YOU CAN’T PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

We are losing history as sound and video recordings die at an alarming rate

Technological obsolescence is killing human history. All those decades of music and audio recordings in the archives have only been partially digitized, and now the tech to retrieve them is failing, even as the recordings themselves disintegrate.

There’s and old joke that goes something like this: If you want to rent the video of the Glory Days of Manchester City FC it will cost you GBP100; that’s GBP10 for the cassette and GBP90 for the Betamax machine!

The cold reality is that there are hardly any Betamax machines in existence these days, let alone in working order. They are so obsolete, they’re in the museum.

Obscure but historic sound and video recordings from a bygone age are facing extinction. Old vinyl records and celluloid film have degraded to the point of being just so much garbage – unless they’ve already been digitized. Modern works of art like early Disney cartoons have mostly been preserved in digital form, but there are thousands of tape recordings, like the ones in the British Museum, that haven’t made it to the top of the pile.

Live recordings of long-dead musicians, and old silent movies or studio sessions; things which help define modern human history and culture; they are being lost forever. If they are still ‘readable’ by the time we get around to them, we won’t have the technology to play them.

Sure, we could abandon our efforts to crack fusion energy and spend the billions on resurrecting obsolete media tech, for the sake of history; but that’s probably not going to happen in the current political and economic climate.

It’s history. You can’t play it again!

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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