GETTING MORE TALE #461: From Dial-Up to Light Speed
My my, how technology has changed! The last 20 years have been a blur. Let me give you some examples from the Record Store days!
Back when I first began slinging the rock in 1994, we only had one phone line (with call waiting). Our VISA/Mastercard machine ran on the same phone line. You couldn’t ring through a credit card transaction if you were on a call. If the call waiting went off while you were doing a transaction, it would be cut off and you’d have to start again! In ‘95, we got a dedicated line for the VISA machine. Customers often seemed interested in the sounds our VISA machine made when connecting. That digital “handshake” sound reminded some customers of connecting to the internet. Same basic technology!
In the late 90’s, we finally got the internet! It was dial-up. But some of the staff didn’t know how to use it. One store manager, Joe “Big Nose”, thought that the only way to disconnect from the internet was to restart your computer! On a bad day, it was so slow as to be useless. I remember I had one poor girl trying to help out a really bitchy customer. She was trying to look up some info online and it was taking forever. “I’m sorry,” she said, “But my computer is running really slow.” The customer kindly responded, “Well I’m running fast, so hurry up!” It’s that kind of customer that wore me down – wore us all down, daily. If you’re in that much of a hurry, maybe you shouldn’t be stopping to shop for music?
Technology also changed how we backed up our data. Our computers held a complete inventory of our store’s stock, which changed daily. This had to be backed up nightly in case we lost it all. As discussed in Record Store Tales Part 187: Closing Time, in the early days the technology wasn’t up to snuff. We began by backing up to 3 ¼” floppy. Our data grew quickly and that was not sufficient for long. We “upgraded” to a tape backup system. At this time, tapes could hold about 2 gig. What we gained in capacity, we lost in speed and reliability. Staff that were closing the store were supposed to wait until the backup tape had finished before they left, but as our data continued to grow, it took longer and longer. 45 minutes to an hour later, it might be finished. Obviously you can’t make a staff member stay that long unpaid, so nobody did. Thankfully we never had any critical crashes that caused us to lose everything.
This was later fixed, by backing up to another computer’s hard drive instead of a tape. This became fully automated, so staff wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. Ultimately this was the only real long-term solution, although we did also experiment with zip discs.
Before we had our own website, some customers were dying to be able to browse our stock from home. If they could do that, we wouldn’t have to take so many phone calls, searching for long lists of CDs one by one. When we first opened the store that I managed in ‘96, one customer asked me, “ Can you print out your inventory for me? It would really help me with my shopping!” He lived out of town and wanted to take a list home and browse it.
The problem, as I tried to explain, was that any list I printed for him would be out of date too quickly to be useful. “By the time this is done printing, which will take a few hours by the way, it’ll already be out of date. Used stock goes fast, and most of the good titles, we only have one copy of at a time. A list isn’t going to help you very much I’m afraid.” Plus, it would take all day to print on an old dot matrix printer. More than that, we didn’t even have a way to print an inventory list that didn’t show our own cost on it! Can’t exactly be handing that out to every customer that walked in the door. He was really insistent and I actually had to get the Boss Man involved to explain it to him!
Am I ever pleased that technology has caught up with the needs of the on-the-go music shopper! A couple clicks on Amazon, CD Japan, or Discogs and the music you need will be delivered to your door in days. It’s actually quite amazing how quickly you can get your music in the mail. With Amazon, I typically get my order within a business day or two, and that’s with free shipping. A CD from Japan takes a week. I never even dreamed of a day when I could have virtually any Japanese release within a week. To an old timer like me, it’s unbelievable.
What’s next for technology and music sales?
- A way to beam music straight into your brain?
- Amazon will be able to read my mind and pre-order albums that I want as soon as they’re up. Then they’ll ship them to me by drone!
- U2 will find a way to upload their next album onto every device you own, and even ones you don’t!
I for one welcome our new music overlords!