Technology is fading into history
Oct. 8, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

It becomes more and more difficult for us to pretend we are still in the first blush of youth, especially when we start outliving major technological advances.

This month, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the compact disc (CD), we can’t help but wonder how long it will survive.

We are also forced to admit we are getting older.

I remember sitting at a table at the Cove in Superior, WI in 1982, enjoying an adult beverage and listening to a friend tell me about a college paper he was writing on the topic of this exciting new technology.

We were amazed at the sound quality and convenience CDs offered, and we were soon busily replacing our cassette collections (not to mention our vinyl LPs) with CDs.

There are still purists who pine for the rich sound of vinyl, but those LPs were fragile, bulky, and far from portable.

To my knowledge, no one ever invented a record player for automotive use.

Of course, some of us still remember riding in cars equipped only with radios – AM radios.

The CDs offered an attractive new option.

The sound quality of cassettes was never very good, and, although small, they were not all that convenient, and they tended to wear out with frequent use.

Throughout history, most advances in recording technology have had a lifespan of about 30 years, so CDs are probably nearing the end of their run.

I don’t recall the last album I bought on CD.

These days, I download all my music as MP3s, and share it among various devices through the magic of cloud storage, which automatically synchronizes my hardware.

We have come a long way from hauling around boxes of cassettes, or even books of CDs.

Tom Edison broke new ground with his recording cylinders back in the 1870s. One wonders what he would make of today’s technology.

I can’t help believing that the cycle of new technology rising and falling is driven more by money than by convenience and quality.

I am convinced the industry experts figured out early on that by changing things up periodically, not only can they sell us the same content over and over again in each new format, but they can also sell us new hardware to play the new version, and that is probably where the real money is.

If they space the new formats out properly, they can maximize their profits.

The anniversary of the CD made me think about the related technology of the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD).

Although newer than CDs, DVDs, which came onto the scene in the mid-1990s, also face an uncertain future.

Their introduction signalled the death of VHS movies, since the quality was much better, and the format was smaller and more convenient.

DVDs offered dramatically more storage capacity than CDs, making them a perfect format for movies.

CDs have a capacity of 650 to 700 MB of data, while a single layer, single-sided DVD can store 4.7 GB of data, with newer versions holding even more.

I suspect DVDs will be around for awhile yet, but recently, I have been streaming a lot of video content online, including movies, television programs, and more.

One of my brothers predicted this technology in the 1970s, and while it seemed almost like science fiction at the time, that day has arrived.

We can get practically any content we want instantly, which takes convenience to a whole new level.

Today, we can rent or buy music, movies, and books instantly without ever leaving our chair.

It makes me feel old just to think about how fast things have changed.

People from my generation thought we were pretty smart when we had to show our parents how to program a VCR to record shows from broadcast television, but that seems primitive by today’s standards.

I am inclined to cut elderly people some slack if they sometimes seem bewildered by technology. They have seen a lot more changes than I have, and the pace of change seems to be accelerating.

I have seen glimpses of what may be in store for us in the future. In some ways, it makes me weary to think about it, but at the same time, it is exciting to imagine what advances in technology may be just around the corner.

I will try to remember that when I stumble across the remnants of yesterday’s new technology gathering dust in a museum.

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