19 April, 2014

Video cassettes and beyond

I recently had an interesting conversation with my daughter, which reinforced just how different the experience of people from different generations can be – and also indicated how much technology has changed over the last 30+ years.

She was telling me about her geography lesson. She was currently learning about plate tectonics, she said, and had watched a film on the subject. ‘It was from about 2000 BC,’ she quipped. ‘Is it called a...cassette?’ I burst out laughing. Yep, a video cassette. Unknown to my daughter’s generation.

The pace of change is amazing, if you think about it. Videos were new-fangled in my generation. Remember the hours spent finding a blank tape, checking the time of the programme, punching in the relevant times and programme duration... Even then the programme didn’t always record for some unfathomable reason, despite the fact that you were sure you had done everything right. And if the programme time was changed last minute due to, say, a sporting event overrunning, then you really were stuffed. The only hope of seeing the programme then was if the channel chose to repeat it at some point. The technology improved, of course, and became more reliable. It even became possible to programme the later model VCRs to record multiple programmes at different times.

And then the technology changed. In the 1990s, DVDs superseded video cassettes as the medium of choice for pre-recorded material. Now we have digital set-top boxes for recording. We can record what we like, when we like, multiple programmes at a time, all with an easy-to-use visual interface. And, of course, we also have catch-up services, meaning we no longer have to remember to record the programmes that we want to watch. Nor indeed remember to watch them at the time when they are first screened.

Turning the tables, my kids are completely au fait with video on demand and catch-up in a way that I’m just not. It’s no problem at all for them to use iPlayer – and it’s not as though my husband or I have even taught them. They just work it out. Whereas I frequently find myself helpless when the HUMAX has crashed yet again and I can’t even switch on live TV. At times like these I find myself pining for the simplicity of the 1970s and 80s when there were only four channels and when, if you pushed the relevant channel button, the TV just came on.

It’s called getting older, I guess.

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