Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why I Want to Keep the VCR

My SO has been in a spring cleaning mood, and has been purging our household of old electronics. His old laptop was sent packing a few days ago. Old hard drives are up for sale on Craigslist. He's been after my older electronics too, namely a slightly outdated Nikon point-and-click camera that I bought secondhand a few years ago, and my DVD/VCR combo player that hasn't been hooked up to a television since we moved last year. I successfully argued the case for the camera - it works perfectly fine and it's always good to have a backup, but he wasn't so convinced about the DVD/VCR. I understand his arguments, which are perfectly reasonable. It's not a small player, we have at least three computers between us that will play the DVDs, and I have kept a grand total of one VHS tape that I haven't played in years, but I'm hanging on to out of nostalgia. Heck, it's been about five years since I've regularly used the DVD part of the player too. Digitize that VHS tape and we don't need the player at all.

I remain reluctant, however. I can easily imagine that at some point in the future some situation where I'll need a VHS player. Home movies that never got digitized. Obscure movies that never went to DVD or Blu-Ray. There's the lurking fear that once I toss the player it'll be difficult to acquire one again. I understand that the need for a VCR is extremely rare and is going to become rarer in the future, but I'm not ready to let go of the technology yet. I understand how to use a VCR in all the ways I never figured out how to use a DVR or any other digital recorder. I had a little TV/VCR combo all through grad school that I used regularly and became very comfortable with. Yes, the quality is awful. Yes, I really should learn how to use the new technology that's made the VCR obsolete. Yes, at some point, even with adapters, new televisions won't even be able to accommodate devices like mine anymore. But still, there's a certain sense of security in knowing that I have a backup option if all the others fail, so it's very hard to let go.

I remember my mother kept her record player in the closet for at least a decade after we stopped using it. At one point the stylus broke and she never got it fixed. There were only about half a dozen records in the house, and I only vaguely remember her actually playing them when I was very, very young. Disney's "Mousercise" exercise album was my favorite. Cassette tapes and players were the staples of my childhood, which very slowly disappeared from life at some point in the last decade. I think the last cassette player I owned was the one that was built into my indestructible old alarm clock, which was finally junked about two apartments ago. The last cassette tape I remember listening to was a mix tape that a friend made for me in high school, full of Weird Al Yankovic and Dr. Demento novelty songs. I have great memories of me and my brother laughing our heads off at "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." I think I still have it in a cardboard box somewhere, though I have no way of playing it now. It's a nice reminder of good times.

Then again, I'm all too familiar with the negatives here. Dad was a hoarder. Kept all the old computer equipment around for far longer than he should have. He still had a massive CRT from the early '90s monitor when my mother was using a flatscreen. There were always at least three printers, the oldest one an ancient dot matrix dinosaur where the paper still had the perforated edges. At one point we had three VCRs in the house, two that worked, and one that was always going to be fixed when someone found the time. We actually did get some use out of it because it filled in as a substitute tuner for one that broke in the television in my parents' room. Of course, this required a lot of monkeying around with the settings on both devices to actually be able to watch anything, but it did work. So yes, I've seen what getting too attached to your media players looks like, and it's not pretty. And I don't want that to be me in ten years.

I will toss the VCR eventually. I promise I will. Just... not yet. I'll throw out my junior high speech competition trophies, my reams of old notes from college, and the half-finished crochet projects. But I need a little more time to say goodbye to the VCR.

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