The Mystery of the Vanishing Video Tapes

by Bill Hall, Lewiston, Idaho Tribune, April 15, 1992

First, we solved the puzzle of disappearing socks and the mystery of
multiplying coat hangers.  Today, we solve the strange case of the
disappearing video tapes.

I was among the millions who couldn't explain the chronic disappearance
of socks and the way hangers accumulate in vast numbers in the dark
recesses of your closet, making you wonder what the male coat hangers
and the female coat hangers are doing in there.

But then I realized that socks are the larval stage of coat hangers.
The socks disappear because they open their wings when we aren't looking
and become hangers.

But what is the explanation for constantly running out of video tapes?
You could buy a carload of tapes for your video recorder, but when you
suddenly see something on television that you must have, you cannot find
a blank one.

My first guess, of course, was that video tapes are sock eggs, which
become socks, which become coat hangers.

But there's more to it than that.  My relatives get part of the blame.
In this society, if you get a new car or spouse or cat or house, you
take video pictures and send them to all the relatives.  It's like
snapshots, only a lot more cumbersome and expensive.

But that's small potatoes.  A friend points out the larger explantion:
There are members of each family who tend to tape programs and squirrel
them away without watching them.

His wife, for instance.  Somewhere in their house, she has tucked away
several hundred tapes, each one containing a program that they really
ought to watch one day soon.

I'm not talking about entertainment programs like movies and sit-coms
and game shows and football games or even half-hour infomercials
featuring old movie stars paid to tell you they haven't had a wrinkle
since they started applying buckets of Wonder Goo to their aging

I'm talking about programs that are so good for you they hurt cultural
and informational programs that you really ought to watch, but don't.
I'm talking, for instance, about the sort of public television program
that people who like public television don't even watch.  But they feel
guilty about not watching those offerings so they tape the shows and
plan to watch them when they get time.

But they never get time.  These tapes are the equivalent of all the
magazine articles and special newspaper sections and environmental
pamphlets and Republican position papers that you stack up and really
intend to read one of these days.

In the early days of television, we had only two choices when it came to
programs that were good for us.  If they had a program, for instance, on
the history of the American vice presidency or on the evolution of the
flute or on the causes of liberal extremism in Utah, you watched it or
you didn't watch it.

Today, there is a third possibility:

Let your video recorder watch it for you.

That's all you have to do.  That clears your conscience and squares you
with your fellow do-gooders.  You don't have to actually sit through
that mind rot yourself.  You just have to plan to watch it one of these
days or at least promise to fast-forward through the meaty portions.

That is the virtue of robots, as opposed to children, servants or
employees.  A robot is just a machine so there is no task so distasteful
that you can't order the robot to do it.

Today, we have robots that fight fires, robots that pour molten metal,
robots that clean up nuclear waste and robots that mix noxious
chemicals.  And now we have robots that watch chemistry lectures, modern
dance recitals and political debates.

It takes a lot of tape but it gives a person a certain standing in the
right circles:

"Did you watch the city council debate last night?"

"No, but my video recorder did."

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