Newer inventions and discoveries can’t be judged from a technical viewpoint because there are no references to what they replaced, technically. For instance, YouTube is great. We cannot compare YouTube to anything else because while digital streaming may have replaced DVDs and stored technology, it’s not an update of the old method of watching movies. DVD and Blue-Ray was proof that video playback hardware technology continued to improve. Now, digital streaming can make such hardware obsolete, especially since it works on little cellphones. This was to be expected. look at BetaMax VCRs. I was in Japan during the late Eighties and Sony was selling a new BetaMax format that brought home video recording to that of a professional level. Today, the tiny 4K hand cameras are used professionally and BetaMax (as well as VHS) died. For those who remember BetaMax vs. VHS, does the quality vs. marketing matter now? DVDs killed them both. Regarding new discoveries and inventions that killed older technology, criticizing them is not the focus here.
There’s a reason vinyl records came back. This is a technological reversal. Vinyl records are analog; the vibrations caused by moving a needle through a grooved disk, then amplified directly, is the best method of transferring audio from a storage device. Digital technology may have made it easier to store and play back audio, but converting analog to digital and vice-versa causes distortions. Anyone can argue that the human ear can’t hear those distortions, but there would be no audiophiles if that was absolutely true. Not only did true audiophiles avoid A-to-D and D-to-A, they used belt-driven turntables all the way up to tube amplifiers – even today! Even I can’t tell for sure if done right, but the best home audio system I ever heard was before the digital revolution.
Even digital music technology has gone backwards. Compact Disks provided a well-sampled A-to-D/D-to-A conversion with no compression. Today, MP3 is the preferred format and the compression that made the file size smaller can’t make it sound as good as a CD. I think if the youngest adults today were to compare MP3 to a vinyl record on a top-of-the-line audio system, they would hear a considerable difference. Not that it really matters because music was played on AM radio for years, but digital technology reversed audio technology quality. Vinyl records had very good signal-to-noise ratio but perhaps the need for digital stemmed from the ever-worsening audio tape.
Magnetic tape recording is a technology that steadily reversed in quality. It makes sense to consider that the bigger the storage, the better the quality. This is true only in analog because storing ones and zeroes on magnetic tape is exactly the same on a cassette as on a reel-to-reel machine. A good reel-to-reel tape player comes closest to vinyl records, with noise being the biggest factor. Technology like Dolby improved the noise factor, but that had an impact on bandwidth, making vinyl better. Portable storage was key with audio cassettes and eight-track tapes. The smaller recording spaces made bandwidths smaller. While Dolby changed bandwidth that was noticeable on better machines, they didn’t sound that much different on cassettes. Eight-Track tapes didn’t die because of poor quality sound. The system with a constant loop was terrible from the start. While CDs did improve portable storage methods, they really only made a difference when compared to tapes. And MP3s today are still better than cassettes. But vinyl records are back; there’s still a way to hear the best audio possible.
Bell telephones. You could drop these phones from an airplane and not damage them (exaggerating, of course). The audio was constantly good. Telephone lines with well-built T-1 engineering assured telephone was a high-quality form of communication. When Emergency 9-1-1 was added, the dispatcher was assured that the location of call couldn’t be wrong. And when a caller called a radio talk show, the caller, the host and the audience were assured that the call wouldn’t drop and the caller could be understood. None of these assurances exist today. I had to call 9-1-1 from a Voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone system last year. The dispatcher was from another city in another state. I had to explain where I was calling from. In a big emergency this is a FAIL! Cellphones are a little better. GPS may be great, but with cellphones, tower triangulation is the only method for 9-1-1 calls. Tower triangulation is only perfect where the land is flat and you can see forever in all directions. The good-old land line is the only guaranteed way to know where the call is coming from.
When Bell telephones disappeared or went commercial, low-quality plastic junk, compressed audio, bad microphone phones replaced them. Anyone with slightly poor hearing had to ask the caller on one of those phones to repeat themselves often, then complained about the poor call quality to others. This was still on landlines; it was the K-Mart special low-end phones (an example of all low-end phones) that were the problem. On radio talk shows, you could understand the host but not the caller. Cellphones today sound better than those phones, but now comes call drops! Annoying on talk shows, but normal callbacks occur with almost every cell call from a car or a store every day. Phones are a great example of technological backwardness.
Okay – other factors such as convenience have improved, but what about cost? I remember when everyone complained about the high cost of long distance calls. Now that a family spends five to six times more money for telephone service, no one is complaining. It’s not just technology that doesn’t progress. The bottom line is the other factors that lead to technology. Not for the topic today, there is a theory that I write about elsewhere. This is just a couple of things I’ve noticed.