The VCR era was a time of great mystery. What the hell does “tracking” do? Is the TV supposed to be on Channel 3 or Channel 4? Does rewinding a tape in the VCR really wear the machine out, or did you just buy that Sharper Image novelty rewinder because you wanted a toy sports car in your living room? A Gallup poll released this week reveals that 58 percent of Americans continue to grapple with these mysteries—that’s the number of people who told pollsters that they still own a VCR. (This news comes to us by way of The Atlantic.) Presumably, the VCR-owning population can be further divided into an overwhelming majority of VHS adherents and a tiny, loyal enclave of Betamax holdouts—the “Japanese guy who kept fighting World War II for 30 years” of outdated technology.
The 58-percent figure is 30 points lower than when Gallup posed the VCR-ownership question in 2005, which is a big decline, but the magnetic-tape cohort still constitutes a majority of Americans. That probably comes as a surprise to those of us who eagerly moved on once newer formats were introduced with features like “reduced whirring noise” and “doesn’t make every movie look like absolute ass.” It should be noted that Gallup only asked if respondents “have” a VCR, not whether they use it. So all the tape decks languishing in American attics counted just as much as the wheezing boxes that are being pressed into service to tape Jay Leno every night. Still, the poll offers some perspective on the long, slow death of forgotten technologies, as VCR’s ownership figure trounces that of seemingly ubiquitous equipment like video game consoles: PlayStations and the like only notched 41 percent in Gallup’s sample. And even that number might be skewed by the dozens of loyal Action Max owners who answered “yes” in both categories.
(Photo: Marcin Wichary)