On re-experiencing VHS tapes again

I stopped serious study of ballroom dance sometime around 2003, over ten years ago, because I was discouraged by not finding a maximally compatible dance partner. I ended up closing the chapter of my life that started in 2000 when ballroom dance consumed almost all of my time.

Recently I brought up several boxes of ballroom dance instruction videos from those days, with the idea that even though I’m not longer doing ballroom dancing with anyone any more (Abby is not very interested in ballroom dance), I might find it enjoyable to continue developing my dance skills and use the videos as part of exercise also. Almost all of these videos are VHS tapes. I have almost no dance videos on DVD, as I was very late in acquiring a DVD player: actually, one day, my mother bought me a DVD player because she was tired of visiting me and having no way to watching any DVDs she brought!

I had mixed emotions and memories as I started going through these videos again.

Why was I late to CDs and DVDs?

Earlier in life, I was very late in getting a CD player also; I bought only cassette tapes and LPs until late in college, around 1990, when I finally buckled to pressure and bought a CD player. I am generally not an early adopter of technology. I bought my first smartphone in 2012.

Why the resistance to technology? Partly it’s just a matter of cost. But more fundamentally, I worried about the long-term durability of digital media. It turns out that I shouldn’t have worried quite so much, because backing up has turned out to be quite feasible and inexpensive. But in the early days of CDs and DVDs, I was not going to be ripping them and storing them on super-expensive hard drives, so my worry was about the physical media of CDs and DVDs.

Was I was right about the disadvantages of digital media?

It turns out that I was partially right. Some of my old CDs and DVDs did become unplayable after a decade or two, but very few.

The bigger problem is that Abby and I sometimes check out DVDs from the public library and find that they have enough scratches that when watching a film we often miss entire minutes and scenes because of damaged playback! This has happened so many times that I question the value of ever checking out a DVD from the library again that looks even a little scratched. What a waste!

The advantage of analog media such as LPs and cassette tapes and VHS tapes is that in some ways they are more fault tolerant. I remember the old days of splicing tape, for example.

But actually, analog media get corrupted easily enough by magnetism, mold, etc. I do have tapes that are unplayable.

The killer feature of digital media was always indexing and random access. It’s a real hassle not being able to skip from one dance lesson to the next, or get a table of contents, in these dance videos.


It’s far less efficient using VHS videos for instruction than indexed digital media. That said, I see why people stream video these days rather than buy or borrow DVDs; physical digital media are fragile. But what would libraries do if they stopped acquiring and serving CDs and DVDs?

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