Wednesday, July 01, 2009

We Made Our Own Fun, part 94

One of the characteristics of the modern day (where 'the modern day' is today, whatever day that may be) is that progress seems to have been getting exponentially faster right up to this point. It may be an illusion, but it's a very strong one. A Victorian probably felt the same way, what with electricity and photography and god knows what, an Edwardian felt the same as physicists lost every laymen when they described quantum mechanics and relativity, the Sixties saw a man on the moon, and so forth. The feeling of rising, onrushing change has recently led to the concept of the Singularity, best described in a book by Charlie Stross which is named after the musical notation for "faster and faster' - Accelerando.

One of the times When It Changed for me was getting my first Walkman. I was suited with it - I even took it to bed. It was a saltatory moment. One moment you just had record players and boom boxes, and the next you could listen to whatever you liked in the privacy of your own head. And people did - by the millions. Early on, traveling on the London Underground, the sound of that quiet ticking, the outward manifestation of loud music going directly into someone else's ears, actually got annoying. We all loved to wear the earphones. So much so that we were all softened up for mobile phones, because we'd had ten years or more in our own aural world, so what would otherwise be an unthinkable revolutionary idea - talking to someone miles away as if they were next to you while carrying on duties entirely devoted to the space you currently occupied - just seemed normal. We'd lived with the disconnect between the sound and the vision for so long that it came naturally.

BBC news, for some reason, decided to see what would happen if one of today's teens got hold of a Walkman, the drawback being he had to give up is iPod for the duration. The story is told in the magazine, in Giving up my iPod for a Walkman. Not surprisingly, given the improvements in mobile music over the last twenty years, he was not as enamored of it as I was. "My friends couldn't imagine their parents using this enormous box," he reveals.

Some of his problems should have been sorted out by his parents - he thought the metal/normal switch was for listening to differenct genres of music, which is a great guess, but you can't possibly know the real answer unless you've had experience with different types of cassettes. But his revelation that you can do "shuffle" on a linear tape is funny.
Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn't is "shuffle",
where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face
of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature
simply by holding down "rewind" and releasing it randomly - effective, if a
little laboured.
(His dad told him not to do that or the Walkman would chew up the tape - another thing he couldn't really have guessed at.)

In the comments, however, someone points out that a good quality Dolby tape has richer quality, higher dynamic range music than an mp3 player. It's possible that some young people will never hear analogue music again. There's worrying.

He says,
I'm relieved that the majority of technological advancement happened before I was born, as I can't imagine having to use such basic equipment every day.
By definition, of course, the majority of technical advancement takes place before you're born. I wonder when he'll feel the accelerando kick in and wonder whether he'll be able to keep up with what the kids use twenty-five years down the line?

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