The Next Twinkie Moment

A middling band once philosophized that you "don't know what you've got till it's gone."

In the case of Twinkies, it was the not-as-catchy "don't know what you've got till it's temporarily unavailable in the interim period between old ownership and new."

While our favorite Hostess brands will likely survive to fatten another day, the public nostalgia wave (and ensuing run on 7-11 shelves) was pretty amazing to behold.

Inspired by our collective sugar rush, we asked some of our analysts to get creative with their guesses for the next cherished thing at risk of experiencing a Twinkie moment.

John Rosevear: It's no secret that it has become harder and harder to find a new car with a manual transmission. The old stick shift is going the way of Hostess -- and for good reasons, say the automakers: They're not that popular, and new computer-controlled transmissions can improve both emissions and performance.

Stick shifts aren't gone yet, of course. They're still offered on some sports cars and sport sedans, and on many compacts, like the Ford (NYSE: F  ) Focus, but often only on the cheaper trim lines. On the fancier Focuses, Ford instead offers "PowerShift" -- essentially an automated manual transmission that can be controlled by the driver or by a computer.

Such transmissions, which are often shifted with paddles or buttons mounted near the steering wheel, have long been available on expensive sports cars. But they're becoming more mainstream as an alternative to conventional automatic transmissions: Automakers from Volkswagen to Nissan now offer them on several models. I expect to see more and more as the technology improves and costs come down.

That march of technology probably means that the clutch pedal's days are numbered, as even Ferrari has discovered. The famed Italian sports car maker has offered racing-style automated manual transmissions as an option since the 1990s. But now they've become so popular that Ferrari discontinued its last manual transmission earlier in 2012: Only two buyers had chosen the old-fashioned stick shift in the year before.

Justin Loiseau: More than any other hue of the color spectrum, the color grey has been systematically obliterated from our cognition. Cars are "carbon metallic," "night silver," or "foggy pearl." Clothing is "smoke," "forge," or "charcoal." Crayola crayons? Don't even think about it. You'll have drawn "mummy's tomb," "black shadows," and "deep space sparkle" into nubs before you even realize what you've done. And the nail in this color's coffin? E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that turns nature's most titillating tint into little more than questionable moral standing. Goodbye, grey, greetings grunge.

Tim Beyers: If Superstorm Sandy taught us one thing, it's that we increasingly consume TV via apps. Something we demand rather than browse; content we'll watch anywhere we can, at any time we want. How do we know this? Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) viewing surged 20% during the terrible hours the howling wind and rain pinned millions indoors. Call it TV's Twinkie moment.

To be fair, traditional television still dominates our viewing and retailers still sell big sets. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) may even get into the market by selling a large screen that wirelessly accesses your home network for delivering iTunes shows and a smorgasbord of related apps through its Apple TV interface. Yet even that's a shift since it puts all the programming power in the hands of the user rather than a faceless network.

The TV is dead. And it's been a long time in coming.

John Reeves: Football fans may want to begin contemplating the unthinkable. Someday -- perhaps as soon as 10 to 15 years from now -- the National Football League might be forced to close its doors.

I say this as someone who has loved football my entire life. I enjoyed games of "kill the carrier" in elementary school, and played defensive back in middle school and high school. Nowadays, one of my favorite things in the whole world is watching Notre Dame on Saturdays (go Irish!).

But I'm also someone with a healthy respect for doctors and medical science. What we've been learning about concussions lately could have an extremely negative impact on the future viability of the NFL. The New York Times recently reported on a study in the journal Neurology that found that former NFL players were three to four times more likely to die from brain diseases including Alzhheimer's, Parkinson's, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). Dr. Robert Cantu, a leading neurosurgeon at Boston University School of Medicine, now advises that kids under the age of 14 should not be playing tackle football.

A very compelling piece in Grantland shows how all of this might lead to the demise of the NFL. I'd be sad to see it go. But I'd be much, much sadder if my 14-year-old got brain damage from a collision on a football field.

