Our culture’s usual view of technology is of a continually upward spiral of capability. Over time cars go faster, planes fly higher, and computers become ever more powerful. But a curious epiphenomenon of all this change is the creation of “temporary technologies: — innovations that end up getting left behind.
When the CD came out, people started to see the LP record as an outdated technology. The LP, of course, had in an earlier era replaced the cylindrical recording. But now we realize that it was the very concept of a musical recording as a physical object that was the temporary technology. In another few years, children will find it incomprehensible that we ever associated musical recording with a physical artifact.
Radio as a medium for narrative fiction was in its time the embodiment of all that was new and modern. But when television came along, radio become the exemplar of everything that was old and quaint.
I’m sure this exact phenomenon has repeated itself throughout all of recorded history. Just as it happened to image morphing and tape recorders, to kinescopes and mimeograph machines, It’s going go happen to the SmartPhone, to Twitter, and to Facebook. I think it has already happened to flash mobs. History is littered with the detritus of abandoned technologies.
In a way this is sad, but it’s also somewhat poetic and redemptive. Technology is, after all the creation of humans. And like humans, it has only a very circumscribed claim on immortality — the creation of progeny (of one sort or another). Thomas Edison may be dead, and his cylindrical recording apparatus long fallen out of favor, but in the centuries to come we will probably still have recorded music, in one form or another.