Did Retro tech give us a better experience?

I’ve had a seriously retro weekend in technology terms, and it’s made me think about how improvements in technology change our appreciation for entertainment.
I am, it should be noted, something of a retro gaming fanatic. I’m also a technology journalist, and technology is on something of a relentless march forwards, for the most part.
Actually, you probably have noticed the whole retro gaming thing, as it’s a common topic, and my pieces on the dark side of retro gaming and the followup article on Retro Gaming in Tokyo have continued to enjoy healthy traffic as has, for some reason, my retro game review of Mutant League Football.
It’s also true that this weekend I ducked into a newly opened branch of GameTraders near me with my kids. It was largely for them, because I figured a new branch of any games store would probably go very light on the retro front. That, or they’d predictably have a $700 copy of The Secret Of Mana that absolutely nobody in their right mind would buy.
Not that you shouldn’t buy and play The Secret Of Mana.
I still adore my copy, and it’s not going anywhere. But $700 is silly money, and I’m getting off track. I was rather surprised to discover that they did have a selection of retro goodies for sale at prices that weren’t too crazy for the most part, although predictably there were rather more copies of FIFA than will rationally sell at any time in the near future. Chances are if you didn’t pick up a Gamecube or PS2 copy back in the day that you probably don’t want one now. Still, I left happy with a few choice retro morsels to while away my Sunday afternoon, including the most comically violent “serious” soccer game money can buy.

Shoulder tackles aren’t really part of Soccer. That’s what makes it Super.

Super Soccer still has its charm, and apart from cleaning a little gunk off the contacts, it’s a fast loading cartridge title. I was struck by this fact as I often play a little Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 with one of my sons from time to time, but during the week an update to the title flat out crashed the Xbox One we were trying to play it on. It recovered, but it meant that a plan for a “quick” game to fill a ten minute period was delayed by several hours. That’s in contrast to clunk, click, hammer that shoulder-tackle button and get into it.
No, I’m not saying that Super Soccer plays soccer more accurately than Pro Evo 2015. Far from it. But it does load and play a whole lot faster, and that has an effect on how its entertainment content is consumed.
That wasn’t the only bit of old school charm to my weekend, however. Stalwart ABC music show rage is kicking off its top 20 chart again, and decided to do so by showing its very first chart, which aired back in 1987. I had that going on Saturday morning in order to make myself feel old, and also to inflict the Chantoozies on my offspring.

I suffered, so I pass it on. It’s probably a voodoo curse, or something

This led to a discussion on what a singles chart actually was, and how in this digital day and age how it’s a slightly redundant concept.
This then led to me having to explain what singles were for, a fascinating and somewhat amusing guessing game where they tried to work out why a “45” was called a “45”, and finally me digging out my singles collection, such as it is, to give it a quick whirl on the mBeat Portable USB Turntable Recorder. No, it’s not a Hi-Fi deck, but it was handy, and I figured I would just prove a point with a single or two.
Singles are funny things, because while there was a certain quantity of nostalgia at digging out the 45s again, along with a little unbridled horror at my more questionable musical choices in my youth, I was also struck by how they’re mostly redundant technology.
Yes, I know there’s endless arguments about the “warmth” of vinyl amongst the audiophile community. Equally, while recently in London I was somewhat tempted to pick up a copy of Prince’s Art Official Age on LP, just because I saw it, but that’s largely because I like the cover art.
Still, for the ordinary person singles were a pain in many respects. You had to be very careful with them, because a scratched LP is a ruined LP, and I was saddened to realise some of my singles have gone that way over the years. It’s pretty hard to scratch a digital file in the same way, except deliberately for effect if that’s your thing.
Equally, the rise of services such as iTunes and Spotify (and their ilk) have changed how we access music purchases, and all but killed off the record stores I spent time in in my younger years. Music’s more accessible, and I can pull from a list of hundreds of thousands of tracks at the click of a mouse or a tap of a screen.
Then something funny happened. Partly that’s because I put on the B-Side to The Young Ones/Cliff Richard’s “Living Doll” — and if you know why the little flowers were happy, you’ll be with me on that one — but it wasn’t just that.
Because I’d stopped to delicately place my precious 45 onto what is admittedly not a top-notch record deck, I stopped and listened to it. I hummed along, I laughed along and above all, I stopped to simply enjoy music, and music alone. My kids danced around the living room, at a safe distance so as to not rock the spinning music boat, because again, vinyl has some pretty serious limitations.
Still, I can’t think of the last time I’d stopped just to listen to music.
I love music, but I’ll often multi-task around it, because it’s so very easy to do in the digital age. Simply because I’d had to make some effort in selection and playback, I mentally “wanted” to make the most of that effort by properly listening to music and nothing else, and that was quite refreshing.
I don’t quite get that from a Spotify subscription. There’s an embarrassment of riches there, along with the well known phenomenon of the agony of choice, so we tend to skip things if they’re not immediately appealing, because it’s so easy to do so. Actually, having just checked, I can’t get the Young Ones/Cliff Richard version of “Living Doll” on Spotify at all, so I guess I’d better treasure that 45 a little longer.
I’m not saying that we should go back to an era of $100+ game cartridges and easily damaged LPs per se.
But it’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that the improvements in the technology that have brought us modern games consoles and modern music services (and with Netflix due to launch in Australia this week and Presto/Stan/Quickflix/iView/et al already here, this is true in streaming video as well) and the embarrassment of choice that they bring, we’ve also changed our consumption habits — and perhaps what we actually enjoy about them as well.
Sometimes that’s not going to be an absolute net gain.

1 thought on “Did Retro tech give us a better experience?”

  1. This. Oh so much THIS!
    I do miss the days of vinyl as I had a vast collection and worked as a DJ for many years (was all stolen in a break-in ten years ago which was when I finally resigned to the digital switch). But the recent vinyl revival doesn’t feel quite the same thing. A bit too ironic and overcharged for me to take it seriously.
    But back then, everyone knew how to use the technology and were also well aware if the limitations. As a kid I knew how to care for the stylus and protect the records from scratches. It was technology that required us to take care and respect it.
    Now tech may have made the listening to music far more convenient, but far less usable as an experience. My wife still struggles to organise iTunes libraries and gets frustrated when it seems like she has to jump through hoops just to stream the new Foo Fighters over the network.
    It’s as if every step forward in convenience and our ability to do amazing things like streaming music around the home also erodes our connection to the thing we’re streaming and the ease with which we can do what used tone simple tasks. Music is just one example. My mum now struggles to make a phone call cause someone made her get a smart phone. We can’t watch TV without also tweeting and doing three other tasks at once. We’re slowly devaluing and compromising what were once special events every day.

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