Fri
Jul 18 2008 3:36pm

Listening to the Past From The Future

iPod Magic

For several months now I have been in the process of shedding all things unneeded, unnecessary, and extraneous from my life. To that end, I did a bit of research and found an object that even as a devoted reader of SF would never have dreamed of. I am now the proud owner of a turntable that hooks directly into my laptop and can now digitize all those moldering LPs, 45s, and yes, Virginia, even the 78s that are gathering dust in my closet.

As I do this I am reliving moments of my former selves, snapshots of time past.  And when I am done I will have all of my musical library on a device not much larger than a cigarette pack. We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of vinyl dinosaurs here, people, that I can send out into the wild and out of my house.

And this is today.  What will tomorrow bring? Will I in the not too distant future go back to school and not pay tuition because I will have all the greatest academic libraries on my yet to be invented device?  Will I be able to carry around the Library of Congress in my shirt pocket?  And just what will I do with all this information when I have it in one convenient package?

When I was a kid I read SF and dreamed about how cool the world could be someday. But I never really thought I would be living in the future. I can’t wait to see what happens next…

12 comments
Benedict Leigh
1. Benedict_Leigh
I get bursts of realisation about how SFnal my world is, and how the 18 year old me (only 20 years ago) would be blown away by it. I recently got a new mobile - it has more than 2gb of storage (with a flash card), 100mb of RAM, 100's of books, 100's of songs, connects to the internet - online encyclopedias, communication with strangers around the world, TV in my hand, google (it shocks me that I managed before google). All this and it's just a standard not too flash phone that the phone company gave me for a contact that costs me only about 3 hours of salary a month. If I'd described it to myself I wouldn't have believed me.
Tex Anne
2. TexAnne
You'll pay tuition--that's where your professors' salaries come from. (Well, most of it goes to the football coach. Not that I'm bitter.) You'd only benefit from having the Library of Congress on your device of choice if you were a humanities major, as business-text publishers change editions for profit every couple of years, and science texts have to keep up with current research.

What I really want is digital coursepacks and a reversal of the Kinko decision.
Martin Sutherland
3. sunpig
I've got a box of old tapes under my desk that I have been wanting to get rid of for some time. Many of them are unlabelled bundles of stuff I recorded off the radio in the 1980s. I don't want to just throw everything away, because I'm sure there are some choice nuggets in there that I would like to remember and download afresh (viz. Red Box). But it's the rest of it that gives me pause... I've turned into a bit of a musical snob in my middle age, and I fear being confronted with the awesome badness of my taste as a teenager.
paul wallich
4. paulw
I have all of my father's records to convert, right back to the Caruso 78s, but where's the time? And when I look at the thousands of cheap paperbacks on my shelves, I blench. (A few months back I tried scanning the ISBNs with Delicious Library or something, but most of the old ones came up with the wrong titles.) Half of my youthful favorites are on that crumbly paper with the friable glue bindings, and I didn't dare open them for rereading even before that basement flood 30 years ago...

I think the world we're living in is more low-rent cyberpunk than what I consider "real" SF, and I wonder what huge gaps there will be in our future knowledge of the immediate past, just because stuff didn't get converted before it fell apart, or before the last person who knew the format died.
Jeffrey Richard
5. neutronjockey
As long as you keep the static and needle noise and don't filter it out. One of my favorite LPs was a live set of female vocalist Sarah Vaughn --- you can hear the clinking of glasses and the occasional murmur from the club ... it adds a lot of color and warmth and depth that a filtered digital recording doesn't have. (IMHO)
Pablo Defendini
6. pablodefendini
@paulw: Charles Stross wrote a great article for the BBC last year precisely about the historical/archival implications of this great leap in cheap, mass, digital storage. He closes the piece with this:
For the first time ever, the human species will have an accurate and unblinking, unvarnished view of its own past as far back as the dark ages of the first decade of the 21st Century, when recorded history "really" began.

Here's the link. It's worth a look.
Claire Eddy
7. ceddy
All good points, and thanks Pablo, I will check the link.

I posted this on Friday...and then got sucked up by the music project over the weekend. Yes, paulw, it does take a lot of time. But once I have digitized a thing I can either put it in a storage box or give it away. And oh my the things I have found--God help me, William Shatner's THE TRANSFORMED MAN! A rare Ella Fitzgerald live concert in Berlin where she does a hilarious performance of MACK THE KNIFE (she forgets a whole chorus and just soldiers on with some incredible rifts). The original recording of the first stage version of OKLAHOMA.

Each record brings me back to a time and place, either a family memory or some point in my past. It will take me months to get all the music done. And then there are garage sales. All in one shiny package. I am still boggled by this.

TexAnne, I so get what you are saying. While I love sports I would cringe at looking at the budgets for the athletic department. It would be a good guess that my field was in the humanities...
Fragano Ledgister
8. Fledgist
When I was ten years old, I thought that a typewriter that would store the words in itself and show you what you had typed would be a wonderful sfnal device. I had no thought back in 1966 that I'd be using such a machine, and devices even more wondrous, in my own lifetime.

What astounds me, about this century, is that we take technological wonders that did not exist forty years ago completely for granted. I carry around in my pocket a device that performs multiple functions, including allowing me to listen to the latest NPR news, take photographs, send them to my email address, or call my mother, and I would have thought it completely sfnal back in 1978 when I graduated from university. Yet it's just a mobile phone, and it permits me not to have a fixed-line telephone at home.

BTW, Claire, see you at D*C.
Fragano Ledgister
9. Fledgist
TexAnne: As long as a student is paying tuition and has access to the university library on the device of his/her choice s/he can access an amazing range of information on AllAcademic, JSTOR &c.
Fragano Ledgister
10. Fledgist
TexAnne: As long as a student is paying tuition and has access to the university library on the device of his/her choice s/he can access an amazing range of information on AllAcademic, JSTOR &c.
paul wallich
11. paulw
That's a good piece (not surprisingly), but perhaps too technologically optimistic (or perhaps pessimistic). It assumes (as everyone seems to) either that the formats we have today will be the same ones people use for the rest of this century and the next and the next, or else that the capital labor to transfer everything from one format and medium to the next and the next and the next will be readily available. The examples we've seen thus far of those kinds of transition (celluloid film, magnetic tape, chart-recorder spools) don't suggest that will be the case.

I've thought, though, for a long time, that recordings can have a sort of stabilizing effect on mass culture. We can hear exactly how any famous musician from 1935 forward intended their music to sound, how political leaders sounded, how people dressed, how football and baseball players plied their trade. As long as someone thought that a particular chunk of data was important enough to convert.
paul wallich
12. paulw
Rereading this, I see that I've taken the same attitude that used to bug my editors when I was writing about things like Moore's Law. Most others used to see it as something inexorable, that you could hang the next half-dozen cycles of software planning and gizmo design on (like the guy at Bell Labs who got a Cray as a PC so he could experience computing in the near future). I always saw it as something endangered and terribly contingent, that only persisted because thousands of incredibly smart people were working their asses off with no guarantee of success whatsoever. Both true, of course.

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