There’s a site called Obsolete Skills which seems to have sprung, fully-formed, from Robert Scoble’s brain in which various people have gotten together to ding various “obsolete” skills. Well, duh.

Among them they’ve put shorthand. Its comments:

Field: Office/Communication
Went Obsolete: Mid-1980s; probably late 1980s to mid-1990s on developing countries
Made Obsolete By: Inexpensive recording devices
Knowledge Assumed: Special training.
When useful: This is a useful skill that is, unfortunately, on the brink of extinction.

It does allow for a few situations where it might be useful to have shorthand:

in courts and legislatures all over the world, shorthand writers log the proceedings instead of mechanized tachygraphs.

(Because it means you can get it transcribed a hell of a lot faster.)

Journalists continue to use shorthand for taking notes, especially in places where recording devices are not allowed, such as courtrooms. However, many journalists today do not learn a formal shorthand style but rather use one of their own devising. Such homemade systems often use standard alphanumeric characters but incorporate techniques such as using abbreviations or leaving out letters.

Example: “Jn sd h wld brg th doc 2 m 2dy” for “John said he would bring the document to me today.”

I don’t think any sensible journalist would do that. (Would they?) Not one who could write Teeline (or, better, Pitmans). The fact is that if you need to turn a story around quickly, recording it is a guarantee that you’ll have the absolutely word-perfect quote… half an hour after the person with shorthand, who’ll have the quotes too, but is able to access them directly, and can see where the quotes fit into the flow of the story more easily. The person with a recorder has to get to the place where the person was speaking, and transcribe it, and check it’s right. It’s hellish. I’ve tried it enough times, but never got close to feeling that using a recording device is a real, real pain.

Shorthand still rules – it’s fast, accurate, and you can get the quotes out faster. People are envious of my shorthand. It’s a valuable skill in this game.

Plus it has the advantage that you can doodle “what a complete waste of time this interview is” or “eggs milk flour butter” and the person you’re talking to won’t have the least idea…

Oh, yeah, and they also add journalism into their “obsolete skills” list. Uh-huh. The joke’s kind of over by then.

Bonus link: Angry Journalist, for the ventings of journalists who are, um, angry. I have to say, I’m not, but it’s scary reading through the many comments in there.