Viewpoint -- Allow Me An Andy Rooney Moment

Jan. 14, 2005
I've reached the age where I can say, "They don't make things like they used to."

For years I pondered the phrase "They don't make things like they used to." I wondered, was that a good thing or a bad thing? After all, advances in technology have enabled manufacturers to produce better products. The microwave is an example of this. Years ago microwaves were cumbersome additions to kitchen countertops. You'd think that by size alone it could boil water in no time -- not true. What takes a few minutes now used to take twice that much time and then some. Don't believe me? Try popping a bag of popcorn in an old microwave and then pop a similar bag in a new microwave on the same time setting as the old oven. Just don't blame me when your house smells like burnt popcorn. Not only has the microwave oven shrunk in size, it has gained power. And on top of that, the price has been drastically reduced. In this case, it's a good thing that they don't make things like they used to.

Now onto the bad.

As a journalist, I perform many phone interviews with sources for the stories I write for IndustryWeek. A practice I learned while in journalism school was to record my phone interviews. Not only does this practice help me accurately quote my sources, it enables me to really listen to my sources -- rather than concentrate on taking exacting notes. (I still take notes in case my tape recorder fails me.) For nearly 15 years I have been using the same tape recorder.

Finally, my faithful companion gave up the ghost, and I was forced to buy a new tape recorder. Much to my surprise, it was a difficult, confusing and expensive task. In order to tape record a phone conversation, you need a special adapter that plugs into the recorder's microphone jack and acts like a vocal umbilical cord between the phone and the recorder. I own said umbilical cord, therefore I figured I could just buy a new recorder with the proper microphone jack and all would be right with the world.

We all know that things aren't that easy. The new tape recorder's microphone jack was way too small to accommodate my adapter. Outraged by the fact that there is not a universal size for microphone jacks, I refused to buy a new tape recorder. I would beg and borrow, but I would not buy another tape recorder for as long as I was a journalist, so help me technology gods. Amen.

After several months, this beggar got weary. Back to the store for me. This time I bought a name-brand tape recorder intended for my exact use -- recording phone conversations. No longer would I need to lug around my adapter, this recorder had a built-in umbilical cord. And being a well-known brand that was rather expensive, I figured I found another faithful companion to carry me through another 15 years of journalist adventures.

Again, things aren't that easy.

While the new tape recorder recorded my phone conversation, it didn't do it well. The conversation was barely audible and an annoying hiss dominated the entire tape.

To be fair, I should have known better. Other IndustryWeek editors own the same tape recorder and one owner voiced her dissatisfaction with the product -- the same dissatisfaction that I now have.

In this case, I wish they would make things like they used to. My cheap, non-name-brand tape recorder far outperformed its young cousin by leaps and bounds. I think it's time I cut the cord and invest in a class of the long-lost art of shorthand. That way if there's a malfunction, I might be able to claim workers' compensation.

Traci Purdum is an IndustryWeek associate editor. She is based in Cleveland.

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