Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hi-Fi v. Wi-Fi

It's fascinating to me that as Americans become fatter, our technology slims down. So much of our communication and entertainment in previous decades has come from bulky, brown items and now they come in tiny slivers of silver and black. Anyone remember when the television was part of a 'console' that made it look like a sleek piece of furniture?

Though my livelihood depends on the latest technologies, though I am completely reliant on my iPhone and MacBook Pro, though I worked at technology Ground Zero, Macromedia (Adobe), in San Francisco before, during and after the dot com frenzy, though I am a WIRED subscriber and a paid blogger .... I am also crazy about old technology.

First thing every morning, I fire up an ancient Packard-Bell Hi-Fi AM/FM Phonograph Stereo Console unit to get my daily NPR dose. When the dear old lady who lived below, Esther, was finally moved into an Alzheimer's Home, they had me come down and take anything I wanted. I laid my eyes on this beauty (circa 1950s?) and it was LOVE.

The sound is incredible - note that the entire bottom half is hiding several speakers. I also love to play my many, many vinyl records on this baby. It's what she was made for. Do you know what doesn't sound incredible? This:

Though my father's heart was in the right place when he gifted me with this multi-tasking stereo, it sucks deeply. Designed to play CDs, LPs, cassettes and the radio, it only performs about 40% of those tasks. No doubt it was Made in China and while its old-timey face is meant to pull my nostalgia cord, all it does is hold up plants and piss me off. In the donation pile it goes. Cheap, fake efforts are no replacement for the real thing. 

Confession: For the last decade or so, I have been dutifully bending to my favorite yoga video of all time: Ali MacGraw Yoga Mind & Body. Filmed in New Mexico's ethereal White Sands National Park with a rich soundtrack by Dead Can Dance and led by Yoga Master Erich Shiffmann, it is stunning. It literally birthed my lifelong yoga practice (for myself and others) and I never, ever tire of it. All this from a $15 videotape.

That's right, video tape. We're talking VHS, baby. Sure, I bought the DVD version but it's simply not up to snuff. And while I have gone through several DVD players since the technology arrived, my VHS player is a friggin' soldier that refuses to die. Technically, it was a 'gift' from Bob, an old boyfriend who bought it along with a television as he was tired of visiting me and having no entertainment technology available. This was perhaps 1993.

So, at least once or twice a week, I fire up the old gal - the crunchy noises she makes to start, stop, forward and rewind do sound ancient - and we do yoga together. For reasons that may be ridiculous, I have no intention of getting rid of the Signature 2000 or her dutiful partner, this giant, boxy television:

 And yes, that is Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies.

(Which reminds me that our family used to have a tiny b/w TV in the kitchen. Mom kept it for years and I adored it. One day in front of my brother and I, she discussed getting rid of it. I protested loudly: "You can't get rid of it - it only plays the Andy Griffith Show! It's like magic!" She laughed while my brother turned it on and sure enough, "Aunt Bee, have you seen Opey?" My brother freaked out and my mother stopped laughing. She did get rid of it, saying it gave her the "creeps.")

So, here's the funny thing. Shortly after moving into my Milwaukee Street Cave, nearly 4.5 years ago, I somehow lost the remote control for the old style TV. Happily, this led to more in-depth guitar practice for one is no longer expected to constantly get up to change channels and/or endure commerials. I mean, it's 2010, fer chrissakes.

Unhappily, this has led to a horrible twitchy finger when I finally do get a remote in my grubby mitts. Visiting family or staying a private hotel room, I simply go nuts. I'm in such complete control that I am totally out of control. My fingers become infected with ADHD and I get drunk with power. Not pretty. 

So, what to do with all these funky old technology? Use it as decoration, like I do now with this old rotary?

Maybe I'm more like my mother than I realized. The woman still plays 8-track tapes and every time I hear that click over sound, I chuckle to myself. I must have listened to Boston's first album and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Damn the Torpedoes eight gazillion times through this technology. Which reminds me, does anyone remember Tom Petty's tongue-in-cheek technology commentary on Full Moon Fever? Against a background of of barnyard noises near the beginning of Track 6, we hear Tom politely explain:
"Hello, CD listeners. We've come to the point in this album where those listening on cassette, or records, will have to stand up, or sit down, and turn over the record. Or tape. In fairness to those listeners, we'll now take a few seconds before we begin side two. [pause] Thank you. Here's side two."
And what of my sub-woofer and giant speakers when all I need is my laptop and the two small speakers that accompany it? My many other VHS tapes from days gone by? My boxes upon boxes upon boxes and photo albums full of negatives and print photos? All my cassettes, especially those beloved mixed tapes?

 I'm only 44 and already my entire life is museum-ready.


Fang Bastardson said...

I LOVE the Packard-Bell Hi-Fi AM/FM Phonograph Stereo Console. I am deeply jealous. Still, I'm glad I know someone now who can play all my vintage Roger Miller and Johnny Cash albums. Ooh, I also have Charlton Heston reading the Bible on vinyl and I've never heard it. We'll have to work something out.

ClizBiz said...

Yes, like maybe you might - GASP! - actually have to come visit me.

Maria said...

I LOVE the Taebo video. Completely had forgotten about Billy Banks

ClizBiz said...

Sadly, I still haven't tried it yet. I acquired it after doing a story on retro exercise stuff.