The March of Technology

by Rick Kopec (1/24/09)

At some point, the march of technology becomes a headlong rush. Things change so quickly that it’s hard to keep up with them. For every new gimmick, doohickey or gizmo, the one it replaces becomes obsolete overnight. Digital cameras are one example. Today you can take a picture without focusing with a camera smaller than a deck of cards. Heck, you can take 100 pictures, erase them all and start over and it doesn’t cost you a dime. Cell phones even take pictures and you can email them to someone in the time it used to take to rewind an exposed roll of 24 or 36 pictures and take it out of the camera. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago, each print or slide cost money—so you took pictures very sparingly, focusing and composing every shot so it wasn’t “wasted.” If one photo was out of focus, too dark or too light, you paid for it when you had the roll developed. You usually had to wait four or five days to see the photos you had taken, until the technological breakthrough of the “one hour photo.”

One thing that hasn’t changed too much is what happens to all these pictures that you take. It used to be that after you’ve looked at your stack of prints the first time, you would put them in an album—or, if you weren’t that organized, toss them into a desk drawer or a shoe box. If you took slides, you probably viewed them in a carousel projector, usually on a wall because putting a screen up was a pain. After that they could be kept in those small boxes they came in or in clear plastic sleeves that hold 20 at a time. If you remember those you’ll also remember getting a sore neck as you held a sleeve up to the window or overhead light to look at the slides after the initial viewing.

Today images are digital and you store them in your computer or put them on CDs that hold a thousand or more. But here’s the downside: if you have dozens of CDs, each holding a thousand photos, and you are looking for one specific picture, unless you label everything to the point where you’re bordering on being an anal retentive personality, you might never find it. But it sure is neat to look at a car or a part at a swap meet or garage sale, and using a cell phone, take a couple of photos of it and send them to someone else instantly to get a second opinion in real time.

Another example of technology accelerating at warp speed is the concept of video images. Way, way back, a little after the buckboard was retired, there were 16mm movies. Not many non-professionals could afford either the camera to shoot them or the projectors to show them, but we recall very vividly watching a 16mm color/sound film at the second SOA national convention in Reading, PA in 1974. It was titled “Shelby Goes Racing With Ford.” When that was shown one afternoon during the convention you could hear a pin drop. The audience of about 300 was mesmerized. It was explained that the movie had been shot in 1965 and even then, nine years later, was being shown in driver’s education classes in some Oklahoma public schools. In fact, a club member who was a teacher borrowed it from their school so it could be shown at the convention.

The 8mm film was introduced as an affordable “home movie” system in the late 1950s. Cameras were smaller and easy to use. Projectors were also small and inexpensive. Quality was so-so but there was nothing else close until the videocassette was invented. At first it was something used to record directly from television, and like everything else, when video cassette recorders first came out they were expensive: $1200 for a recorder/player. But as they caught on the prices dropped, eventually reaching as little as $150 or less.

When the VCR was new, in the 1970s, a lot of Cobra and Shelby enthusiasts began recording movies and television shows—anything that showed these cars. It was one thing to see a Cobra, GT40 or Shelby on television, but usually was a coincidence or a matter of luck. But being able to tape it and watch it over and over, and in slow motion or frame by frame was something else, again. Today it’s difficult to understand the novelty of that, but back then it was a big deal. The Elvis Presley films with Cobras— “Spinout” and “Viva Las Vegas” —were a part of almost everyone’s personal collection. As soon as someone realized that you could wire two VCRs together and could record from one onto a blank tape, people began passing them around or trading copies.

Pretty soon enthusiasts were amassing large video collections. It was common for someone to have a blank video in their VCR while watching television and as soon as they saw a Cobra or Shelby in a program, movie, commercial or news show, in the blink of an eye they could hit their “record” button and capture whatever it was. They could then take this one or two minute snippet and copy it to a master video and you could eventually watch a couple of hours of clips of nothing but Cobras, Shelbys and GT40s. Some VCRs actually accommodated two cassettes so you could record from one directly to another.

This was before individual movies were offered for sale; before Blockbuster or any other video rental businesses. That came later and as the selection of movies for sale on video expanded, there was less copying and trading. But video collections grew exponentially.

Every seemed to have a shelf full of favorites, that always included Bullitt, Grand Prix and LeMans. About this time the video camera became widely available at an affordable price. Suddenly you could take your own videos of whatever you used to take photographs of: races, car shows, conventions, or just a video walk-around of your (or someone else’s) car.

The next big step forward was the software that enabled you to watch a short movie clip on your computer. This was quickly followed by the ability to use a digital camera to take a video and save it on your computer or copy it to a CD. It could also be forwarded as an email attachment. Today videocassettes have gone the way of the 8-track. Virtually every movie ever made has been copied to DVD and the quality is better than it was when the movie was originally shown in a theater. DVDs are even cheaper than videocassettes. Television is now high definition and picture quality is nothing short of amazing. There are almost too many choices, which actually creates information overload. There are millions of videos on YouTube and similar video sites. Look up “Cobra” and you’ll see archives of hundreds of videos, everything from clips from movies (both famous and obscure) to amateur stuff shot by owners. There are more than you have time to view. Videos of varying length are posted on so many websites than if you started looking at them right now, you would never see every one. Only someone with way, way too much time on their hands would even think about compiling an archive of Cobra, GT40 or Shelby computer videos. What is presently available on the internet can be described as the embarrassment of riches.

So what DO you see on your computer? You watch the video emails someone else forwards to you. And you forward them on to others on your “send” list. You never see everything, or even a small part of it. What you get to see is actually a random selection of what is out there. And you know what? It’s about all you can expect to see without dedicating your life to a never-ending search for Cobra, GT40 and Shelby trivia.

Anybody interested in a collection of 400 videocassettes?

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