I’ve been sorting out of my library of old VHS films, and as a result, my wife and I have been having a bit of a nostalgia fest. We’ve been re-watching some of them ( “Nobody puts baby in a corner!”), and looking at others and wondering what made us buy them in the first place. As the idea is to dispose of them afterwards because the VCR is on its last legs, I was horrified to find that I couldn’t recycle them. Nobody is buying on eBay, our local authority has no facility to recycle them. and even our local charity shops wont take them as they cannot move them, so it looks like it is having to be landfill. It seems such an ignominious end for them.
It did get me thinking about the technology though. I find it fascinating that a new technology can come along, rise to ubiquity, and then totally disappear, all in less than half a lifetime. I remember when it all started with the VHS versus Betamax wars when the best man lost. Then the machines themselves were so expensive that most people rented them at first. You didn’t buy feature films because they were so expensive ( I seem to recall something like £70 at first ), you rented them from your local video store which was always a stand alone business. Then the chains started growing, and finally Blockbusters moved in and took over the world. Gradually the prices got better, and people grew their home library and said how brilliant it all was. Nobody seemed to notice how poor the quality really was, and how rapidly it got worse after a few plays. And then there was that horrible noise as you rewound the tape. Having said that, it did open up the whole world of home entertainment, and therefore encouraged the R&D that lead us to the DVD.
So now the world of on-line streaming is beginning to affect the DVD, but will it ever replace it? There is always the pleasure of having your shelves of DVDs complete with cover art, but that hasn’t stopped CDs being hit hard by online services.
I will always have that soft spot for VHS because of the impact it had on people’s home usage of media. It may however turn out to have been a long-lived media if todays technologies continue to grow at the current rate.