Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What's that?

The cover on my iphone
Continuing my thinking about the pace of technological change, here is a photo of the cover on my iphone.  I was in a shop the other day and put my phone down on the counter with the cover facing up (like in the photo).  The girl behind the counter looked at it with some curiosity and asked, "What's that?"  I replied that it was the cover on my iphone.

She rolled her eyes and looked at me like I was an idiot.  "I know it's the cover of your phone - I want to know what it is."

I hesitated.  Then I understood.  She didn't know what a cassette or tape was.  Boy did I feel old.

Cassettes were the greatest thing in the world when they hit the market.  It meant being able to play recorded music without the need for parents to supervise as they did with records.  They were much hardier and the risk of scratching didn't exist.  You could play them in your car!  But don't leave them there on a hot day or they would melt.

My first independent music purchase with pocket money saved up for months was a six cassette set of Elvis' 100 Super Rocks.  It was so exciting and I was proud of how smart I'd been with my money - getting six cassettes!  100 songs!  I think it cost me around $25 at the time.  My grandmother was not impressed, chastising my mother about allowing me to spend my money on "that sex stuff".  It took many years before I understood the sex appeal of Elvis Presley.  At the age of about 9 I just liked the music.

The most craved purchase then was a personal stereo system.  I always purchased too early and ended up stuck for a long time with a single cassette player, when the next innovation was a double cassette player.  This allowed longer continuous play, but also allowed copying.  The making of a mix tape was the sign of true love.  It was even better to receive one from a boy you liked.

The Sony Walkman passed me by.  You may recall that I also don't listen to an ipod while I'm on the move.

Having a recorder which had a built in radio facilitated the recording of favourite songs direct from the radio.  At night in western Queensland, it was possible to pick up Sydney radio stations playing all the latest music.  I would record these songs direct from the radio.  This took skill.  There was an art to noiselessly pressing the "play" and "record" buttons simultaneously at the right moment.  The right moment would minimise the amount of time the announcer was talking over the track and maximise the amount of the song actually captured.  It took concentration to get the latest Culture Club or Wham! song onto that tape.

A couple of years ago I had to purchase a blank tape for use at a voice over course I was doing. Blank tapes were something from yesteryear.  Where would I find one?  After looking in various places and having no success, I went into a stationary store.  A shop assistant asked me what I was looking for.  I whispered that I was looking for a blank tape, feeling a little bit dirty as I did so.  She looked a little bit taken aback, but then slipped into her helpful and confidential voice.  She led me to the back of the store.  At a back shelf on the lowest level was a dusty box with a a few blank tapes in it.  I felt like I had asked to see their most hard core pornography.  She left me alone to browse the selection.  I plucked one from the box and walked out $9 poorer, but I had what I needed.

Where would I play it?  I had to listen to my work which had been recorded in class in the car!  It was the only place I had a cassette player.  But now even that is gone, replaced by a CD and MP3 player.

It's incredible to think that most of us are walking around with our entire music collections in our pockets every single day.

As for the cover on my iphone, I like the juxtaposition of the old and the new.

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