Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to the CD

On this day, in 1982, the first CDs for commercial release were manufactured.  At first, they were solely for storing music, and later, they were rejiggered to store data.  Until recently, we'd have all been acclaiming how the CD had changed our lives, but along came other means, smaller means, of data storage, and our lives have changed again.

I remember moving boxes of vinyl records and wishing I had a CD player.  And then, I got one, and was faced with the question that seems to be eternal for me:  stay with older technology or try to replace all that vinyl?  It's a question I still haven't settled, as each new wave of technology crashes on my head.

I was thinking about the issue of technology the other day as a colleague decried the use of cellphones and how everyone is texting now and not paying attention to the humans around them.  I spent the rest of the day wondering about which technology I adopted in my youth that drove my elders crazy.

Would it have been the Sony Walkman?  I plugged in and tuned out in much the same way that people of today do with their smartphones.

This summer seems to be the season of references to the Sony Walkman.  In Super 8, the sheriff sees the Sony Walkman as the beginning of the downfall of Western civilization.  I loved this post in the memorable/meaningful records series that Charles Jensen just finished.  In a post about a Neil Diamond record, Julie E. Bloemeke meditates on the way the Sony Walkman changes her life:  "When Christmas 1986 arrived, everything changed. I unwrapped my first Walkman, not realizing then how my experience of listening to music would forever alter. I would no longer compete for sound space; I would no longer pick up and drop the needle over this song and that. Instead, listening would become about the trajectory of the album, the journey of following an emotion from one song to the next. And, with headphones, with a cassette, I realized I could drown out the voices in the front seat, the television in the other room. I could take my music on a walk, into my bed. I could take Neil with me wherever I went: his lyrics, his voice, his guitar."

I've spent the summer (and the seasons before it) thinking about technology and the way it has reshaped so many career paths.  We seem to be on some kind of collision course in the world of higher education, and it's unclear to me how it will all shake out.  Will we see a world where only a few of us are teaching courses to students across the country?  Will we see push back and a demand for face time by students who now pay a lot of money to come to college?  Will we even recognize the college classroom of 10 years from now?  I have no idea.

The twentieth century reminded us again and again that the same technology bestows gifts and curses alike.  As I think about the CD, I see more gifts and fewer curses.  So, happy birthday, CD technology!  Will we ever look back on you with the same kind of nostalgia that vinyl LPs inspire?  Oh yes, some of us already do.

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