The BBC’s News Magazine has an entertaining article on the results of a comparative test of old and new technology. The Sony Walkman® was introduced 30 years ago, while Apple’s iPod® is, of course, relatively recent. The magazine persuaded 13-year-old Scott Campbell to swap his iPod for a week, to try out a Walkman.
Scott’s first reaction was to the size of the Walkman:
My dad had told me it was the iPod of its day.
He had told me it was big, but I hadn’t realised he meant THAT big. It was the size of a small book.
Of course the Walkman is bigger, a fact amplified by comparison to the iPod. It occurred to me to wonder how Scott would react to seeing my TEAC reel-to-reel studio recorder; it’s bigger than the Manhattan White Pages, and considerably heavier.
Not unusally for a teenage user, fashion was something of a consideration:
It comes with a handy belt clip screwed on to the back, yet the weight of the unit is enough to haul down a low-slung pair of combats.
But the most amusing part, to me, was the cross-generational conflict of assumptions that Scott sometimes had to overcome. For example, he didn’t initially realize that the cassette tape had two sides (and therefore had to be flipped in the Walkman model he was using, which didn’t have auto-reverse). An artifact of the difference between two recording technologies (ordinary and CrO2 recording tape) also proved a bit puzzling:
I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.
It’s a funny reminder of how something that seems completely obvious at one time (like the function of that switch — having lived through the switch to cassette tapes, I knew at once what it was) can be close to opaque not very much later. There are lots of other everyday candidates for this kind of puzzlement: I wonder how long it will be before the phrase “a broken record” becomes mysterious.
I had a similar experience a few years ago, when I had just moved into a new office, and was unpacking a carton of old stuff. One of the things in the carton happened to be my trusty Keuffel & Esser slide rule. A younger colleague of mine asked, “What’s that?” On being told that, “It’s a slide rule, silly,” he told me he had never seen one before. So I showed it to him, and explained the basics of how it worked (by adding logarithms); he was then really impressed, because I actually knew how to use it.
Looking around me, I can see some other possibilities, too. Computer techonology is too easy a target, like shooting fish in a barrel, but there are others. There is my Hermes portable typewriter, which I got when I was in high school. There is the aforementioned TEAC tape deck. And, in some ways perhaps most potentially puzzling of all, my old Exacta 35mm SLR, which is not only a film camera, but was manufactured in East Germany, “die sogennante DDR”. Oh, and I still have my little portable Toshiba cassette player.
Here is part of Scott’s conclustion, in case there are some of you that don’t feel quite old enough yet:
Personally, I’m relieved I live in the digital age, with bigger choice, more functions and smaller devices. I’m relieved that the majority of technological advancement happened before I was born, as I can’t imagine having to use such basic equipment every day.