Alex Planes: I doubt too many people will miss alphanumeric passwords, which have been around for as long as we've had computers to log into. Everyone has a digital identity now, and for most adults, that's spread across potentially dozens of sites, including social media, online retail, and financial services. You could use the same password for all of them, but that runs tremendous risks. Using different passwords is smarter but can quickly become a huge pain. No matter how cautious you are, you can still find your entire digital life undermined by a dedicated attacker.

The time is ripe for a transition toward widespread biometric identification. Your fingerprint is unique. So is your retina. Your voice also contains a unique "print." When Apple bought a fingerprint biometric company earlier this year, it wasn't just looking for some cool new tech for its iPhones, it was signaling a new future -- one in which access is determined by who you are, not the name of your first pet or your favorite vacation spot. There are risks, as I pointed out in my biometrics overview earlier this year. In the long run, though, it just makes sense, for security and for convenience.

Alyce Lomax: Coherent written communication. Brace yourselves; we're on the brink of losing coherent written language, and it won't be available for the highest bidder on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) . Remember Clippy, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) atrociously springy offspring who assumed nobody could write a letter? Well, blame the mobile revolution, led by Apple's iPhone, for Clippy's chaotic and useless younger sibling Auto-Correct. (My nickname: Auto-Mistake).

How often have you seen a repost of texted garble followed by: "[Expletive] auto-correct!"? Meanwhile, social media often involves groupthink to translate cryptic messages: "You're enjoying peas? Pies? Peace? What?"

Granted, the mobile revolution does mean we can swiftly spread the word on, say, throwdowns over the last pack of sure-to-be-a-collectors'-item Ding Dongs at the local grocery store, but pictures may have to paint a thousand words since the words themselves may be unintelligible. Thankfully, the human spirit is resilient, our culture is innovative (otherwise we wouldn't have tools allowing us to share, in 140 characters or fewer, how much we'll miss snack cakes we haven't actually consumed in 25+ years) and hopefully someone can stop the decay. Somebody, quick, savage the written word! Oops, that's salvage. [Expletive] auto-correct!

John Maxfield: Traffic jams, speeding tickets, and expensive car insurance.

There are two inexorable forces that will almost invariably continue to evolve. The first is how we communicate with each other. We've seen no less than a revolution on this front over the last few decades with the introduction and subsequent transformation of the Internet.

The second, however, remains more theoretical and concerns how we get from one place to another. It's on this front that I believe the next revolution is staged to occur, which will drive (pun intended) many aspects of our current daily lives into obsolescence. What I'm referring to is the self-driving vehicle -- be it plane, train, or automobile.

While this may seem like only a nominal adjustment, it will dramatically transform how we live. Just speaking of automobiles, traffic jams will be a thing of the past, speeding tickets no more, and expensive car insurance kicked to the curb. In the not-too-distant future, driving won't be a thing that we do, but rather a place that we are.

Dan Caplinger: The Electoral College has a 225-year history of deciding U.S. presidential elections, with its origins based on former-Colonial fears that the impact of large states on elections would otherwise thoroughly overwhelm the minimal influence that small states have. However, by focusing on a winner-take-all approach to individual states, the system that the Electoral College uses instead gives the handful of states that swing back and forth disproportionate power in deciding elections, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of millions of Americans who live in states that solidly support one party or the other.

Dan Newman: The Internet won't only turn bricks-and-mortar retail into a relic. Count the ivy-covered walls of education as well. As universities like MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Michigan broadcast classes, assignments, and exams for free, and new companies and organizations like Khan Academy and K12 (NYSE: LRN  ) implement completely new learning practices, the most static institution in America will begin to shift like never before.

Degrees will still be worth at least the paper that they're printed on, but employers will look more for proven skills and past accomplishments. Younger students will still have homeroom teachers and naptime, but they will have a more personalized education focusing on individual improvement instead of meeting a set state or national bar. Today's education, like a Twinkie, is full of sugar and calories that provide little long-term benefit. New education will cut out the excess, and give students an applicable set of skills with a creamy filling of self-motivation.

We're off to go drink some Kool-Aid and play with our Speak & Spell, but feel free to stick around and share your prospective Twinkie moments in the comments section below!

