367. Essay: Disappearing Concepts

by jfjudah

Legacy: Worth Less

I bought a laptop once I decided to switch from a Microsoft operating system to a Macintosh system. (Best technology decision I’ve ever made, by the way. I only regret not doing it sooner.) That was 2004; it is now 2011.

On a recent Apple store visit I was clued in to the nickname of a computer that old: legacy. That means newer than vintage but older than classic — and still worth less than both. So I started thinking about the pace of technology and what things are disappearing.

The kicker for me is not that gadgets come and go, but that concepts themselves are changing. Entire categories of technological concepts will have disappeared by the time you are fluent in the technology of your day. Because of touch- and gesture-based technology, the vestige method for selecting an item — the mouse click — is currently being replaced by the more natural finger tap. The tap is more in line with what we expect should happen, but how long will the tap be around?

Legacy Technology

Let’s take the simple act of listening to music as an example. Of course it starts with an instrument, but recording that instrument and then playing it back is another matter. There was the phonograph, then the vinyl album turntable, the eight-track tape, then the cassette tape, the compact disc, and then the world of digital audio. There are a few more subcategories to each of those, but that’s the general overview.

With the phonograph and turntable, a needle had to be guided directly into a groove on a spinning disc. We had to ensure careful placement of the needle or the resulting scratches would distort the sound. Utilizing a needle also meant that the more the album was listened to, the more degraded the sound playback quality became.

Legacy Concepts

Eight-track and cassette tapes had to be inserted into a playdeck certain way; the playback head needed cleaning; if the magnetic band got crinkled, the sound became warbled; to listen to an entire album we had to flip the cassette to the other side, or — crazy words here — fast-forward and rewind to the song of your choice. Of those two terms, because of digital audio, you may never truly understand what rewind means. Sure, you can skip to this song or that movie, but rewinding will be a non-concept to you. It was part of my world, but it won’t be part of yours.

We rewound everything. If we liked a song, we had to rewind it. If we liked one side and not the other, rewind it. If we watched a movie on a VHS tape, we had to rewind it if we ever wanted to watch it again. This was especially true when we went to a physical store to rent a VHS movie. It was the renter’s responsibility to rewind it before returning it or the store would charge extra to do it for you. So we bought dedicated machines with the sole job of rewinding video cassette tapes.

DVD discs and digital movie files changed this entirely.

I don’t lament newer, faster, and better technology, but it does feel odd that an entire concept will be foreign to you: Be kind, please rewind.

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