I just watched the documentary All Things Must Pass, it chronicles the rise and fall of Tower records. For over 3 decades they ruled the retail music industry.

If you ever get the chance to watch this documentary, I urge you do do so, it is a fine example of how technology comes and goes. Blockbuster Video met a very similar fate, technology moves on to the next big thing and a company tied to a technology is doomed.

This got me thinking about the technology I have seen during my lifetime. I was born in 1995, that officially makes me ancient!. My early life was spent living in a ‘huge house’. Of course the definition of huge varies from person to person. I use it this way, there were more more bedrooms than I could count, and there was an entire “West Wing’, the basement a storage space for unimportant stuff, the ground floor, a series of workshops, and above them the most delicious treasure trove of goodies I have ever seen. Piles of Practical Mechanic magazines dating back to the first world war, ‘Cats Whisker’ and Crystal radios, books, china, and of course ‘wind up’ Gramaphone Players and a huge stock of 78rpm records.

By the 1960’s the manual Gramophone had become obsolete, as had the 78rpm record. Boy I wish I could go back in time and save some of these treasures that I am sure found a final resting place in a garbage dump.

By age 12 the 45pm had caught my attention, I pestered my parents and reluctantly they bought me a ‘record player’, but there were strings attached. By this time we were no longer servants in a grand house, but running an 8 bedroom two bar establishment in West Hendred named The Hare.

The ‘strings attached’ to the record player were that on Friday and Saturday nights they could use it behind the bar to provide entertainment to the customers. I hear you say “are you serious’? Yes I am.

By age 14 I had discovered the world of the 33rpm LP. At 20 minutes per side this beat the crap out of the 45rpm single.

This was dead and buried by the mid 1980s. Yes, the LP has made a sort of comeback, but it is for a very limited audience.

The next ‘big thing’ was the Cassette, it was a fun and convenient form factor but prone to mechanical issues. By the late 80’s it was clear the cassette was on the outs. I was into racing sailboats and used any broken cassette tape as ‘tell tales’ on the shrouds and sails to check the ‘trim’.

The next ‘big thing was the CD and shortly after, the DVD.

Oh sure, I have skipped over many other technologies, inventions that came and went. The point is, technology comes in at high speed and increasingly dies an inconspicuous and unnoticed death.

Tower records were a victim of their own success. They could not see the advent of the online world. The MP3 powered by the likes of Napster roared onto the scene and sudenly the music world was in chaos. It is sad to see the music store die, but dead it is.

I am a music reviewer, my daughter Laura has my LP collection, I have lost, given away and other wise got rid of virtually all of my CD’s and DVD’s. My music library lives online and on my computer.

What I find interesting is how the technology time cycle, development, saturation, and decline has shortened a great deal. I wrote a paper on the subject years ago, (lost in the annals of time). Compare the Car to the Cell Phone. It took almost 100 years from invention to saturation. The cell phone on the other hand moved from a $2000 briefcase sized unit in 1990 (I know, because I was forced to lug one on a business trip, market saturation occurred 15 years later, and today you can pick up a ‘burner’ phone for $20. The standard cell phone is dead! When you can buy technology at 7/11 and Dollar General, I shake my head.

The cell phone has evolved into the Smart Phone. Yes, you can buy one for $1500 and you can also buy one for $50.

All Things Must Pass. If you get the chance, watch it and think about it.

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