End of VCR: push ‘eject’

The videocassette recorder, like the Polaroid camera and the eight-track tape deck, officially goes on the junk heap of 20th century technology this month as its last remaining manufacturer ceases production.

So a moment of silence, please, as Japan’s Funai Electronic Co. brings a virtual end to the VCR. It is as if the VHS cassette tape has finally come unwound from its spool.

Of course, the VCR has been on the way out for years, as superior technology has repeatedly supplanted the once ground-breaking device. VCR ownership peaked in 2005 when an astonishing 90 percent of American households owned at least one.

Some continue to use them yet, though the quality of videotapes diminishes with each viewing. But the legacy of the VCR is significant, as Steven Overly of The Washington Post explained:

“Its influence is evident today in the binge-watching and time-shifting habits that have become a norm in home entertainment. Television and film were once by appointment only; stations would air your sitcom at a slated time, and studios would release movies during set windows. You watched when they wanted.

“All that has changed. Viewers today increasingly watch TV programs on their own schedule and bulldoze through new episodes back-to-back-to-back in rapid succession.”

The introduction of the VCR also provided for a new generation of film buffs, as rarely seen movies from years gone by made their way onto cassettes, and into public libraries where patrons could check them out. The easier availability of videocassettes also contributed to the decline of the movie theater, and the near demise of the drive-in.

And the technology encouraged a new generation of boob-tube addict who could obsessively record television programs, and rewatch them at their lengthening leisure, and widening girth. Nothing will likely change along those lines, as accessing programming becomes ever easier with each new level of technology: DVD, computer files and streaming. Viewers can even watch programs on their cellphones as they stumble down the sidewalk.