I am officially old. Or: The CD vs. the Squeegee
One of Adam's posts over at A Violently Executed Blog got me a thinkin' about modern technology and the pros and cons, but especially the cons, of technological advances. Now, I'm all for making life a little more convenient and that's what "progress" is all about. But as things become more efficient, they also become more complex. This fact doesn't have any tangible effect on our lives until some device we depend upon breaks down. In Adam's case, it was his car, but it could be a million other things, like a computer, a CD player, etc.
In the very recent past, say, the 70's and 80's, most devices we relied on could be fixed by you, the layperson. If a car broke down, you could pop the hood and do a quick diagnosis because the number of moving parts that comprised the engine was relatively small. Personally, I don't trust any car where, when you pop the hood, you cannot see some ground below. The clusterfuck of wires and tubes and other nameless entities in modern engines evokes images of HR Giger and Alien movies; and any attempt to fix a modern engine is just as frightening.
In contrast, I give you the two cars I drove from the ages of 16 to 22. The first was a '67 VW Bug, which broke down more regularly than Old Faithful. However, I was able to fix the thing myself 95% of the time, and it ran for two years with NO OIL IN IT. When I was 20, I inherited a fucking sweet '64 Dodge Coronet with 45,000 original miles on it. The engine was a monster, with like, 4 moving parts, tops. There was so much open space under the hood that a small child could have ridden quite comfortably between the carburetor and the air filter. When it began to overheat, I simply replaced the water pump. Problem solved. When it wouldn't start, I got a new ignition switch and replaced the spark plugs. Presto! It started like a champ. I once pounded on the engine block with a squeegee when I heard a knocking noise. The noise fucking stopped.
This is not the case with modern devices. Aside from Canada, I blame the binary system. By definition, the binary system is a cold, unforgiving paradigm where you are either ON or OFF. You're either a big fat ZERO or you're #1! No room for negotiation, no middle ground, no squeegee banging. What that means for the layperson is that very expensive gadget that you saved up for either works perfectly or not at all.
The example I bore my friends and family with is the CD vs. the cassette/album. Case in point: between 1981 and 1984, I played a cassette of Madness' One Step Beyond almost daily. Yes, I was obsessed, but you're missing the point, here. This cassette began to lose integrity round about the middle of 1983. It squeaked as it played, some sections sounded warped; but the thing still played. Then one day, it had had enough and it snapped. Now, what I am about to say may sound strange and unfamiliar to those of you born during the 80's, but when something like this happened, we would not, nay, could not, run out an buy another copy. No, kids of that age would suddenly lurch in to full-on McGuyver mode.
First, the outer casing had to be split open, but EVENLY split open. To do this, one utilized the only tool suited for this type of job: the butter knife. Once the case was successfully cracked, one had to be careful to NOT let the spool of magnetic tape unravel. This could be done by placing the half containing said tape on its side. Then the two ends of the tape had to be re-spooled through the felt thingies and Scotch-taped together. This usually proved to be tricky as the standard width of a piece of Scotch tape was too wide, so that it had to be cut and folded. Once this was done, all that was left was to rejoin the outer casing, Scotch-tape the edges together, insert the tape into a tape player and resume skanking.
I haven't even mentioned the extreme durability of the tape cassette. It could be sat upon, tossed across the room, stepped on, etc. And talk about scalability! I've personally used cassettes to scrape ice off my windshield, as a mini-ruler and to line up rails of speed on my glass-top coffee table while listening to fucking Night Ranger! Try to do THAT with a CD!
The same goes for the vinyl LP. While not as durable as the cassette, the LP is still a very forgiving format. Scratches are an inevitable, but not a terminal, phenomena during the lifecycle of an LP. If a scratch occurs, all one must do to continue enjoying the music is to employ the time-honored technique of stomping on the floor at the EXACT moment the needle hits the scratch. This may take practice, but soon, your body becomes attuned and you can anticipate the skip without having to leave your seat.
I haven't mentioned the warm, forgiving sound of analog or any of that crap because most people can't tell the difference, myself included, unless an LP is played on an old analog receiver. Or better still, on one of those massive cabinet stereos! My grandmother had one of those and man, the sound was so supple you wanted to curl up in it.
So, once again, I have gotten off track, but my main point is still intact. The more complex our devices get, the less control we have over them. I don't mean to get all Matrix on you, but it's true. Corporations love this as it forces us consumers to come running to them for either repairs or another purchase.
I should also say that I'm no Luddite. I love new gadgets and think the digital revolution is helping to bring the world closer, blah blah. I just miss the days when I could use a squeegee to fix my car.