The other day I learned of the death of an old friend – the VCR. A news report told me that VHS tapes are no longer being produced. While that does not come as a complete surprise, it still shocked me. Why? Because it means that I am getting old. When inventions of your childhood are replaced by newer, better inventions and you start to reminisce about the “good old days”, you’ve become a relic yourself!
SYSTEM, Video Home. Died 27 December 2008 after a long period of declining health. Mr. System, called VHS by his friends, was the son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Betamax. He was thirty-two years old and was predeceased by his spouse, VHS-C. VHS is survived by children, DVD and HD-DVD, and grandchildren Tivo and Blue-Ray.
Several years ago my parents began to reminisce about their childhoods. After listening to them wax poetic about the ice chest, ice deliveries, wood burning stoves, gas lamplighters, horse-drawn wagons, radio programs, and incoming phone calls to the store down the street, I jokingly asked, “What century were you guys born in?” I knew they were born in the 1930s, but the things they remembered seem so far removed from my own life that surely they were kidding. But then my mother posed an interesting response: “Look at all the changes that have happened just in your lifetime and you’ll see what we mean!”
She was right, of course – mothers always are, and it suddenly dawned on me that the future was now. When I was in the second grade, the phone company (or rather, The phone company since there was only one back then) sponsored a fun contest – design the phone of the future. For kids reading this today, realize that phones had cords back then. I’m even old enough to know what a rotary phone is – and to have actually used one! So, we all designed fabulous phones that were more akin to science fiction than to reality. One of the most popular designs was a phone to go in your car…just imagine! A phone in your car! Others tried to imagine a way to know who was calling. My design was a “video phone” where you could actually see the person you were talking to on a little screen. We all had fun with that contest, but I don’t think any of us imagined that most of our dream phones would be a reality by the time we were 30. They became reality, and then some. Cell phones, caller ID, VoIP? My first cell phone was barely worthy of being labeled a “mobile” phone – it was a ten pound clunky box with the receiver attached by a cord. Today’s cell phones are smaller than we ever thought possible, and they do things that would simply astound my grandparents, like take photos and play movies.
There have been many other inventions since my youth. The ATM is an amazing concept – really, kids, you used to have to go inside of a bank during working hours to get some money. Over the years I’ve said good-bye to vinyl and cassettes and I’ve embraced CDs and MP3s. Digital photography took longer to gain a hold on me, but now I can’t go back to my once-beloved film. But the VCR and its VHS tapes was simply one of the most magical inventions of my youth. When the Betamax appeared, I begged my parents for one. I loved television, and the thought of being able to watch my favorites whenever I wanted to was intoxicating. But, the price tag was much too high – similar to today’s “flat screen” tvs – and it was out of the question.
We finally got a VCR in 1985, rather late to the party. Amazingly, that same machine still works after hundreds of hours of recording and many more of playback. While I prefer my movies on DVD now for quality, I continue to use a VCR to tape tv shows I want to watch later. But apparently not for much longer…
Is this how my parents felt when record albums went away? Or how my grandparents felt when that last horse-drawn delivery cart came down the street?
I can’t even begin to imagine what devices will be part of my nieces and nephews lives 30-40 years from now. All I know is that, back when I was their age, if you would have shown me a DVD player that you could hold on your lap in the back seat of the car, I’d have been dumbstruck. You see, back in the “good” old days, all we had for entertainment on car rides was looking out the window, conversation, and fighting with siblings. Well, at least they still have that…
Which generation is living the good days? All of us! What do inventions have to do with genealogy? While reminiscing about them won’t help you find any ancestral names, realizing we are all a part of history is important – even “historical” things we take for granted like telephones and televisions.
Good-bye, VHS. I will miss you. But, all things must pass. And, in time, we’re all replaced by the next generation!