Bad news for all those romantics prophesying the comeback of the cassette: Children are the future, and children have no idea what your ancient, tape-playing contraption is.
This video comes courtesy of “the Fine Bros,” a Youtube duo we’ve mentioned a few times before. One of their recurring, and continuously funny, schticks involves giving a piece of obsolete technology to grade-schoolers and seeing what they think of it. (Obvious disclaimer: While the duo claim their videos show actual kids reacting, it’s probably safe to assume a little direction goes on behind the scenes. Seriously, not a single one of these kids has seen a Walkman before?)
The truly fascinating part of all this — besides, you know, the inherent bemusement in feeling like a washed-up fogey — is that cassette aficionados claimed, just last fall, that the medium was seeing some kind of comeback. Musicians were drawn to the affordability and legacy of the medium. A Cassette Store Day was organized in late September. Small indie labels like Broken World Media only release albums on tape.
But these are all anecdotes. It’s hard to tell if cassettes are actually selling, since Nielsen doesn’t track them as a discrete category. Meanwhile, an analysis by Digital Music News — which admittedly didn’t include the activities of small, independent labels — found that sales had dropped off to almost nothing since 2000.
But this, after all, is the circle of life! When cassette sales overtook vinyl in the early ’80s, a British trade group launched an entire campaign — “Home Taping is Killing Music” — to fight against it. Then CDs overtook tapes. Then MP3s overtook CDs. By 2003, most major labels had discontinued cassettes entirely. Oddly, it’s only once these things are gone that we miss them.
“Within the dying of media comes the passing or slow dying of individual units — tapes, records, cylinders, cartridges — all of which decay, and in so doing, seem to take on characteristics of having lived,” the critic Paul Hegarty wrote in 2007. “Once digital media arrive as ‘other’, as cyborg sound, the analogue seems to breathe, however rasping the sound.”