I know you enjoy your ocular data Netflix streams and subsonic sound waves that play music in your brain that no one else can hear, but take a seat and listen to a tale about how your daddy used to listen to music and watch movies when I was your age.
When I was young, we used to have these plastic bricks filled with wheels and gears that would spin and churn as they passed along a ribbon of information that contained the movie or the music that we wanted to enjoy. Even today I don’t quite understand how the information was saved on to the ribbon. We all pretty much agreed the process involved some sort of blood pact with a demon and we all just kind of accepted it, never questioning it, fearing the demon would steal our souls and trap us in our own, personal cassette tape prison for all of eternity, waiting for someone to pop the tape in to a VCR just so we could see the real world again, if only for a short while.
That’s another thing: VCRs. When we wanted to watch a movie we had to place the cassette tape in to a thing called a VCR. The VCR was this large black box that, when angered, would eat your cassette tape and never return it. It was a temperamental hell-beast, but it was a necessary one. How else were we supposed to watch Dark Crystal for the fiftieth time? Every so often, the VCR would request that we adjust what was called the “tracking”. Almost none of use understood what that meant. We simply did as we were told, pushing random buttons on the VCR’s surface until the wavy lines of scrambled image faded away and left behind ghostly doubled images and random patches of green and red on the screen. This meant the beast was dissatisfied with our handling of its hardware, and it was attempting to conjure terrifying images of our miserable futures to frighten us in to obedience.
As I only briefly mentioned earlier, the cassette tape was also used to store music. In order to listen to, say, the fifth track of an album, we had to fast forward to that track, making occasional stops along the way to make sure we hadn’t missed our exit. If we heard bongos instead of a wailing guitar, that probably meant we had traveled too far in to the territory of tracks that we never listened to because they were physically too far away from the first tracks that we always listened to and rarely heard anything beyond. Furthermore, the tapes were double sided, meaning there was one batch of songs on one side, and then the rest of the album was on the other. This led to much confusion, as none of us were ever entirely sure if the track listing printed on the side of the cassette that was facing us actually contained the song we wanted to hear. All in all, the process of finding the song we wanted to hear took about fifteen minutes, and it all amounted to a lot of dramatic build up if we were trying to play a specific awesome song from the cassette for our friends. It’s like telling your friends a joke that you find hysterical, only to get to the punch line and no one laughs. This led many to believe the cassette tape was some manner of a trickster god that took delight in watching us make excuses for why the song that took us a quarter of an hour to locate wasn’t actually that good.
Ultimately, it was a good technology – for its time. Sure, every once in a while the ribbon of tape within the beast would unravel and we would then have to re-spool the ribbon on to its gears with the eraser-end of a pencil or, in the case of a movie cassette, a thick highlighter; but the end result was a cassette that was just as a good as it was before, just now you can tell where the ribbon had bent and twisted in the unraveling/re-spooling process as the image or audio would suddenly go in to violent fits of media rage and distort the image or make the audio sound like the wicked soul trapped within the cassette were trying to open a portal to hell with an incantation spoken in demon tongue.
We were happy to watch the technology give way to CDs (which were these shiny plastic discs we liked to throw at each other) and eventually to digital media (which was a bunch of numerical coding that we liked to steal simply because it was so damn easy to). But people my age and older remember a time when we had to work hard to enjoy the crap we liked. Part of that pleasure was hating everything about the thing that gave us pleasure just so we could get to the part of our pleasure that we actually found pleasurable.
Now, run along and have your brain zapped by subsonic waves and make sure when you go swimming you don’t get water in your ears and fry out your neural implants.
You crazy kids with your fancy techno gizmos and whosiwhatsits.