Is proper coding a thing of the past??
The answer is a resounding "NO." What I don't understand, and never will, is why some designers seem to think that appearance matters so much that it's a great deal more important than usability (a huge bugbear with me), SEO optimization, code standards compliance and cross- browser compatibility.
They put huge images on the index page that can take a while to load and don't bother with alt properties (I used to be guilty of this, but I've since learned how important it is), add features that only show up on certain browsers and use font resizing instead of the headline tags you're supposed to use to show the bots that there's rich content on that particular page. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Why do they do it, and is it such a big deal?
Yes, it is a big deal if you want search engine visibility. Any company with a website on the internet needs to make it easy to find, not just via the links on social networking and bookmarking sites, but by a simple search on Google using the terms anyone would use when looking for a company of that kind. Failing to make your site W3C compatible can make it less searchable.
W3C makes it easy to make websites compatible by providing us with an opportunity to analyse them by giving us a validator — and the means to clean up invalid markup. With a tool like this at our disposal (it's free!), there's no excuse not to use proper code.
It doesn't mess with our design schemes, either. I use Transitional rather than Strict because it gives me more leeway, design-wise.
If proper coding is becoming a thing of the past, it's among people who care more for style than for substance, but as I have shown, it is eminently possible to have both.