Nope, not that media.
A few weeks ago, I gave Legacybox a try. Heard of ’em? Legacy converts old home movies – the ones you may have on VHS or 8mm tapes (or even reel-to-reel) – into clean, digitized formats. I sent Legacy a heaping box of my tapes (reel-to-reel was slightly before my time), and a month later received a single, tiny thumb drive in return. Remarkable really: dozens of hours of precious video memories packed into a bits-n-bytes “box” the size of a fingernail clipper. If I’d chosen a digital download instead of the thumb drive, I wouldn’t have received anything (physical) in return.
We’ve flash-landed into a digital, live-stream, can’t-hold-it-in-your-hands world of multimedia these days. Phonograph records, celluloid film, audio and video cassettes, and optical media like CD’s and DVD’s spin firmly in the rear-view mirror; collectables reserved for only the most nostalgic.
[It’s not a stretch to say print media – books, newspapers, magazines, and photographs – aren’t far behind, but that’s another post for another day.]
For those of you born in the last century – literally, not figuratively – let’s eulogize some of these once-upon-a-time physical media formats.
I’m old enough to remember 8-track tapes, are you? Before I owned my first “LP” or “45” record, I was regularly subjected to my dad’s music choices on his car stereo 8-track player. In hindsight, there’s something endearing about the bulky, inefficient format of the 8-track tape (except when your only memory is your dad’s music).
Before the 8-track tape gave way to the compact cassette, I built up a pretty good collection of 1970’s 45 rpm records (“singles”) – 100 or more. My older brother – who built a sizeable collection of 1970’s 33 rpm records (“LP’s”), understandably disdained my choices in music. His flavor was “classic” rock (ex. Rick Wakeman, Emerson, Lake & Palmer) while mine was “bubblegum” (ex. Olivia Newton-John, Barry Manilow). Appropriately, I have Olivia’s “Let’s Get Physical” re-running in my head as I cover today’s topic.
The cool thing about compact cassettes was – of course – you could record things (birthing the concept of the “playlist”). Just as noteworthy, you could play cassettes in your car’s “deck”. Your records had to stay home. It wasn’t long before my 45’s were stashed in the closet and I was all-in on “tape”. I spent countless hours recording and listening as I hugged my very first tape recorder. I spent countless weekly allowance dollars on the Columbia House Record and Tape Club. When the ultra-compact Sony Walkman debuted in 1979, cassette-tape music went everywhere you did.
Right about the same time as the Walkman, JVC (VHS) and Sony (Betamax) figured out how to put video on tape. My early memories of movie rentals at the video store include renting the video player too. After all, the price tag on first-generation “VCR’s” ran into the thousands of dollars. I can still picture myself lugging a bulky VCR down the street to my apartment, with a pile of cables, an instruction booklet, and a stack of videotapes to watch. Then, twenty-four hours later, I’d pack it all up and lug it back to the store.
Compact discs (CD’s) and digital versatile discs (DVD’s) felt like space-age technology in the ’80’s and ’90’s. But press the Pause button for a moment. Did you forget laserdiscs (LD)? LD’s were the first optical disc storage medium, and man did I buy into the hype of those rainbow Frisbees. By the time I invested in a (bulky) LD player and loaded up on (pricy) LD’s themselves, DVD’s were beginning to take over the home video market. Sadly, I still have my LD collection today (along with my no-longer-functioning LD player). I figure the whole setup isn’t even worth the time to advertise on Craigslist. In hindsight, laserdiscs were the very definition of unwieldy.
Finally (for physical media), I never graduated from DVD’s to Blu-ray discs, but “cinephiles” claim Blu-ray looks and sounds even better than its digital successors. Regardless, Blu-ray should be considered the final frontier in a history of physical media dating back to the 1800’s. Check out Wikipedia’s timeline of audio formats (player-piano rolls!) here.
Thanks to companies like Legacybox, Netflix, and Spotify, digital media is here to stay. But I must concede, there’s little pride in perusing a collection of utterly un-physical files and folders on my laptop. Maybe Olivia Newton-John knew what she was singing about after all.
Or maybe that’s why I’m still hanging onto my laserdiscs.