Letters to My Traveling Companion

My Dear T.C.

Working in the Museum of Women’s History has me thinking about the way things have changed and developed over the years. I’m working with Video Cassette Tapes and a VHS player, (which started dying around the turn of the century) and I’m watching recordings of a program aired in the 1990′s as I transfer them onto computers in order to “burn” them onto Digital Video Discs.

What I find interesting about this process is that I’m working with technologies that ‘grew up’ together, two of which have their roots in an accidental discovery by Thomas Edison in 1887. According to the Phillips Research website “Edison accidentally discovered in 1877 that he had recorded sounds that resembled a human voice. Edison continued with his experiments and made a sketch of a ‘recording apparatus’ that was built by his instrument maker John Kruesi and was called a ‘phonograph’ by Edison. ”

This laid a foundation for vinyl records which, along with the development of computers and digital technology, laid way for the Compact Disc. By the mid 1980′s CD’s became the favorite audio medium and by 1987 Sony announced the development of the Compact Disc Video (CDV) which would eventually be replaced by the DVD.

The CDV was not the first type digital video disc, however, but was preceded by a similar device called the Laser Disc (LD). According to Culture and Communication“Early optical Laserdisc technology was invented by David Paul Gregg in 1958.” and patented in 1961 and 1969 before being sold to Phillips company for release of feature films to the general public. By 1978 the technology was made public with Jaws as the first feature film available (Culture and Communication).  Both the CDV and LD were replaced by DVDs by 2001.

Video Cassettes have a slightly different history. According to the Encyclopedia Americana “The first successful video recorder was marketed by the Ampex Corporation in 1956″ (1999, pp. 100). This was the official functional release of the product for home use, but development for an audio/video recording device in the film industry had started in the 1920′s for ‘talking pictures’.

When you think of our ‘digital age’ with the various ‘tablets’, ‘smart phones,’ and ‘laptop computers’, it’s easy to see how much technology has changed in the past decade alone. My work is, in a sense, translation tests from an old language into the language of the modern world. Much like a writer may take a medieval poem, or a King James Bible, to make the language more understandable to modern readers (including the technology which ‘reads’ the program for viewing.)

By translating these videos into a digital format our hope, as a Museum, is to preserve this program “The Wisdom of the Ages” for future generations, that they may see these shows and think about the things McLaughlin and her guests discuss.

The discs are currently held in the Museum of Women’s History, located 2822 3rd Avenue North in # B3, and the programs cover a range of topics including informational interviews with groups that help the Billings community, and interest episodes where local women are interviewed about their lives and work.

Wisdom of the Ages is a program based on the idea that “The attainment of wisdom is a lifelong process which starts at birth.”  with a goal to educate viewers because knowledge allows for discussion and discussion for understanding. By learning about history and the way things change and develop over time, be they technologies or social practices, we can better understand where we are directing our future.

Though I should like to write more about the way society has changed in the last few decades, I have neither the knowledge nor the writing space to do so now. For the moment, then, I hope all is well with you, and that you are learning from your experiences, and gaining more understanding of yourself and of those around you.

Farewell now,

Your Traveling Companion


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