Nietzsche wrote, "God is dead." Whether or not you agree with the cheerful German, there is another powerful three-letter entity that no one can deny has met its maker: the VCR.
Japanese consumer electronics company Funai Electric, the last remaining manufacturer of VCRs, announced that by August they will permanently shut down their production lines.
Never again will a blinking—12:00! 12:00! 12:00!—clock need to be set. Never again will a tracking wheel be fiddled with to stop static from messing up an already pretty terrible picture. Never again will we blow into a machine with the hope that it might make the aforementioned terrible picture .00002% less terrible.
Does it make anyone else feel really old that an innovation that was developed during our lifetime has unequivocally been declared obsolete?
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Now I know that VCRs are hardly the only innovation that has come and gone (New Coke, we hardly knew ye), but this one hit me particularly hard because of just how big a deal VCRs were when they first came out. I wanted a VCR so badly and had to wait forever to get one. This is mostly because my parents are mean and horrible people. (Okay, fine, I guess it's because they were selfishly spending their money on things like food and shelter for me and my brother, but still, we were the last ones on our block guys!)
VCR technology existed since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the machines became affordable to regular folk. When I first learned of their power, my little legs buckled contemplating the new world that was about to open up for me: So even though we are stuck in traffic coming home from grandma’s house, this thing will allow me to watch the new episode of Family Ties and not wait 8 months for the re-run? And hold on, I can watch movies in my house? Over and over again? And I can watch R-rated ones without having to sneak past an usher? And even though my parents won’t let me stay up late enough to watch the mini-series V, I can “tape it” and watch the baby get born with a lizard tongue tomorrow morning during breakfast?
All the answers were yes. What a time to be alive.
It’s amazing, in retrospect, how convenient it seemed to be able to get movies from Blockbuster Video. Today I get annoyed scrolling through Netflix and Hulu searching for "something good," and I don’t even have to be wearing pants while I do it. In the VCR times, you had to drive to a store (wearing pants) with the full knowledge that there was a 99% chance that the movie you wanted to rent wouldn’t be there. And you were fine with that! Conan the Barbarian is out? Fine, I’ll try whatever the hell Time Bandits is. Who cares? It's a movie in my house!
I know that Blockbuster has been gone for some time, but it does seem sad that the phrase “Be kind and rewind” will officially go the way of the Mayan calendar. I asked my 9-year-son Gus if he even knew what the phrase meant.
“Um, if you’re already being mean, start being nice?”
No Gus, that isn’t the answer, but given our current domestic and global politic climate, not the worst advice.
So here’s to you, VCR. You gave me so much and asked for so little. All you needed was someone to set your clock and to blow on your heads every once in a while to clear away the dust. Enjoy your cloud in innovation heaven. Tell Discman we say hello.