Wow, everything has a ‘day’ these days, including the vinyl record. It seems that August 15, 2009 is Vinyl Record day or, as the ‘Collecting Vinyl Records’ blog states: the first Saturday after August 12. Why August 12? Why, that’s the day Edison ‘invented’ the phonograph. The phonograph was, without a doubt, a game changer. It was, however, like many other Edison ‘inventions’: without any purpose. At least, at first. Edison was a prolific ‘inventor’, having ‘invented’ many of the things we use or experience everyday: the light bulb, the motion picture, vacuum tubes (well, we don’t experience them so much now) and, of course, the phonograph. However, how many of these items were truly invented by him is a matter of debate. Edison employed many in his labs and you can be sure that quite a few of Edison’s inventions were actually created by one of his employees. Whatever, the truth is, however, is moot now. Edison gets the credit and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose that is OK.
Edison’s problem, though, is that he never really knew how to monetize his creations. Take the aforementioned phonograph. It was a travelling curiosity at first. He made a few dollars by leasing phonographs to ‘parlors’ where the public could ‘order’ up a recording for a nickel. After a time, Edison – like many of his other inventions – got bored with the device. After other manufacturers started making home devices, he quickly got back into business. One use for his recording technology was in a talking doll. However, the dolls were very fragile and tended to break easily. It was a failure. One contributing factor to the failure could be that the doll itself was creepy.
Edison, of course, went on to see his many inventions commercialized by other companies. Some of them spawned huge industries: the motion picture industry, recorded music, commercial and home lighting and, most of all, the electric distribution systems.
As with anything, however, those industries and inventions of Edison’s undergo changes. The motion picture industry is currently undergoing massive changes now. Changes in the way the movies are made, the way they are distributed and the way they are consumed. Film is quickly being replaced with digital technology. Distribution now includes digital delivery. Movie theaters can now get the films via the internet or satellite. Because of the new distribution, the method of projection has to change. Film projectors make way for video projectors. Even the light source has changed. Gone are the days of the argon lamps. In are the days of LED and Halogen bulbs. DLP is a term one is likely to hear instead of ‘film canister’
The music industry, spawned by the phonograph, has already undergone a multitude of changes, starting with the magnetic tape in the 1950’s which includes the eight track and the cassette tape. The vinyl disc was replaced by the compact disc which utilizes lasers to reproduce the sound. Even that, however, is being replaced by purely digital means. MP3 is heard more than vinyl disc or cassette tape. A quick scan of just about any public place will reveal people listening to some kind of recording digitally. iPods are as ubiquitous these days as the 45RPM was in the 1960’s.
Even Edison’s light bulb has undergone many, many changes and is, unbelievably, outlawed in places. The incandescent bulb, a mainstay for nearly a century, is being replaced by LED’s, fluorescent and other types of light bulbs. Several states in the United States has legislatively killed the incandescent bulb. The phase is to take place over a period of time, but they will eventually be illegal. Several countries have also banned the bulb. Why? The environment. But, here’s the killer: at least one of the replacements, the compact fluorescent, is actually worse than what it replaces. A quick read of the proper way to dispose of them once they are no longer useful is complicated and don’t break them: you’ll need a hazmat team to clean it up. I can’t imagine the damage done in producing these things.
Edison’s legacy is quite extensive and no matter how you feel about him, you cannot deny that he has touched pretty much everyone’s lives, at least, anyone who is reading this post. I’m sure you could find someone in the heart of Australia who may not have been affected in one or another by something he did or got credit for doing.
Remember, August 15 is Vinyl Record Day. Show your love for all things vinyl and break out the old ‘Thriller’ record and do the moon walk. Honor two legacies at the same time.