Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Medium is the Message: Cassette Tapes

". . . an environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new environment; thus we are always one step behind in our view of the world. Because we are benumbed by any new technology — which in turn creates a totally new environment — we tend to make the old environment more visible; we do so by turning it into an art form and by attaching ourselves to the objects and atmosphere that characterized it, just as we’ve done with jazz, and as we’re now doing with the garbage of the mechanical environment via pop art. . . -- The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan,” Playboy (March 1969).

As an influential medium, the cassette tape took off in the 1970s, overcoming reel-to-reel and the 8-Track and challenging vinyl LPs. But behind it emerged the CD, and behind that, digital downloads. What next?

According to Kara Rose in "Cassette Tapes See New Life after MP3s," USA Today (October 3, 2011 - updated), cassette sales peaked in 1990 with over 440 million sold. New "herds" were "killed off" as quickly and brutally as the American Bison after the American Civil War, but like the Buffalo in the 20th century and with care and consideration in the 21st, cassettes have made a modest comeback. It's worth noting that cassettes cost about one tenth of what vinyl did to produce -- though they certainly were not priced that way in the 1980s. Nowadays, cassettes and CDs can be produced in small batches by musicians and their associates -- and priced competitively. The not quite "old environment" has become, as Marshall McLuhan phrases it above,  "more visible" with the passage of time. Now we have so many options that a person can barely know where to turn at any particular moment -- or so it would seem by daily observation. 

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.       

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