An Ode to the Cassette Tape

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Today, Time reported that the Oxford English Dictionary is cutting cassette tape from its next edition, along with unused words like brabble and growlery. As a child of the cassette era, I have to think the fine folks at OED are jumping the gun just a bit.

My first purchase of recorded music, The Go-Go’s’ Beauty and the Beat was on cassette at a Turtle Records. So were my next couple hundred. Each year, I’d take my favorite tracks and meticulously sequence them in a personal best-of compilation and swap favorite albums with friends. As recently as last year, I’d pop some of those cassette tapes in the player that came in my 2004 car, before, ironically, the CD player gave out and had to be replaced.

But this isn’t just about nostalgia. Forget that Sony stopped production on its Walkman less than a year ago; cassette production lives on. We still get cassettes mailed to the Paste office periodically by bands looking to stand out. Just a few weeks ago, I came into the office and heard my old college band Elouise playing through the speakers; someone had found an old copy.

The cassette format left much to be desired—every music fan over a certain age is familiar with having to take a pencil to wind unspooling tape back inside and occasionally having to accept that the knotted mess was a lost cause. They weren’t particularly durable, and the playback speed wasn’t particularly dependable. I’m all for progress—I now have as much need for a CD player as I do an eight-track player. But as technology plows ahead, there’s no reason to cast off our past so quickly. Institutions like the Oxford English Dictionary should be quick to adopt new language and slow to cast it off in the wastebasket of history.

If you need me, I’ll be in the growlery, headphones on, listening to Murmur.