Sometimes newer doesn’t mean better

By Jeff Linville -

We live in an age of technological advances, but just because something is new doesn’t always mean it’s better.

In fact, in some ways today’s youth and young adults have become used to settling for less.

A smart phone can perform more complicated tasks than a room-sized computer from 30 years ago. Components get smaller and smaller.

We went from picture tube TV to flat screens to 4K quality. We went from VHS tapes to DVDs to Blu-ray.

When things keep getting better and better, we think it will always be that way. But instead, many folks these days would rather sacrifice a little quality for portability or convenience.

Playing music in your car went from 8-track to cassette to CD. These were huge leaps. You could skip ahead to just the song you wanted, without any of the track bleed-over and without fast-forwarding and hoping to stop at the right point.

Like many young men, I had to rip out the old standard radio in my car and install a new radio with enough juice to power the extra speakers I mounted in the back. I had an amp and a subwoofer for better bass production.

I was amazed at the improvement in sound quality over the factory system.

Then I heard about this new technology called SACD, or super-audio CD. It would be to CDs what Blu-ray was to DVDs.

An even more enhanced musical experience? Sign me up.

But that never took off. Instead Apple came out with the iPod, and everything changed in music. Instead of wanting a better sound quality than CDs, people were listening to poorly ripped mp3 versions of CDs. File sharing took with things like Napster so that everyone could broaden their musical library.

Unfortunately, it was hit or miss on what the song would sound like back then. I didn’t even have an iPod or Napster account, but I would listen to music at friends’ houses and be disappointed in what was coming out of the speakers. Even the sound level would vary from track to track so that you’d have to bump the volume up or down to keep a consistent decibel level.

And everyone was okay with this because it meant getting songs for free.

Not me. When I finally got an mp3 player, I downloaded from Rhapsody with the quality setting jacked up to its highest level. Sure, that meant I only had about 80 songs on my first player, but the sound was nice.

Now with a new iPod, I have enough room for 2,400 songs on a high-quality setting. I won’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

Another thing that happened with the iPod’s small size was that kids were no longer willing to lug around headphones. The ear bud took off so that kids could shove everything into a zipper pocket on a backpack — or into a back pocket (I cringe at the mere idea).

Ear buds sound horrible. The mid-tones are bad, and the bass response is nonexistent. Yet, millions of them are sold every year.

Not me. I have a big over-the-ear set of Phillips with built-in noise reduction. Works great on flights; flip a switch and the engine roar is reduced to a hum. And with great sound. I also have a set of Sony on-ear headphones that don’t keep noise out as well, but still produce quality sound.

A decade ago I bought my first digital camera, a Canon Rebel XT. After a decade of shooting 35mm film on manual cameras, I finally had the new-fangled camera with mode settings to simplify taking pictures.

Thing is, I didn’t need help taking photos. After a year of struggling to learn my camera when I joined The News in 1995, I had gotten pretty good. I had some nice photos of the Panthers when they first opened their Charlotte stadium in 1996.

So when I got this Rebel XT, I was sorely disappointed in the quality of the photos. Digital sensors were nowhere near as good as 35mm film. Still, I was excited about where camera technology was going.

Sure enough, in a few years digital cameras had grown by leaps and bounds. My Pentax K-5 bought in 2011 is shockingly better than that 2006 Rebel XT.

Here I am taking nice photos of local athletes, sometimes lucking into amazing shots. So when I go on Facebook, do I see one of these amazing shots as the kid’s profile photo? Nope, it’s a blurry, grainy, yellowed photo taken in a bathroom mirror.

All of these advancements in digital imaging from sensors to Photoshop, and the kid has a bathroom selfie with an Instagram filter.

Not me. I’ll keep looking for the next technological breakthrough that provides quality, not convenience.

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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