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The Death Of The VCR

By Elaine Currie

It has recently been announced that VCR’s are obsolete and several electrical chain stores have said that they will no longer stock them. This seemed to happen very suddenly, there is usually a build up to this sort of announcement and we are accustomed to things being gradually phased out. Not this time though, the news just burst upon us and people who have not yet become comfortable with DVD technology are in a panic.

It seemed to me that the VCR had not been around for very long. I could understand this sudden rush on the part of the stores to remove it from their shelves if it was a failed experiment but the VCR has been a monster success. I suppose this is just an example of how the rush towards obsolescence and replacement with new inventions has speeded up.

I don’t have a problem with using a DVD recorder and the discs certainly take up much less storage space than the big old video tapes. It just made me feel suddenly old. No, not quite that, more as if I should be feeling older than I do. Don’t get me wrong, I am not all that ancient (baby boomer if you would care to know), but I have a problem with getting old. The problem is that I never feel any older and the face I see in the mirror sometimes takes me by surprise because in my mind I am still about nineteen. My children are no doubt thankful that my youth remains in my head and is not reflected in my wardrobe or social habits.

When I was a child, the VCR was still waiting around for someone to come along and invent it. Suddenly, it has been invented, been scaled down to a quarter of its original size and is now well on the way to disappearing altogether. The meteoric career of the VCR started me thinking about how many other things which we take for granted did not exist or were too expensive to be owned by the average person when I was a child.

Other generations have experienced massive events and social change. Nothing I have lived through can compare to the two World Wars. There was the invention of the National Health Service, the discovery of penicillin, the industrial revolution, the first aircraft, nylon. If you want to go back further there was the invention of the wheel and discovering how to make fire but I feel as if my generation must have seen a larger number of changes (great and small) than any previous one.

So much has happened within my lifespan: scientific inventions, historical events and cultural changes. Some, like space travel and the internet, are momentous. Some, like motorways, are part blessing and part curse. Some, like the cell phone and everyone owning a fridge, we don‘t even notice as being progress because nobody thinks about it. I doubt many people spend time reflecting upon the fact that, a few years ago, the cell phone was the size and weight of a house-brick and needed a long aerial.

The internet has made possible all the mad scientist dreams which inspired the writing of many shelves of fiction. We are now quite blasé about the fact that we can chat to and see a friend through our PC even though that friend is many miles away. It is not very many years since that idea would raise a smile when it appeared in a sci-fi movie because it was too incredible to seem even remotely possible. This became reality without anyone taking much notice, just science continually evolving and now its evolution is so fast that nobody tries to keep up, we all just take it for granted.

Just thinking about domestic things that did not exist in my childhood, I can list the microwave oven, VCR, DVD, PC, CD’s, washing machine, tumble dryer, fridge, freezer, television, central heating, dishwasher, double glazing, vacuum cleaner, cell phone, washing up liquid, fabric softener, plastic carrier bags, fast food (apart from fish and chips), paper tissues, soft toilet paper, duvets.

If any of the above things existed during my childhood, I knew nothing of them because they would have been too expensive for my family to afford. Eventually we owned a vacuum cleaner (the television came much later). When I was about ten years old, my mother would take me and my brother on a journey involving two buses to visit an aunt who owned a TV set. We would silently marvel at the black and white images which were available for just a few hours each day and there was no bickering over which channel to watch: there was only one.

There was no pre-packaged meat, butter, cheese, biscuits, rice, dried fruit. Come to think of it, there were no supermarkets. I loved waiting in line with my mother and watching the grocery shop assistants cutting slabs of butter from a huge block and patting them into shape with wooden paddles. Raisins and currants for the weekly baking session would be scooped from bulging hessian sacks and carefully tipped into the weighing pan. Biscuits were selected from big square tins and placed carefully into paper bags (any breakages would have to be sold off cheaply).

All these things gradually changed. Electrical goods became cheaper, supermarkets were invented and hygienic packaging arrived. The time when shopkeepers were treated with respect was past. Power shifted from the shopkeeper to the customer and we became the new breed of customer: we became Consumers. The VCR is our latest victim, I wonder what we will consume next.

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