Our car is still fitted with a cassette player. Albums from long ago (Steely Dan and Beatles are current favourites) provide regular entertainment on journeys and are also enjoyed by the younger members of the family. I suppose we should have moved over to a CD player or something more exotic still, but somehow it seems unnecessary while the cassettes hold out (now 25 years old plus and still working fine!)
I suppose the same can now be said of the car’s FM radio, given government Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s announcement last week that the digital radio switch-over will happen, but only when a vast majority of listeners have voluntarily adopted digital radio over analogue.
He went on to highlight in-car radio as one of the biggest challenges facing the digital switch-over. This because of the difficulty in receiving digital signals while moving at speed. Once again, why bother to spend money on new technology when the old still works just fine. He threw down the gauntlet to the car manufacturers to work towards some solutions.
But, although we choose perhaps to forget it, this tendency to delay novelty in favour of that which already works is by no means uncommon.
Take another domestic technology – the electric iron: it’s changed little over at least 70 years. Neither, by and large, has the basic form of the bicycle, now well into its second century of pedalling.
And at the other end of the cost spectrum – we still use rockets adapted from 1950s inter continental ballistic missiles to launch satellites and probes into space – they exist, we know lots about them, they do the job – why fix things that aren’t bust?
So novelty is no guarantee of successful innovation. Maybe Steely Dan had something to say about it in one of the songs we were listening to in the car: ‘FM – No Static at All.’