Last summer, I read an article that said that Japan's Funai Electric, “which claims to be the world's last VCR manufacturer,” would soon stop making VCRs. My first thought was astonishment that anyone was still making videocassette recorders. My second thought was: Do my kids even know what a VCR is?
My oldest child was born into DVDs, the next two were born into Blu-rays, and the youngest was born in the ultraviolet era. For him, movies are always streamed online, and Blu-rays are reserved for long car trips.
I made the switch to streaming movies when one of my kids was caught “ice-skating” on our wooden floors, a DVD under each foot (shiny side down, of course). Streaming movies – anytime, anywhere – with just the tap of a finger is so different from my own childhood access to movies.
My mom had to save money for a while to buy our first VCR. It was the first time we could play things on demand, and it was a huge deal for us. No more turning on the TV and hoping for something good.
Before this, to watch our videotapes (all four or five of them), we rented a VCR for the weekend from our local video store. It was a pain to hook it all up, only to unhook it two days later and lug it back, but my siblings and I loved those weekends. We watched Disney’s "Robin Hood," "Swiss Family Robinson," and "Muppets Take Manhattan" over and over. I can still recite "Robin Hood" as it plays. My son thinks this is amazing. He’s never watched anything over and over until its words were a part of him. He has Netflix and a huge streaming library.
I haven’t owned a VCR for a decade, although the home movies of my oldest child are all on videotapes. We didn’t replace the VCR when it broke, and always planned on getting the videotapes transferred professionally to DVD. Now I guess we would get them transferred to media files for our laptops. I’m adding that to my everlasting to-do list, before nobody offers the videotape transfer anymore.
A quick visit to any thrift store will show you dozens of videotapes lined up, even treasured movies like Disney cartoons, "Star Wars," and "Indiana Jones." If they were Blu-rays or DVDs they’d be snatched up in an instant. I only know a few people who still use VCRs – some because they have a TV/VCR combo for the kids and like not worrying about DVDs getting scratched, and others because they built up a large VHS library throughout the years and value their investment.
My mom is a member of that last group. After finally buying our first VCR, she began collecting videotapes. Some of her cherished movies are made-for-TV ones that were taped, by her, when they originally played. They aren’t even on DVD, much less available for streaming. She’ll never give them up, and will hunt down a “new” VCR at a garage sale, thrift store, or even an antique shop, should that ever become necessary.
I was born into the era of cassette tapes, but my parents still owned a record player and my grandparents still owned both a record player and an 8-track tape player. I don’t know what was before that. Victrolas? My Microsoft Word spellcheck doesn’t even recognize that word, and offers me the alternatives “Victoria’s,” “victors,” and “Victorians.” How long before spellcheck doesn’t recognize VCR?
This is a strange generation gap, where I understand my mom’s motivation and desire to hold onto her VCR and VHS tapes, while knowing that my own children have no idea what any of that stuff is. I’m the bridge: Is it my job to teach my children about this old technology? Does it matter that they don’t know?
Maybe it doesn’t matter. One day I won’t understand the newest technology, and I’ll have to call one of my kids or grandkids to come over and help me. If they laugh at me I’ll just remind them that I know what a VCR is and they don’t.