Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yesterday and Today.

I'm fond of telling people that I've lived long enough to have endured every incarnation of audio and video since the dawn of the stuff. I'm not sure it's a proud accomplishment, rather something borne of longevity rather than some special skill.
The video history arc is significantly smaller, having only brought about video tape and DVD. Although, we were faced with the initial choice of VHS or Betamax - at the time a startlingly difficult one. The choice involved a significant monetary expense, and we thought at the time that it would be one from which there would be no escape.
Then, along came the DVD, and life got a little more complicated. As with the last incarnation, it required more expensive equipment, but the bigger outlay would be the replacement of all the stuff we bought on video tape a scant 20 years earlier. That's generally the problem. Now, we are faced with the Blu Ray disc - the younger, smarter sibling of the DVD - but at least the transition is less painful, since our old DVDs still play in Blu Ray players. Whew.
The audio transitions have been more intricate and costlier. They, of course, started with vinyl records. Those of us in my age group have boxes full of the things. They had to be cared for with a newborn baby-like quality, dusted with all sorts of cloths and sprays that were themselves a cottage industry in the 1970s. For the record [pun] none of them worked as well as good old dish washing soap and warm water. We found that out the hard way.
Records gave way (in part) to tapes. The compact cassette tape became popular in the early 1970s and gave us a way to transfer our records to tapes and, so we were told, play the tapes so as not to wear out the records. It also gave us a way to make tapes of our favorite songs and take them with us. Conveniently, they provided pre-recorded music on cassette tape, and once again, we found out the hard way that cassettes were the inferior medium when compared with records.
The 8-track tape made a brief appearance (probably due to aggressive marketing) but I never gave into it. The tapes were large and bulky, and would routinely fade out during a song, make a loud clicking noise (changing to the next track) and pick up the remainder of the song. I never understood their popularity.
The revolutionary change came with the compact disc. I loved them from the start. No noise, no skips, and all you had to do was take them out and put them back in the plastic box. They were much easier to care for and much smaller than the LP record, and they held more music - a win-win. Once again, however, it required the transfer from our old records to the new medium. More money, more problems.
But it didn't stop there. The record industry, never at a loss for ways to make us part with our money, introduced the mp3 digital format. You could fit thousands of songs on a single CD (they were still good for something) and if you wanted (for another expense) you could buy an mp3 player.
So, for those of us who keep thinking that the latest incarnation is always the best and last, it could mean that you have the same LP on as many as 4 different media. I started thinking about this as Apple (the computer company) said that the Beatles' Apple catalog (the record company) would now be available on iTunes' web site for download. Individual songs will cost $1.29, LPs $12.99 and you can buy the entire catalog for $149, probably the same amount you would have spent for all their vinyl albums in the 1960s.
Can we be naive enough to think that this latest incarnation is the last and best? After all, what can be better than digital media? There isn't even a surface to put it on, just a chip, which is virtually air space. The players are the size of a pack of gum, and if you didn't need a display, they could be the size of your finger nail. The sound quality is flawless and noiseless, you can't break it and every copy sounds exactly like the last one.
What could possibly be better than that? I'll let you know in 20 years when the next format comes out. At this point, it might have to be a chip they implant in your head so you can hear the songs in your head just like you do now - only you'll have to pay for it.
The true meaning of "a penny for your thoughts."

1 comment:

Cliff Yankovich said...

With you on this journey. I remember mowing lawns all summer to pay for a Sony cassette deck that you could RECORD with. My parents fronted me the money for the deck, a receiver and pair of speaks. We had an FM station in the area (WLAV in Grand Rapids, MI) that would play entire album sides after 11 pm. I would put a 60 minute tape in and get to hear some cool tunes while I slept.
You missed one - remember the odd size tape (4 track?) that was smaller than an 8 track but had the same basic format? If I recall correctly my brother had one in a VW he owned.