Technology moves at a pace that is both scary and invigorating at the same time… so why as technology moves forward do we abandon the past as fast as the new thing rolls off the assembly line? Just because something is new does not mean it is better or even that what it is replacing was bad simply that there is this new thing and yet we discard old tech at a rate disproportionate to that of other fields of innovation.
As we roll along and technology inevitably moves forward, improvements, updates and better techniques will emerge and yet it is shocking at how fast not just the products themselves advance but how quickly the processes and knowledge of the past is lost. A great example is what the Florida Atlantic University made it’s students do in 2011 for the student paper… they had to do the entire thing as it would have been done in the 70’s and 80’s*. No computers, no cell phones, no google, no internet, no digital photos… nothing that today is the standard for printing anything… now, you might ask why the hell would someone even do this? To make a point about how fast we forget. “Man, I forgot how much I forgot” is a perfect quote from the professor leading this charge, although this one says quite a bit too “While archeologists try to recreate what life was like 10,000 years ago, and historians try to recreate what life was like 1,000 years ago, journalists can’t even recreate how they published a newspaper 20 years ago. No one documented the details or saved the old equipment.” That is the sad point to this, as we move forward the past gets left behind and forgotten and what happens when we forget the past? Do you know without using google? These are techniques that even if “antiquated” should be preserved and archived if not dusted off from time to time to show you just how good you have it now.
Look at how we consume media today as compared to just 10 years ago. VHS was in decline but still there, DVD was improving, HDDVD was in the last throws of it’s short life and Blu Ray was just beginning it’s ascension. If you wanted a movie you had many and varied options and they were all equally viable (such as it was) but as digital delivery began to emerge society commenced in it’s efforts to cast aside the “old” formats even though they still worked just fine and in some cases worked even better than the new digital menace scaring the landscape. In just 6 years digital/online/streaming ousted other formats in a coup undreamed of… and the question is not that this happened but why did it happen? DVD’s and Blu Rays held better picture quality than streaming and yet were left by the wayside. DVD’s and Blu Rays held more extra features than streaming and were cast onto the side of the road like a sex crime victim. DVD’s and Blu Rays held resale value as a psychical product and streaming still trampled it’s way into the number one spot. How did inferior quality knock down the standing way things were done?
From VHS to Blu-Ray
To answer the above question, I think it has more to do with how enamored people get by the “new” and they overlook the inherent flaws simply because it’s “new”. Look at VHS and just how quickly it was overtaken by DVD. Now, DVD is obviously superior in quality** to VHS but then again so was Laserdisc and yet Laserdisc never saw the groundswell that DVD did. Was it the marketing of DVD over Laserdisc that made the difference or was it something else? Was it the allure of the first D in DVD being Digital whereas Laserdisc was still mostly analog or was it something more? I think that people are just like cats in that they like things that are shiny and they give relatively little notice to the substance of why that thing is so shiny. Same applies to digital, when people hear digital they automatically ascribe a higher meaning and better quality to THE WORD and not to whatever the word is applied to. For instance when CGI as we know it today started to overtake the film industry it was truly and honestly awful looking yet it was heralded as the new big thing because digital is better right, by default? Now, we all know that this is the very definition of false equivalency as digital is simply another KIND of data the same as analog but it was sold to the public as the NEW thing so practical FX were discarded at an astounding rate in favor of (at the time) a substandard way of doing things. The same applies to DVD taking VHS out back and shooting it in the head behind the barn, the early DVD’s from the time when both formats were embattled were only slightly better quality than their VHS counterparts and were literally the same quality as their Laserdisc brethren***. DVD was sold as digital is better so DVD is the future and it worked for the most part until people started to notice they were duped to a degree. Just like any new format there will be those to merely seek to exploit and so DVD was mired in a glut of substandard product that was worse quality than the VHS tapes they were claiming superiority over. When you take a VHS tape and digitize it at a low bitrate (which happened far more than you think it did) it is the quality of VHS but with digital tearing and pixelization making for a worse product but this rampant chicanery was overlooked for being what it was… because digital was the NEW thing and so it was given a pass. “New” always has growing pains and to be fair this was (mostly) overcome by ’03 or so until it started again on Blu Ray. Just like with DVD the Blu Ray acolytes will continue to believe that anything on Blu Ray is better than it’s DVD cousin and lords above it’s retarded VHS mutant offspring… even when the Blu Ray market is currently flooded with collections of movies that are not only from VHS sources but substandard VHS sources at that. Oasis Of The Zombies**** for example is on a Blu Ray collection and it is the EXACT same copy from the shit quality VHS print including tape hits and all yet I still hear people proclaim this is better quality because it’s DIGITAL. To the layman digital is a standard and not simply the buzzword we know it as. Digitally Remastered, Digitally Restored, Digitally Archived, they all mean the same thing, we ran the analog tape into a computer and now it’s digital. That is all that means… maybe some noise removal was done or some minor tweaks but you can’t add resolution or quality that is not there, at best you can get a clean up.
