A visit from a five-year-old, the recent purchase of an iPhone 5 and fond memories of recording my own “shows” with a Craig 212 tape recorder got me thinking about technology, generations and creativity.
Here’s the question I’ve been pondering: Can today’s technology elicit the same joy, sheer fun and creative impulses that we experienced playing with the “in” gizmos of our youth? If Miss Kylie, the five-year-old, is representative of kids today, I would say the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Exploring the voice memo capabilities of my new iPhone with Kylie reminded me of similar sessions with a new Craig 212 tape recorder from my childhood. Produced from 1965 to 1968, the Craig 212 was THE portable tape recorder of its day. It was featured at the beginning of “Mission: Impossible” episodes when Peter Graves listened to his assignment (“Good morning, Mr. Phelps…) and, in trademark fashion, the tape self-destructed in a puff of smoke.
To own the very same tape recorder used on “Mission: Impossible”—can you imagine?! So cool. So sleek. So well engineered. I mean, you could actually carry it around. Amazing!
I spent hours recording myself, my brothers and my friends, making my own “shows”—from gothic horror (trying to laugh like Count Dracula) to long-winded monologues (can you say budding radio talk show host?).
So as Kylie and I recorded mock interviews this past weekend on the iPhone, those memories came flooding back. There’s something about a microphone and the fun of recording your voice and playing it back. Over and over we would record, often the same material, as Kylie tested the timbre, intensity and expression in her voice. We both were cracking each other up.
But with the Craig 212, part of the fun was rewinding the tape with the unique toggle switch. Learning exactly when to stop, when to advance the tape, how to properly load new tapes onto the machine.
As much as I love my iPhone and all of the cool things it can do, I do miss those tactile cues that were so much a part of earlier devices such as tape recorders, cameras, movie projectors and record players. In college and on my first job, I shot Tri-X 35mm film and developed it myself in a darkroom. The film had to be removed from the camera and wound onto a spool in total darkness. Mastering that one procedure took a lot of practice. So shooting high-quality photos and videos with just the swipe of a finger, and then instantly “sharing” them with others, is still quite amazing to me.
The marvel of the iPhone is that so much is packed into one thin rectangle of glass and metal with no moving parts. Form and function are blended seamlessly into one smooth device. I wonder, though, is it too inert, too virtual? Sometimes you just want to push a real button, and feel it move and engage with a click. Like when you’re in a sports car and you “floor” the gas pedal and hear the engine roar.
Yes, the iPhone 5 is très cool, but it doesn’t have the feel of a mechanical beast.
I guess each generation looks back nostalgically to the “machines” of its day. I’m sure if my grandfather were alive, he would talk about crank-starting his first car. He would tell me that having a keyed ignition just isn’t the same experience. And you know, he’d be right.