Reading a print map gives you a deeper knowledge of the geography and the area you're trying to get familiar with.

The digital advances we enjoy make life easier and better. But some of the things we have mostly left behind because of them are still worth discovering.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 507-344-6383.