Source: Doomstead Diner
As regular readers of the Frostbite Falls Daily Rant inside the Diner know, I recently went on a major BINGE of buying new computer equipment to enhance my overall computing experience, which is one of the few pleasures and hobbies I have left to enjoy as we spin down to the close of the Age of Oil and the Age of Technological Gimmickry.
I haven’t done any upgrades in around 3 years since I bought my last laptop, which was a relatively inexpensive model around $600 at the time as I recall. So that amortizes out to around $200/year, far less than my other main pursuits of drinking beer and smoking cancerettes. lol. Because of constant changes in hardware and in software, older computers tend to become obsolete no matter what, plus of course you have the issue they tend to get clogged with malware and bloat from programs you upload over the time period you own them. At a certain point, it’s jst more efficient to replace the unit then to try and clean it out. Over the roughly quarter century of time I have owned my OWN computer, the longest any one of them lasted was around 5 years, and 3 years has been about the average for the laptops. Towers were easier to upgrade with parts, and also early ones didn’t have to communicate over the internet either. So my first ACER tower was the longest lasting of all of them. One real gem of a laptop also lasted about 5 years, it was a Gateway Windows XP.
In this latest upgrade, I decided since I am not moving around so much anymore, going to work every day and toting my laptop along and so forth, I would buy more of a desktop unit with a bigger screen. Instead of a tower unit, I bought a new kind of hybrid, an All-in-One computer, which has all the computational guts of the device housed in the screen casing. This is simlar to laptop construction, and changing out parts on such a device similarly difficult to do, but I haven’t done that since the early towers anyhow. Like a tower unit though, it comes with the bigger screen which is very friendly to an old guy’s eyes. It’s also nice and Clean on the desk, not taking up much real estate there, and no tower on the floor to run wires from. It came in at a price only slightly higher than the last laptop, at $750 or so.
I accessorized it with a cool backlit gaming keyboard from Razer, and the top of the line Logitech “Mighty Mouse”, the MX Master. Then I bought a new El Cheapo Lenovo Tablet for $70 to enhance my mobile computing experience as well. All in all, I spent a little over $1000 on this buying binge. It’s great, I am real happy with all my new toys.
While shopping however, I noticed something new with the laptops. I wasn’t in the market for buying one since I had decided on the desktop unit, but I wanted to see what was available. The interesting development is many if not most of the new ones do not come with an optical drive anymore. AKA CD/DVD reader/writer. They’re still coming standard equipment with the desktop units, but in fewer laptops all the time. Why?
Simple. Because CD/DVDs are going obsolete as media for Music, Video and Software. Music and Video have gone to streaming, and for people who keep their own music it’s done in digital .mp3 format on small solid state memory chips or in the memory contained in a smartphone. The chips themselves have become incresingly tiny, micro-SD cards are smaller than your fingernail. They are also getting ever cheaper and able to hold far more data than an optical disc. So now, not only can you store music, you can store an entire library of films as well on these things.
Taking the optical drive out of the laptop does a few things. It makes it cheaper for the manufacturer and the laptop can be made thinner, a feature most people like. It doesn’t take up so much room in the briefcase. It also makes the unit more reliable with fewer moving parts.
This is all good, but there are downsides to it. The first main one is they’re not backward compatible with all the media you already own on optical discs, so you need to start going through your collections of music and video and converting them all to mp3 or mp4 format. With older ones this isn’t too hard, but newer ones ofen have digital copyright protection embeded in them and are difficult to copy. It also can make moving the material from one device to another difficult, Apple tries to control that by making you use their Itunes software. One of the main reasons I do not use any Apple products.
For music, over the years of my lifetime we saw 6 major changes to the way music was recorded and sold.
1-The Vinyl Era
This was the longest lasting, going back to well before I was born, but even into the 70s still the only commercially available media. For the sellers of music, this medium was very good, you needed a big manufacturing plant to make the vinyl and press the records, individuals could not record music themselves. There was little to no bootlegging of music during this period.
2- The 8-Track Tape Era
Magnetic Tape for storing music was around for quite a while, but on the early reel-to-reel recorders generally only used by professionls and fanatical amatures. 8-track was much easier to use, you just shoved the book-sized cartidge into the player and out came the music, no muss, no fuss. 8 track had the significant sales advantage that you could play it in a car, which was impossible with vinyl due to the needle bouncing around. 8 track also came mainly as Players-Only, they did not record. So this still kept the distribution of music pretty much one way, although there were recorders around and you could do some bootlegging.
3- The Cassette Era
Cassettes revolutionized bootlegging. Much smaller than 8-track, around the size of a pack of cigarettes or deck of cards. Although the car versions were usually only players, recorders were commonly available for home use. You could record directly off the radio, or on units with two slots, record from one tape to another blank one. You could hook your turntable to the recorder and make a tape of the record you owned, and then have the tape to play in the car. Or sell the tape to a friend for 1/4 the price of the vinyl album you bought. Sell bootlegs to 4 friends, you made back the cost of the album.
The main downside of cassettes was the quality was never as good as a well maintained vinyl album, and in each succession of recording from one tape to another would lose still more quality. Even the advent of the Dolby noise supression system did not make cassette as good sounding as vinyl. So although there was some bootlegging going on mostly between friends, it wasn’t really pursued that much as a big time operation. Cassettes did put out of bizness 8-track though, cassette players replaced 8 track in the cars.
4- The CD-ROM Era
As the ROM acronym indicates, at the begining CDs were “read only memory”. For music sellers, this brought back the heady days of vinyl when to record the music you needed a very expensive device not commonly available as a consumer electronics item. Your CD was a Player Only device. CDs also vastly improved sound quality and durability, because they are digital the sound virtually never degrades no matter how many times you play it. You also have to try pretty hard to break a CD, or even scratch it so bad it won’t play. Vinyl was pretty fragile, particularly the early stuff. My dad had records that went back as far as the 1940s, they were thick and more like stiff plates of ceramic than later forms of vinyl. Drop one of these and it would shatter just like a plate. Later versions were thinner and more flexible and didn’t break quite so easily, but they did tend to get scratched up and make pops and skips, and they would develop hiss over time with many plays.
With the switch over to CDs, everybody who had old music on vinyl or cassette they wanted to listen to on the new high quality CDs had to buy it all over again. What a BOON to the music industry that was! Those were likely their most profitable years ever, up until recently. Not only were people buying new music, they were replacing entire collections of old music.
The non-recordability for the individual changed just a few years later, when optical drives for computers became read-write. I had one of the first and they were rather clunky and difficult to use, but they improved quickly. Now you could bootleg a copy of music you bought that was just as good as the original. The real era of bootlegging began in this period. High School students would form clubs, one person would buy a CD and then make copies for everyone else in his class. So a CD costing $10 ended up costing each person $1 or even less, depending on the size of the club. This was of course illegal under copyright law, but extremely hard to prosecute and very small time. In aggregate though, it definitely cut into music industry profits.
Read More Here: Technological Obsolescence & Copyright Law | Doomstead Diner