What is a pap smear nowadays, and how is it different than years ago? My doc isn't using microscope slides anymore.

Good! The days of glass slides and hairspray are long gone! The newer liquid based pap tests are much more accurate and allow for hpv cotesting. Most women with a history of normal pap testing only need screening once every 3 years depending on risk factors.
Cell monolayers. Current method remove most of the debris from cervical scrapings and deposit the cells in a monolayer on a slide thus making the process of examining slides more effective. The doctor taking the "pap smear" puts the scrapping in a special fluid that is processed by the pathology laboratory to make monolayer cell slides.