Dennis Marek: Modern inventions we no longer use

April 14, 2019

I was driving to work last week, listening to a Sirius/XM station called “The Bridge.” It is described as a station of mellow rock. Needless to say, many of the tunes are old, and as I listen to them from time to time, I often have a clear memory of the tune and can sing or hum along. I am good with the music in the ’60s and later country tunes, but for some reason, the songs of the ’70s are a bit unfamiliar to me.

Then, I realized in that decade, I started a law practice, had three children, was president of the struggling Kankakee Symphony, became the first-ever public defender for Iroquois County, built a new home and barn in the country and started raising llamas. No wonder I didn’t have much time for the radio.

As I listened last week, I heard a song from a man I had heard of but whose music was not all that familiar to me. It was Jackson Browne singing a combination song, “The Load Out/Stay.” I loved the piano music and his singing, but as I listened to the words, I had something drawing me back to that ’70s era, a couple of live concerts and the memory of road shows and music. The song is a story of a traveling band playing a show and then loading up to move on many miles for their next show, and the crowd merely has to drive a short way home. Some of the other lyrics that grabbed my attention are as follows:

Now we got country and western on the bus;

We got disco on eight tracks,

And cassettes in stereo.

We got rural scenes and magazines,

And we got truckers on CBs,

And we got Richard Pryor on the video.

The words struck me as describing those times before computers, HD TV, streaming on our phones and miracle music from iTunes on our cellphones. It had me thinking of the devices we had we thought were so on the cutting edge. Browne’s song brought me back to those “modern” inventions we no longer have.

First, was the cassette tape and player. We could wire it into our car and put it on the seat with its self-contained speakers. Where is the cassette these days? Where is the Walkman that played those cassettes and we could carry it around, now outdone by the iPod, which also is gone. I remember it took forever to rewind or back it up to replay a song on those cassettes.

Our law office had the early Wang word-processor long before the modern computers. It could super copy and super delete. It could change a name all the way through a document being typed in one move. The secretaries in our office traded each other for extra time on the one machine. Lawyers were not allowed on until after hours. Today, every desk has a machine far superior to that Wang.

Doctors had pagers or “beepers” long before the cellphone. It was quite reliable for reaching someone instantly, and some doctors still carry them instead of a cellphone.

Soon to come was the VHS tape. We had huge cameras with these larger tapes. We filmed our children in their sports, their musical plays and their graduations. It is hard to find players for these tapes today, yet most parents of that era still have those tapes tucked away. Now, you video those scenes on your phone and can forward the pictures to anyone by text or email.

Then, we saw the VHS tapes being replaced with DVDs in the early 1990s. They soon outsold video recorders, were much smaller and had better quality. Then, they started to become obsolete with online streaming. Stores renting tapes and DVDs are going under, with Blockbuster closing all but one store in the past few years. Needless to say, Betamax had an even shorter shelf life, as VHS was the winner of that economic battle.

Then, we lost the dial phone, the calculator watch, the laser-disc player, the transistor radio, the floppy disc and the old reel-to-reel tape recorder. The telegraph was replaced by fax machines, and faxes have been kicked to the curb with scanning of documents and transmission by email. Only truckers use CB radios anymore. Everyone else is on a cellphone.

All that in my working lifetime, and I haven’t even mentioned television with snowy reception of “Howdy Doody” and the “Lone Ranger.” Those 1940s machines now are transformed into modern wall-mounted screens that project the characters in almost human size.

Just to show I could join the modern world, I went to YouTube and watched Jackson Browne sing “The Load Out/Stay” in a live performance. I was truly impressed with this young man in 1978, playing that beautiful piano and singing a song to those concert-goers. The second half of that song, “Stay,” is how the band would like to continue the performance but perhaps was not allowed by their promoters and unions.

So, stay just a little bit longer in that pleasant past this weekend. Go dig out that video of your kids and remember how we loved each of those new inventions Browne mentions in his song. We did have some great times with those devices. If you really want to be “modern,” bring up that Jackson Browne concert on YouTube. His performance is worth the watch.