With the generally low shelf life of technology from one iteration to another there also comes a snobbery that I have never been able to grasp. In the mid-2000’s I worked with people at a TV station who despised VHS to it’s very core and I found out how deep this snobbery ran one day when I was told “I would rather not see a movie then watch it on… V…H…S” (with VHS being said in a tone of pure disgust). Now, this was a person in his mid-20’s or so and who was raised in the VHS era and yet once DVD came around it was DVD and only DVD (later on he was a huge proponent of streaming as well). Why were he and so many others like this? They had been taken in with the alluring lies that digital equals better, no matter what it was, if it was digital it was better hands down. These same people laugh at the real versions of Star Wars while nearly creaming themselves over the prequels in terms of look and visual equity. Now, do NOT mistake what I am saying here… I am not saying that digital sucks and if you like CGI you are some kind of moron… what I am saying is that simply because something is digital that does not mean it is better by default, just that it is digital. I meet more people who think like the former than the latter and that is the point I am trying to make, do not assume that because something is new means you jettison the old. Remember Homer Simpson’s hovercar? Perhaps he should have waited until all the bugs were worked out first huh? Same principle applies here, new is not bad but it needs time to mature and be tested to see what works and what issues might have been missed in R&D. The technology field is littered with a graveyard of NEW things that themselves were replaced as quickly as they replaced their predecessor and that is a warning unheeded by far too many.
When it comes to any form of technology there will always be a cyclical cycle which brings it back around so while there are VHS collectors, vinyl junkies and classic gamers do not typecast them as people unwilling to let go of the past, look to them as they may be onto something. There is a reason that the VHS tape is making such a comeback with new movies as well as old classics being issued in 2014 in the VHS format, there is a market for it. How many bands have released new material in the last 10 years on LP even though they know that will limit the scope of their reach? They do it because they know there is a market that is being ignored because it’s not NEW. There are Nintendo games and Atari cartridges being produced today because people saw the potential in these “dead” formats. You have magazines such as Josh Schafer’s Lunchmeat magazine for the VHS crowd as well as new ‘zines popping up all the time for “dead” formats.
If you like streaming over DVD or DVD over VHS that is fine but I would hope that you have a reason other than it’s NEW as the reason for this. We can’t forget our past and we should also not subject the future to unrealistic expectations and just take what comes as it comes. I do still want the massively awesome future that Avery Brooks promised me in 2000 though, I WANT MY FLYING CARS.
**This is all assuming the transfer was not simply a VHS copied onto the DVD as happened more times in the early days than it did not.
***In many cases during this time the DVD was simply the Laserdisc transferred to DVD even a few frames of black where the side flip was.
****This is from the Ultimate Shockfest Blu Ray set… I know there is an actual Blu Ray mastered from the source print, my point is that how is this Blu Ray quality?