Saturday, November 3, 2012

The rewind button

Only when we press the rewind button on our Walkman and then hit the play button at the desired spot in the tape do we realise that we’ve been lying to ourselves about the cassette player and that we’ve switched to digital music and winamp a decade ago. But if you do own a cassette player and more importantly if you do use it even now, you can understand that the mechanism of rewinding or, in some cases, fast forwarding is one of the many things [besides play/pause + record] why you bought that BPL-Sanyo tape recorder in the first place. And then months later, your ultra-cool older cousin got one of that CD-mans thus making your Walkman look like a grey-haired grandpa, however sleek it looked.
Ok, getting back to our discussion here, have you realised how much that has changed?? It took you precisely 1 minute to Rev/Fwd a 5 minute song. And in that 1 minute of waiting, your mind gets ready to sing along to that part of the song which will be reached at the time of pressing the play button. But today, we have digital music players where you can pin-point to your desired position and play it from there however many times you want. You can select positions in the track to be played in loop. You can do all this and much more at the touch of a button/finger. But the thing that bugs me is, we’ve been using such pointing devices since the early 90’s or something [I dunno], but even today, when movies depict time travel, they show a hi-tech contraption that can fling you back and forth in time, but in a tape-recorderly fashion. A person who travels from 2012 to 2000 BC has to wait in that time machine for a specific amount of time, where objects in front of him roll, scroll or pass by extremely fast before he lands on the desired time point. And if he wanted to go to 20000 BC, he’d have to wait longer. The farther you wanna go, the longer you gotta wait. If the inventor of the gizmo was really a smarty-pants, why did not he design it Winamp style? Touch the point of time you wanna go and you’ll be there in no time, in a non-linear or discontinuous manner?? Don’t tell me it’s not possible. This kind of jumping is possible even in gramophones, aka the big daddy to all cassette players.
So the cassette’s predecessor could jump, the cassette’s successor could jump, but the cassette cannot. Yet we don’t look at it as a disability, we all loved the Walkman very much, in fact more than the CD-mans. The only close competition to this device was the mono FM player, which had that edge over the cassette player in that it operated on a pair of AA batteries and you could listen to the commentary of an entire cricket match during a blackout. And here in India, both cricket matches and powercuts are everyday events [I’d like to mention here that I’m typing this on my laptop that says it has 83% charge left [82 now] and my locality is in a scheduled blackout]. The genius among folks had a cassette player + FM apparatus that ran on batteries and AC power. But unfortunately 2 batteries were seldom enough, and even 6 batteries could not afford to run the tape’s motor and then survive to power the FM. So our beloved cassette ruled happily next to its queen, the mono FM.
The time machine is just one example of how we’re all obsessed to slow continuous transition. Even in the best of stereo amps or music players or home theatres, we have round multi-turn volume controls, instead of Volume up/down buttons like the ones in their remote controls. Digital media players have analog controls, the FM radio app in my smartphone has analog scrolling, my refrigerator and my washing machine have analog controls [and yes, I look like a cave man in front of my neighbour who has one of those fancy singing fridges]. My point is, just like the volume knob in our music payers, change is slow. The more you wanna change, the more time it takes. But just like the volume button in the remote of the very same music player, change is certain. It won’t be very long before we get to say goodbye to the dial-knob. But as far as time-machines are concerned, I doubt if movies will ever resort to zippy jumping between points of time, at least not at the expense of their credibility.

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