Sign up for newsletter
 

What's wrong with outmoded technology, like cassettes?

Country Musings by Robert Loy, June 2002

What's wrong with outmoded technology?

America is all about choices, right? If I want bread, I'm not stuck waiting in line for one government-approved loaf like a Russian babushka. I can get wheat, white, rye, pumpernickel, multi-grain, gluten-free, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, sub rolls and on and on.

When I buy a car, I can choose between Ford and Chevy and Mitsubishi and Pontiac and Porsche and Kia and many others. If I want to watch television, I have several hundred channels to choose from.

Freedom to choose is so important to Americans it's part of our laws. If Ford and Chevy did get together and try to squeeze Mitsubishi out of the market, they'd be hauled in for anti-trust violations.

So why is it that when I buy music, I have only one choice of formats? I started thinking about this when I went to my local record store to buy Joey Ramone's posthumous album "Don't Worry About Me." I asked the overpierced clerk if he had this selection on tape rather than CD. He did not, and he said he couldn't order it either because it's not available on tape.

This was the first time I had of such a thing. Not available? In the United States of America!

So, I paid a visit to the biggest online seller of music. Out of the top 20 country albums, 7 of them are not available on anything but compact disc. So, the cassette tape is still alive, but obviously its days are numbered.

I thought about the way CDs became the dominant force in musical formats. They did it not do it by being demonstrably better than LPs, which is how cassette tapes beat out 8-tracks, which always skipped over to the next track right in the middle of your favorite song. No, CDs won the world because certain albums were not released on LP so that then the record companies could justify killing off vinyl by saying "Well, consumers don't want it. Nobody's buying LPs anymore."

Don't look now, but they're about to run this subterfuge on is again.

I have a friend who owns at least four different copies of Johnny Cash's "Greatest Hits" - on 8-track, cassette, LP, CD - and DAT and MP3 for all I know. Whenever this album becomes available on whatever format the record companies decide they're going to force down our throats next, he'll undoubtedly buy that too.

And that's fine, that's his right as an American. But what about those of us who still enjoy cassette tapes? Are we going to be marginalized out of existence like our LP-loving brethren? Shouldn't we as Americans have the right to cling to outmoded though still perfectly good technology?

Isn't that what America is about?