Manufactured Innocence

MilkTape1

Another musician recently alerted me to the existence of Milktape, which is the latest in a recent parade of 21st-century products masquerading as relics of simpler times. The gist is that the device resembles a cassette tape but is actually a 128 MB flash drive, with space for the equivalent of about 15 mp3 files. Milktape retails at $15 for a single cassette, with the small consolation that it comes with a blank case cover and stickers.

I don’t exactly need to point out that Milktape is a preposterous rip-off; savvy consumers could purchase a 20 GB flash drive off of eBay or from discount retailers for about the same price. But the point (or conceit) is that you can’t store thousands of songs on Milktape, but are forced to choose carefully. The manufacturers of the device are obviously hoping that nostalgia for actual mix tape sharing—a laborious process that provided a great way for children of the analog age to share part of themselves with a friend or crush—will be worth $15 to a culture immersed in a glut of retro-nostalgia.

Milktape2

On one hand, I completely understand the poignancy of the mix tape ritual and the desire to return to that deeply felt, handmade aesthetic that characterizes the loving sloppiness of dubbed mixes and hand-scrawled notes. It’s a sincere desire that comes from recognizing that something about the digital age is not quite satisfying to human beings, from recognizing that we crave an experience that is more vivid, tactile, and expressively rich rather than one that is merely efficient. But I also can’t help but think this attempt to return to a simpler time presents its own breed of problems and contradictions; that cute little faux-cassette still has to be plugged into your laptop’s USB port, and its contents dragged and dropped into iTunes. There’s simply no way to even approximate the user experience of Ye Olde Mix Tapes, and the resulting experience strikes me as emotionally manipulative and singularly unfulfilling.

Will people drop $15 on one of these novelty items? I don’t know, but I’m curious: Will consumers pay an absurd price for the mere pretense of an obsolete experience which has removed all functional traces of that which is affectionately obsolete? Milktape refers back to a beloved experience, without replicating anything that made that experience special and loveable to begin with, and adds a layer of pretense where previously none existed. Am I right to be so perplexed by this product, or does the device possess some redeeming quality that’s eluding me?

4 thoughts on “Manufactured Innocence

  1. Jay

    Meh.

    I probably have more ironic products per capita in my area than I think anywhere else, so these kinds of things are more annoying to me than anything. I remember using tapes for everything, now that we’re past them, why would we want to go back?

    Reply
  2. Daniel Felsenfeld

    If one could somehow contrive for it to stop mid-song, a mechanism to click, and the song to pick up approximately where it left off (a la Alfred Molina’s star turn to “Sister Christian” in Boogie Nights) then I would pay double.

    Just kidding.

    Wholly agreed: the medium is not the message, and while I get that retro appeals because there is no more potent force than nostalgia–the least understood and most marketed-to of all our emotional reflexes–this is playing the nostalgic for suckers. So thanks for this one, Dan. Let’s enter vanished worlds at appropriate, non-commercial nodal points. Therein lies the power.

    Reply
  3. George

    I think that the presence of the word milk in the name of this gadget not only indicates the white color of the gadget, but also is a powerful sign that associates it with breastfeeding. Because of this the device not only associates with the past, which seems retrospectively as being simpler, but also reconstructs the relationships that are based on mediating through material objects. I think that if there is something about the digital age that is not quite satisfying to human beings is that in the digital age the relationships are less embedded in material things, maybe because of this relationships seems as being unreal or just a fragile fantasy. So, this gadget is intended not only to raise nostalgic feelings (about lost mother’s breast), but also to materialize love, to provide material evidence of love in the age there evidences of love are provided in nonmaterial – digital form.

    Reply
    1. Danvisconti

      Hi George, that’s an interesting point and one that I think gets to the core of what is going on here–trying to reconnect with a material expression of love, in some sense.

      Reply

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