Technology Has Outrun my Treasures
What do you do with old records, films, videotapes and cassettes?
I recently made a trip to Texas to claim some family relics from my Mother’s house since her move to a smaller place. One of the treasures I brought home was a box of old 8mm films my father had taken of our family as I was growing up. I would love to see what’s on them, but I don’t have an 8mm projector and don’t know anyone who does. I know there are services that will transfer these heirlooms to a digital format, but that money’s not in the budget right now. It’s like knowing there’s a priceless gemstone inside your safe deposit box, but not having a key to access it. I own the treasure, but there’s no way to enjoy it without employing an expensive safe cracker.
That’s just one example of how my memorabilia has not kept up with technology. I have a lot of visual and audio keepsakes. In my possession are two 78 rpm records—recordings from the late 1940s of my late father singing. Who has a 78 rpm turntable anymore? And in a drawer somewhere I have the entire childhoods of my children (now grown) documented on hours of Hi-8 videotape, but it has been years since I had anything to play those on. Forget about all the mementos of my television career on broadcast beta tape. Maybe somewhere there’s a TV station with that type of now-archaic equipment, but transferring it to digital? Good luck.
I thought I was being progressive and forward-looking a few years ago when I scanned a bunch of old photos and transferred them to CD-R discs. I pulled the discs out the other day to see what’s on them, only to find the software had somehow become corrupted. Without help from a professional computer hack, I fear those old pictures are lost forever too.
Then I think of the untold number of Kodachrome slides in my possession. Both I and my parents generated dozens of trays of mounted photos that will probably never be seen again unless I take the time to painstakingly digitize each one. Does anyone have time for that?
Over the years I have made a few professional recordings of original music. I still have the two-inch-wide 24-track analog tapes from the studio, along with the masters on reel-to-reel and some outdated digital formats that don’t exist anymore. The 24-track tapes were incredibly expensive, and for that reason alone I can’t seem to part with them. But I know in my heart they’ll never be played again. And the master tapes are on ten-inch reels, so I would need to find some ancient professional equipment to play them on, and I don’t even know where to look.
Then there are all those cassettes. Hundreds of them. My first recordings were made in the day when cassettes were king, and though I sold and gave away quite a few of them at the time, I still have an untold number left over, still in their shrink wrap, and I’m at a loss as to what to do with them. After not listening to some of my favorite albums on cassette for at least twenty years, I recently took a box of 300 prerecorded cassettes to Goodwill. Who knows what they did with them? I rarely ever see cassettes on the shelves, even at thrift stores. Did they all go in the trash?
I have managed to maintain a copy of my 34-year old wedding video, but it has taken some work. The footage was originally shot on 3/4” broadcast tape (a format even older than beta), then transferred over to beta, then to VHS, then to finally to DVD. I hope DVD players stay around at least until I can get the massive video file onto a hard drive or in the cloud.
All our media backups these days are in the cloud, which I suppose is a good thing, since we can usually access them anytime. But uploading innumerable photos and unimaginable hours of audio and video is going to be a challenge, so I continue to put it off.
And truthfully, there’s something else holding me back. It’s that feeling inside me that if I can’t hold it in my hand, it isn’t really mine. Surely I’m not alone in this. I like being able to touch the vinyl grooves on those old LPs and looking at the cover art. I like reading the production credits on a DVD case. I like to pull the paper insert out of the cassette or CD and read who played the instruments, who produced the album and who the recording engineer was. You can’t do that when listening to Spotify on your iPhone.
So I think I’ll wait a little longer to throw out all my old treasures. Or maybe I’ll just leave it to my kids to do after I’m gone. Whatever the case, I can’t bring myself to deal with it right now, so I’m not going to think about it.
Instead, I’m going to sit down and curl up with a photo album.
© Nick Walker 2019
Can anyone identify? Or maybe you have a suggestion about what to do with all my old media. If so, please scroll down and leave a comment.