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.
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?