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Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (15)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2012, at 5:31 PM, spinindog wrote:

    TV going away? Please...The only people I see watching TV programs on other devices seem to be pathetic losers who coulndn't fit the program into the 6 hours of TV they watched the night before.

    Football going away? I'd rather keep my football playing memories and learnings and risk a couple years at the end of my life. Design better helmets...

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 2:59 PM, Milligram46 wrote:

    Best Clippy moment ever was in the Simpsons.

    Clippy appears, "I see you want to blow up your laptop. Is it OK if I hug my wife and children goodbye?"

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 3:04 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    LOL Milligram46! That's awesome!

    Alyce

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 3:37 PM, whyaduck1128 wrote:

    "A middling band once philosophized that you "don't know what you've got till it's gone.""

    Uh, no. Perhaps you're thinking of a remake, but the original "Big Yellow Taxi" is from the great Joni Mitchell.

    They paved Paradise

    Put up a parking lot

    With a boutique, a hotel

    And a swinging hot spot

    Don't it always seem to go

    That you don't know what you've got

    'Til it's gone

    They paved Paradise

    Put up a parking lot

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 5:04 PM, seattle1115 wrote:

    Thank you, whyaduck1128. That was driving me crazy, too. Upon reflection, however, I seem to recall some generic hair band back in the 90s that had a song which used the same line - perhaps that's what the author was referencing.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 5:11 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    John Rosevear,

    My stick shift gets better gas mileage than the automatic equivalent and requires less maintenance. Also I just read that people who drive sticks are safer drivers because they are more engaged in "driving" and not drinking coffee, putting on makeup or talking on the phone.

    John Reeves,

    Advances in football helmets and rule changes will keep football with us well into the future.

    Dan Caplinger,

    Try to keep in mind that this country actually consists of 50 separate states. Each is a government unto itself. All agree to federalize meaning they agree to fund a central government to most efficiently do those things (like maintain a military) best handled by a central government.

    Many forget that the states are to elect the president, not individual voters. This is how it was meant to be. Just because we have the technology to account for every individuals emotional whim, doesn't mean we should use it and bow to mob rule (should New York and California always decide what's best for everybody else)? The drawbacks of the current system are much better than the drawbacks of the alternative.

    Dan Newman,

    Your view of education sounds more like a trade school to me. A true education teaches you how to think well - not to fill up your brain with facts and marketable skills. Plato would be disgusted with what we call education in America today.

    Alyce,

    You are the genius of this group!

    @whyaduck,

    Counting Crows was the better version over Joni Mitchell/Amy Grant - much better.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 5:15 PM, TMFBomb wrote:

    @whyaduck1128 and seattle1115,

    Yep, I was referencing the Cinderella song, "Don't Know What You Got Till It's Gone." My inadvertent correction of their grammar may be causing the confusion.

    For the record, I much prefer "Big Yellow Taxi" (great song) and am not calling Joni Mitchell "middling."

    Fool on,

    Anand

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 5:20 PM, TMFBomb wrote:

    @hbofbyu,

    I wasn't going to say it, but you brought it up...my favorite version is the Amy Grant one...I like her addition of the line "Hey, they steamrolled paradise... for a parking lot."

    Folk rock on,

    Anand

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 5:52 PM, miteycasey wrote:

    That middling band was Cinderella. The album was "Long Cold Winter"

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 7:47 PM, seattle1115 wrote:

    hbofbyu wrote: "Counting Crows was the better version over Joni Mitchell/Amy Grant - much better."

    You're dead to me. ;)

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2012, at 8:41 PM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @hbofbyu: I hear you. As I told my editor when we were discussing this article... "My current car has a manual transmission, my next car will have one, but after that, I really don't know."

    I'll buy 'em as long as they make 'em, but from what I hear from folks in the business, I don't think that's going to be a whole lot longer in the grand scheme of things.

    Thanks for reading.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2012, at 2:13 AM, herky46q wrote:

    Automatic transmissions these days get as good or better fuel economy than manual trannies and you don't have to replace clutches. Goodbye manuals!

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2012, at 10:37 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @herky46g: But they're boring!

    John Rosevear

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