Our children will never know …

Our children will never know ...
Our children will never know ...

Images like the one on the right, with similar captions, are to be found here and there on the Net. It does a great job of illustrating the growing abyss between old tradition and new, between our own generation and the next, by which I mean that I’m forty-two, with two daughters now 13 and 19 whom I think have never been formally introduced to music cassettes except indirectly whenever their Mom and Dad have been leafing through their old music collections in fits of nostalgia. To my defence I have long since started upgrading my old tape collection to “more modern technology” Compact Discs. My children’s children will probably only see those in museums.

But before I stray too far in digression, the topic at hand is, as the picture says, the link between pencils and music cassettes. Let’s proceed.

“Lost is the knowledge and wisdom of old,
In centuries and millennia past,
Of how, when you haven’t quite reached the end,
A pencil may get you there fast.”

— inshadowz

In the second half of the Eighties I was the master tape rewinder in my high school class, wielding my pencil like a Jedi would his lightsaber. True story. Then again I was the only one who bothered, but it saved me a lot of Walkman1 battery time.

Now, there were actual cassette rewinders available on the market. Some hand wound, others battery powered, and they worked pretty well. However, a friend’s music cassette rewinder was only slightly faster than my own pencil method when comparing 90 minute tapes, and the pencil was a great deal cheaper, and used up a lot fewer batteries in the long run

Then came the music CDs and revolutionized the market, and the concept of rewinding was suddenly more or less restricted to VHS tapes, or Betamax ones if your dad happened to be a HiFi & Video gadget freak. My dad was into cars, not videos—we didn’t even have a video player in the house—so apart from pictures in technical magazines, of which I read a few, I hardly ever laid eyes on a Betamax cassette until after they had been moved to the Archaeology and Anthropology section of most historical museums. On the other hand we owned a Jaguar Mark X, which I think was pretty cool.

I once had a frustrating argument with someone2  about the futility of copying VHS movies over to Betamax tapes in order to get better picture quality. He totally didn’t get it. He also failed to see the lack of difference. Sadly, the world is full of people like him; The progress of HiFi and video technology on the consumer market is driven by “what is cool” rather than “what is actually better than the old stuff we used to be so happy with”. Thankfully the result is that there are actually pretty good and affordable products on the market for those of us who care more about quality than about fashion.

Remember the signs at the video rental shops, saying “All tapes must be rewound before returning, or extra rewinding fee will be charged”? Surprisingly few video store clerks would actually open the cover to check if the movie you just returned had the tape on the right (i.e. left) side of the cassette. I remember how proud I was when I first figured out how to unlock the spools on a VHS cassette, so that I could rewind the rented movie we’d just watched by hand while we were watching the next. “You mustn’t do that,” said the people in the video rental shop, “or you may damage the tape by winding it unevenly. You should let your video player rewind it instead”. Clearly, they did not know my video player. My hand winding usually turned out better.

When DVD movies arrived, and video rental shops started running a small but exclusive—not to mention growing—selection of films for those slightly ahead of the crowd in terms of media technology in the home cinema department, people with less-than-adequate understanding3 of how a DVD disc actually worked could even buy special gadgets to rewind their rented DVD movies for them before they returned them to the shop, saving them the hassle of rewinding fees. I think this is kind of sad4, but I take consoling pleasure in the thought that the VHS-to-Betamax dude2 certainly must have bought one of those, thinking that he needed it.


  1. Formally a “Personal Stereo Cassette Player” as my “Walkman” wasn’t a Sony, but show me someone who cares.
  2. This dude was for real. I remember the VHS-to-Betamax argument actually got rather heated in the long run, and I elected to put some distance between us when he started foaming around the mouth.
  3. Admittedly there are those among us with more-than-adequate understanding of the technology in question who would gladly purchase such a product as a humorous novelty item.
  4. For the record, this is irony5. I have a hard time believing anyone in the general public actually thought they needed a DVD rewinder (and the thing was a humorous novelty item). If people did, it would be so sad that I’d rather not know about it. Hang on a second, I actually know of a few. That is sad.
  5. I’m also aware that people who fail to see irony are also the same who don’t read footnotes like this one, which is also sad. But since people who believe in DVD rewinders do exist it doesn’t have to be irony after all so, sad though it might be, I think I’ve covered all the bases.

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