History Wednesday: Skipping Technlology

When I’m not blogging or herding cats, one of my favored pastimes is borrowing CDs at the library down the street. The scheme is simple. First, I log on to my account, find CDs and put them on hold. When they make their way to my library branch, I check them out. Then I take them home, rip them, and bring them back in short order. Rinse and repeat. It works out well.

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Thus far I haven’t had many problems with scratched CDs.
Image credit: wikiHow

It works until CDs become completely obsolete, anyway. While we wait for that, let’s take a look back at where CDs came from, shall we?

Back in 1974 America was caught up in Watergate and polyester, Isao Tomita was blowing people’s minds with his newfangled synthesizer music, and a Toronto bar band named Rush released their first album on vinyl, man. You know, vinyl records. They’re big, fragile and fundamentally based on 19th Century technology. Surely we could do better in such heady times.

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Word.

Meanwhile out in Holland Philips Corporation employees held the first planning sessions for what became the compact disc. The original plan was to produce a 20-centimeter disc, but they settled on an 11.5-centimeter disc instead. The reason? Because that’s how long a cassette tape measures diagonally.

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Well, I’ll be damned.

Now this is groundbreaking stuff for a society still enamored with leisure suits and the Bee Gees. Nevertheless, by 1979 both Philips and Sony successfully demonstrated CD prototypes. Through joint collaboration – and due in no small part to Sony executive Norio Ohga’s enthusiasm for the project despite strong opposition – by early 1983 CDs and CD players were commercially available. The first album released on CD was either ABBA’s The Visitors or Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, depending on who you ask.

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(insert snarky Olivia Newton-John reference here)
Image credit: Les Chatfield

If you were around at the time, you know CDs were considered horribly expensive luxuries until the late 80s or so. Being the Luddite I am, I didn’t own a CD player until 1994. While vinyl became the realm of hipsters some time ago, the CD didn’t entirely overtake cassettes until 2000 or so. Now a relatively short time later the CD seems to be on the way out, eclipsed by MP3s and the like.

You may have heard that the CD can only hold 74 minutes because that’s how long Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is, purportedly because it was Norio Ohga’s favorite classical piece. Unfortunately, there’s no firm evidence to back that up.

In any event, I figure I have a few years left before the Boise Public Library gets rid of its CDs. And no, there will be no ripping ABBA or Billy Joel here at the Command Center.

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