A piece of home entertainment technology has gone into the light after revolutionizing how we view our favorite movies and TV shows. Let us bow our heads in remembrance of an old tech friend, summoned to the other side after a battle against pernicious obsolescence.
The last manufacturer of video cassette recorders has just called it quits. The VCR was a fixture in many homes since the late '70's. Shari Zeck, Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University and GLT's culture maven, said the VCR's addition to our lives gave us, for the very first time, the power to time shift our entertainment. "Time shifting was the first important thing with the VCR. And there was also an archiving function, recording things off the TV and hanging on to things. And, of course, it wasn't long before a video tape market sprung up and buying video tapes, renting video tapes kicked in. Also, we used those tapes in a portable recording device to one our own home movies."
The VCR fundamentally changed our relationship to images and content by watching again and again and being able to invest in things more deeply. The technology also hugely impacted the adult film industry, said Zeck. "They no longer had to go through the rigmarole of getting into theaters in order to make money. Lots of movies went straight to tape for distribution, so it created a whole new market there."
Although Hollywood initially resisted the VCR, thinking it would cut into revenue streams, the entertainment business finally embraced the technology and the revenue that came with it. But now the analog tape party is over as new technology has moved in, with streaming and DVRs taking the lead. "Technologies change," said Zeck. "And this is something that one has to accept. But it grates for those of us who are archivists. We worry about those things that are lost. With the disappearance of a particular technology, there is also content that is disappearing."