Peter Russell

Pete is a technology expert. He founded Joomla with a great group of people in Europe. He is an author of a range of content including stories and tutorials.

Technology Shift — Paradigm Shift

Technology Shift — Paradigm Shift

My adulthood has been full of technology shifts.  The ebb and flow of constat technology updates bulletpoints my years.  Some for the better, some not so.

This topic came to mind when some kids I know asked about record players and vinyl records.  "What are those black things ... and how do they work?"

So let's rewind to the 1970s, when I was first getting into technology.  Concorde was zooming about the world during its first proving exercises.  But on a smaller level I had just replaced my grandfather's valve radio with a transistor radio.

The radio had become smaller but it was less sensitive than it's analogue cousin.  No longer could I drag in the Sydney station that i used to tune in to on the Radiola.

The family invested in a sound system.  A JBD record player.  Put the record on the platter and drop the needle and voila, the music filled the room.  Yet, again, the sound was not as good as my grandmother's five valve HMV stereogram — which was the size of a freezer.

Then my first cassette tape recorder joined my collection.  This meant I was able to record the top hits from "American Top 40" and play them back.  It was also the days of making mixtapes — usually derived from my growing record collection.  A sort of homemade top 40.  And the amount of music was limited by the tape length.  From my experience the longer the tape the more likely it was to break.  In those days longer, generally meant thinner tapes.

Tower systems with record player, tape player, radio, amplifier and soon to be added CD player were the go.  The taller the speakers, the more impressive your system. 

I can't count the number of times I rescued my favourite tapes and spliced them back together. A real pain.  And for those who had some serious money there was tape players in cars.  Moreover, the rich folk had 8-track playback in their cars.

How many of us can remember using a pencil to rewind tapes that had gone wayward?  And the finding a destroyed tape that had been tossed from a car window, only to flutter unceremoniously down the road.

By the early to mid 70s, quadrophonic made an appearance.  I had a mate who's father owned a fully-blown quad system (allowing four speakers to have separate channels).  The problem was that only a few albums had been mastered to play true quadrophonic.  Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and Deep Purple's "Machine Head" were available in quadrophonc.  But not much else.

Reel-to-reel were the rhelm of the wealthy, who often tended to be classic music fans.  This was because of the extended length and audio quality reel-to-reel afforded.

The video tape became a household tool.  Used for recording TV shows and playing hired movies.  The battle of the formats — VHS verses Betacam only lasted a few years with the inferior quality VHS winning, probably because of it's lower price.

CD arrived with much hoorah.  The first that came to my mind was Dire Straits.  But apparently the first album to be released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street, which reached the market alongside Sony's CDP-101 CD player.

The marketing materials told us these CDs were "indestructible".  We soon learned they could be scratched.  My work got hold of a 1x CD writer.  It cost a small fortune and blank CDs were $25 a piece.

Sony entered the market very strongly with the advent of the portable battery powered CD player.  The Walkman became part of most people's vocabulary.

Laser discs appeared but did not make the mainstream in Australia.  They were the size of an LP record but essentially a form of DVD, just a different format and player.  You might see one of these in an antiques and collectibles shop.

The DVD appeared, firstly in video stores.  I can remember when it cost $20 plus to hire a DVD movie for a night.  This was more than the cost of a movie ticket and popcorn.  DVD stores mushroomed all over Australia and became part of the fabric of our culture and a regular part of our entertainment diet.

Nowdays you are hard pressed to find a good video/DVD store with up-to-date releases.

Steve Jobs had been working in the background and changed the world with the mass production of an MP3 player (the iPod) and digital downloads.  A friend of mine, who owned a record store told me that this technology would herald the end of music stores as we know them.  He was right.

And no one told us that compressed digital music was of lesser quality than analogue records on a good player.  We were sucked into the smaller, newer is better idea.

Napster started delivering files over the Internet and we watched the court room battles, wondering if they men in black would visit our homes to arrest us for piracy.  Metal band Metallica took offense and spent a small fortune trying to prevent digital distribution.  Ironic, given that drummer Lars was known for being the biggest cassette tape pirate in his high school.  A worm had turned in his head.

Sony and Phillips brought the MiniDisc format along.  It was a tiny optical disc recording unit that was very popular with radio journalists.  Others used it for music but the media was expensive compared to tape.

iTunes would soon be followed by more licensed download sites.  Nowdays, the streaming services provide unlimited musical genres for a small monthly fee.  A complete paradigm shift.  Some bands resisted distributing their music digitally.  AC/DC and the Beatles being the most obvious.  Even they have succumbed.

What's next? Steve Jobs had been working on a new format. 

According to Neil Young, recently addressing a technology conference, “Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music. His legacy is tremendous – but when he went home, he listened to vinyl.”

Young also claimed that he and Jobs had been collaborating on a super-high digital audio format that approximated vinyl’s sound quality, with 20 times the fidelity of a standard mp3. Jobs was, apparently, shocked that consumers were so willing to “trade quality… for convenience or price”.

Will it see the light of day.  Your guess is as good as mine.

 

 

 

 

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