I have seen the future, psychotherapist children, and it shall unfold in spools of magnetic tape…
…according to an August 19, 1957 LIFE article.
While the prescience of the piece was downright remarkable for an era which also predicted personal atomic helicopters, thirty-hour (full-time, benefited) work weeks, and teachers getting the pay and respect their trade deserves by 1980, I find the time lag between the anticipated and actual to be even more fascinating.
(The bit about news being delivered via morning VHS edition deliveries is hilarious. Not just for the mental image of a kid with a sack full of clamshell cases screaming “WUXTRY!” but because it also speaks to the common myopia of applying contemporary norms to emerging transformative technologies. Interestingly enough, LIFE also covered the dawn of pay-and-cable TV services not too long afterward.)
When I started college in 1990, VAX terminals feeding off a common mainframe were the norm and the administrative offices used recently discarded punch cards as cost-saving substitute for scrap paper. Magnetic video recorders may have moved from the production to the consumer side of the entertainment biz around the time of my birth, but they — like audio cassettes and compact discs — spent a looooooong stretch as expensive luxury items (partially due to traditional industry rivalries and fear of souring existing markets).
Contrast that to the post-DVD era, where each new generation of consumer technology gets fast-tracked for the affordability of the mass marketplace. There’s no percentage for manufacturers choosing to wait things out anymore, and premiums take the form of the chimeric prestige of the “early adopter” who shells out extra for access to features that will become ubiquitously pedestrian in six months’ time.
Twenty-five years between the concept of video rentals and a mass market for the same? That’s pretty incredible, especially since the rise and fall of video tape as a widely adopted consumer platform spanned only two decades…give or take some holdouts.
Recommended listening: Let’s kill the music industry again like we did last summer.