June 3, 2012


Daddy, What Were Compact Discs? (SAM GROBART, 5/31/12, NY Times)

ONE day, when my children are a little older, I will gather them close and I will tell them about how I lived through the Great Format Wars.

I will recount to them a seemingly endless cycle of battles. From LP to cassette to minidisk (oh wait -- not to minidisk) to CD. From Betamax to VHS to DVD to HD-DVD to Blu-ray. From punchcards to magnetic tape to floppy disks to zip drives to DVD-ROMs.

Some were dirty little skirmishes, like the Eight-Track Incursion of the late 1960s. But, oh, there are epic tales to be told as well: How my children's hearts will leap and dive (assuming they are not the kind to be bored to distraction by what Dad is droning on about) as they hear about VHS and Betamax, each bringing the other ever closer to oblivion, and how only one of them left the battlefield -- only to fall victim to a far nimbler opponent, DVD, which was waiting in the wings.

And my children will hear of this and be amazed (see assumption above), for they know nothing of this kind of conflict. They will grow up in a world where physical storage of information is as outdated as rotary-dial telephones and mimeograph machines are now.

Indeed, they already live in that world, even if vestiges of the old remain (turntables, for example). We older people can enjoy this new world as well, what with streaming music and video services, cloud-based storage options and social networks that easily absorb our photos and ephemera. We may be hardened by battles past, but our future is digital, wireless, ubiquitous and, we hope, pacific. Here's what it looks like.

Posted by at June 3, 2012 7:26 AM

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