Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Tech Slide

I just bought the fourth DVD player I've ever owned.

I still remember the first one. Bought in early 2000, after much hand-wringing by my wife and myself about whether we could afford it, and whether we needed it. We picked it up at a big box retailer for around 250 bucks, and bought three DVDs to start with: Out Of Sight, A Bug's Life and Rushmore. We watched all three from start to finish, including the featurettes and commentary tracks, and we immediately put ourselves on a DVD budget, buying one disc a month–usually some pricey special edition that we'd also devour. When friends came over, we'd show off our DVD player, and most of them would say it was neat, but that they couldn't imagine buying one themselves. As soon as my mom found out you couldn't record on it, she said she'd never get one.

Well, my mom finally got a DVD player two years ago, though it's one with a VCR attached, so she can still record her quilting shows. My friends all have DVD players too–and now it's a DVR they swear they're never going to get. My wife's and my "one DVD a month" plan went off the rails after about three months, when I started snapping up used discs and reviewing DVDs for various publications. Now I'd estimate that I've got a couple hundred discs in my collection that I've shelved without ever opening. I figured out about a year ago that if I were to start today and watch one movie a day from my collection, it would take me about 7 years to watch them all, not counting the bonus features. Add in TV series, and it could take 10 years.

A little over a year ago, when our VCR conked out, I got the bright idea to replace our DVD player with a VCR/DVD recorder combo, and I had grand visions of burning rare TCM movies onto disc, and converting all my videotapes to DVD. None of that happened, and when that machine–which I never really liked that much, because its user interface was overly complex and its gadgetry kind of flimsy–conked out unexpectedly at the end of '06, I happily replaced it with our original DVD player, which we'd kept in our utility closet. Then that one conked out, not a couple of weeks later.

For a time, we made do with the portable DVD player I'd bought for long car trips with our kids–a purchase I swore I'd never make, before breaking down and getting one last summer, in anticipation of a seven-hour, wife-free drive with just me and the youngsters. But the portable wasn't really built to be an everyday player, and the picture never looked right on our big TV, so we took some money out of our HDTV fund and bought a nice new DVD player, with upconverting capability, in anticipation of a new TV coming later. Like the VCR/DVD combo we bought in '05, the new DVD player cost less than the first one we bought in 2000, even though it can do a lot more.

So that's four DVD players in just under seven years, which is a tally I would've found unbelievable back in 2000, when the very idea of owning a DVD player seemed like a luxury. It reminds me of how special a Walkman was in the early days, and how by the mid-'90s I was buying a new Walkman (or Walkman knock-off) roughly every year, and a new set of headphones roughly twice a year. Once upon a time, if one of my cassette tapes broke, I'd carefully pop open the case and splice everything back together. Now I lose and/or throw away CDs almost as fast as I get them.

I don't even want to think about how many computers I've owned. Or how many phones. All these devices that in my parents' day were practically lifetime purchases, now either break too quickly, get superseded, or lose their novelty. My brother and I had a pool table in our basement that'd been in the family for decades; now my brother buys a new videogame system about every two years. I remember my family's living room TV, which lost its power/volume knob and had to be turned on and up by jamming either a spoon or a thick chopstick into the console. My folks finally replaced it with a "big screen" TV (if I had to estimate, it was around 30 inches) in 1987, and when I went to see them last Christmas, that TV still occupied pride-of-place in their den–and still made that weird, static-y "ka-chunk" noise when I turned it on.

As for me and my wife, our 40" CRT monstrosity, bought in 1999, has begun to wink out intermittently, and it's about to head to the TV graveyard, replaced by a plasma widescreen wonder that should be arriving this week. We hesitated about buying it, what with HDTV prices about to go down and plasma TVs being so unreliable and new technologies being introduced every year. But we figure if the set lasts five years, that'll do.

I'm not an early adopter by and large, but I'm not a guy who fears technology either. (If I fear anything, it's reading the "customer comments" on Amazon for whatever I'm considering buying … I always feel like nothing I get is actually going to work.) Still, the rate at which we get used to new technology–and subsequently burn through it–is kind of alarming. Makes me think of that White Stripes song:

Well you're in your little room
and you're working on something good
but if it's really good
you're gonna need a bigger room
and when you're in the bigger room
you might not know what to do
you might have to think of
how you got started
sitting in your little room

Sometimes I want to go back to that little room.

But let me see how the plasma TV works out first.


Postscript: Lest I paint too bleak a picture of modern technology's reliability, I should say a word of praise for the two oldest pieces of tech I own: A small TV with a built-in VCR that my parents got me as a college graduation present in 1992; and a clock radio that I got for Christmas in 1988. Both of are still going strong, keeping me company in the master bedroom. You keep your dearest ones close to you.