Long Live the Mixed Cassette Tape
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm imagining a revolutionary piece of technology that allows you to access audio, news, music, you name it, from a portable device almost anywhere in the world. The best part about this gadget, it's wireless service costs virtually nothing. Can you guess what it is? Give up? Surprise: It's radio. And while other high-tech communication forms literally pop up on our computer screens daily, commentator John McCann doesn't think they've made our lives any easier.
He says that before we needed PCs to communicate with each other, all he needed to make a connection was a radio and a dual-cassette deck.
JOHN MCCANN: While the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, laptops and iPods and all the other gadgetry we're all so fond of are potential snares too. I mean didn't software wizards tell us technology would make for shorter work weeks? If so, they lied because all we ended up doing was piling on more work. Not that I want to go back to life without e-mail. Some lament about never receiving handwritten letters anymore, missing out on the personal touch. And I'm as sentimental as they come, but you'll never hear me grousing about correspondence coming through the electronic inbox on my desk instead of my metal mailbox by the curb.
At the same time there's something to be said about technological advances and the way we make and maintain friendships these days. I talked to a Duke University sociology professor who co-authored a study that actually shows we don't have the tight relationships people did years ago. And I think part of the problem is that we have so many choices offered by the increasing technology. There's less shared experience to bind us together.
I've got my playlist on my mp3 player. You've got yours. Yeah, I like the variety. But go back with me, will you, back to a time when school kids communicated with slam books and passing notes. These days, youngsters don't even laugh face-to-face. They send text messages across the classroom with code words like L-O-L. Well, until the teacher confiscates their cell phones.
See, the youth these days can pull together a music list for their iPod lickety-split. But do you remember how it was in the days just at the 8-Track tapes but before the mighty compact disc? See, back then, high technology was a boom box that had dual cassette capability. And it was all about putting that box on your shoulder and cranking that bad boy and walking down the street like you owned the neighborhood. See, that was our Napster. That was our music sharing back in the day.
And today's youth, man, they know nothing about holding a tape recorder up against a transistor radio and hoping the phone didn't ring and mess up your mix tape. That's what I had to do before finally catching up with the times and getting a boom box. Man, I got that box one Christmas and I still remember the first song that was playing when I plugged it in.
(Singing) Joanna, I love you.
(Soundbite of song “Joanna”)
KOOL & THE GANG (Band): (Singing) You're the one for me. I think of…
MCCANN: A little Kool & The Gang for you. Now, I was coming of age rather around this time. And when I reached high school and was really starting to check out the honeys and trying to get my romance on, I needed some tight background music, a good mix tape to set the mood. Man, that Keith Sweat used to bring it, didn't he? With his (unintelligible) self. But can you understand the intimacy I was trying to achieve?
And it wasn't any of this point and click and burn stuff you have with iPods and CDs these days. I'm talking about rewinding a cassette tape, working the fast-forward, becoming a master of the pause button. Hey, you reckon any of those homegrown tapes are floating around anywhere out there on eBay maybe?
(Soundbite of song, “Joanna”)
KOOL & THE GANG: (Singing) Joanna, I love you.
CHIDEYA: John McCann is a columnist for The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina.
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