A comeback for the humble cassette?

Show a child an old cassette and you'll probably get a snigger or two. But, says Rhodri Marsden, a breakthrough from Sony could make them regard tapes with a certain awe

At a friend's house a couple of weeks ago, I happened to take a 7in vinyl record out of my bag. "Hang on," said my friend; she called her 8-year-old son and presented it to him, telling him that it contained music.

His nonplussed response was delightful. We were witnessing the obsolescence of technology at first hand, right there; as we explained how it worked it almost felt like we were experts on an episode of Antiques Roadshow. (Although sadly in the item in question was worth almost nothing.)

Two brothers, Benny and Rafi Fine, have seen the viral potential of this kind of thing, and have recently started a series on YouTube called Kids React To Technology. Their latest film features the baffled responses of a group of children to the Sony Walkman; the cassette format makes virtually no sense to them, and it's not hard to see why.

While vinyl has experienced a hipster resurgence in popularity – 780,000 albums were sold last year, the highest tally since 1997 – the cassette, with its stern instructions to "spool to end of tape before playing other side", looks hilariously retro. It's a dead format; those glorious summer days where you'd see strands of cassette tape lying in gutters or fluttering in the branches of trees are long gone.

Some people lament its passing, naturally. The geeky boys who used to take hours putting together cassette compilations in an attempt to impress girls who weren't that bothered (as immortalised in Nick Hornby's novel, High Fidelity), now almost fetishise the idea of the mixtape.

Got it taped: A cassette-sized spool could soon hold more than 500,000 albums Got it taped: A cassette-sized spool could soon hold more than 500,000 albums (Rex) The act of selecting the tracks, trying to get them to fit on to one 45-minute side of a C90, then neatly writing out the track listing in capital letters – this was a labour of love. But at some point in the 1990s it was rendered utterly preposterous by the CD-R, and later by Spotify et al; making a compilation was now ridiculously easy, because you didn't have to do it in real time, and you didn't even have to listen to it in sequence.

Nor, indeed, did the recipient. The act of listening to a cassette mixtape, however – that required dedication. You couldn't easily skip from track to track without erratically fast-forwarding or rewinding; you basically had to sit through it.

You can see why that idea might still appeal to musicians; one label called Tapeworm has been celebrating the act of listening for many years with its runs of 250 cassette-only releases.

But the humble cassette, and the magnetic tape therein, may be about to experience a shift in cultural perception. A technological breakthrough from Sony means that these thin strips of tape, once so disposable, now hold the key to large-scale back-ups of data. Tape has been used since the 1950s to hold computer data, from early mainframe spools to the Sinclair audio cassette, but the plummeting price of hard-drive storage again made tape largely obsolete.

But we're creating huge quantities of data these days, and new tricks are required to cope with it all: Sony's new method can cram some 148Gb of data into one square inch of tape. A cassette-sized spool could hold some 185 terabytes of data – the same as 3,700 Blu-ray discs, or the equivalent of more than 500,000 CD-quality albums.

The children who today regard the cassette with a certain amount of giggling contempt may, in a few years' time, regard it with a certain awe; not just a collection of 20 lo-fi songs, but a container for one's entire life – and no spooling with an HB pencil required.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy