Generally speaking, human history is a tale of relentless advancement, ebullient expansion and continual change, only interrupted by unhelpful wars or inconvenient pandemics.
Then came the churches, then came the schools
Then came the lawyers, then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their load
And the dirty old track was the Telegraph RoadTelegraph Road, Dire Straits
Over time, things seem to always get faster, improved, and more technologically advanced, with rarely a step ever being taken backward.
The only exceptions that come to mind are Concorde and the manned space programme, where the extraordinary progress made fifty years ago seems to have stalled, channelled instead into other avenues that seem somehow less dramatic and inspiring by comparison.
I’m still waiting for my personal jetpack and hoverboard too.
Back in the days when those things just seemed like a matter of time, music was still being played on cassette tapes and on vinyl.
Music had substance, yet it was also fragile – a treasured cassette tape could suddenly end up as a mangled mound of metallic sadness at any moment, whilst a beloved LP could easily be scratched or shattered if you weren’t very careful.
Then came the supposedly scratch-proof CD, impervious to damage, able to double up as coasters for coffee cups and transmitting space-age superior sound – and everything had to be bought all over again.
Then came Napster and iPods and iTunes and our relationship with music changed yet again, now converted into unseen, intangible encoded digital files.
And we had to go and buy all of our music again, of course.
Music was now easy – there was no more waiting for a new album to be released and then going to a shop to buy it and then making a tape of it so that you could then play it on your Walkman or in your car.
Now you just pressed a button and the latest album was there – ready to play however and whenever you chose to listen to it.
All those old tapes and albums seemed to be completely redundant now – sadly gathering dust in boxes in the garage, if not just given away altogether.
But slowly, ever so slowly, people started to miss how it felt to handle a record, to gently slide it out of its sleeve and to delicately place it on a turntable, waiting for that hiss, crackle and pop as the needle slipped into the groove and – oh, how the memories would come tumbling back again.
This was real.
Digital files have all the romance of a tax notice, but a Christmas gift of a Bluetooth turntable has allowed me to reconnect with the music of my youth, complete with all the imperfections that made those discs feel like my own personal version of the song, something unique and only meant for me.
It’s about as close as I’ve ever got to Proustian time travel, to listen to all of those old LPs and 12-inch singles from a specific time in my life and be taken back on a wave of aural reverie.
It’s slightly ironic that it has taken the advent of Bluetooth to enable it, but in this case, the retrograde step back to an old and outdated form of listening to music is an utter delight.
Progress, it seems, does not always travel in a straight line.