We should have learned from Hansel and Gretel


In the old folk tale “Hansel and Gretel”, children who had been left for dead in the woods would scatter breadcrumbs on their way home, confident that they could return home following the path of the crumbs. Unfortunately the birds came down and ate the crumbs.

Sometimes you can’t go back.

I once collected cheap Christmas record albums to play on our stereo phonograph.

Eventually I transferred the songs to tape and was able to play them in our car or on portable devices!

Later, I moved records and tapes to CD format. I had a great collection.

The technology was fabulous! Music was cheap and portable!

I shot silent movies with a Super 8 camera while our kids were growing up.

Then we bought a digital camera that could use SD cards, so I didn’t have to pay for development, and we no longer needed a projector to watch home movies.

When the videocassettes came out, we transferred the films to videocassette, and later to DVD.

The videotape format was also ideal for professional movies. You watched movies from the comfort of your home anytime. And you can either rent them cheap or buy them and watch them again and again.

Later movies were on DVD and your kids could watch movies even in the car.

Wasn’t the technology great?

I recorded digital home movies on our desktop hard drives and then moved them to my laptop hard drive.

I rarely watched them, but I was safe knowing that I had saved them.

But the promise of new technology shone so brightly in my eyes that I couldn’t see the downsides, I couldn’t see the downsides. I couldn’t see what was going to happen next.

What happened next was the technology’s subscription model.

First of all, everything was free. Free, free, free! The music was free. The news was free. Movies were free, word processing was, if not free, at least cheap. You bought the software, and it was yours forever.

New things were so free that we got rid of old things.

One day I realized that my movie formats, the files I had saved all my old movies in, were no longer compatible with any device I owned that was still working.

Others were lost on crashed hard drives or crashed laptops. I even had a big backup disk that failed.

We didn’t have a working video cassette player and it was now impossible to find players at a reasonable price. To see the movies we had already purchased, we now needed subscriptions to various streaming services, if they were available for streaming.

You have to pay monthly fees for your music, to store your photos, to watch once free movies or shows on TV. You have to pay monthly fees even to use a word processor.

Our laptops no longer have slots for CDs or DVDs.

Recently, I moved unwatchable home movie files from an old laptop to an expensive flash drive I bought, hoping my computer-savvy son could restore them to a usable file format.

I thought they had been transferred. I’ve seen them listed in thumb drive folders. They were there when I deleted the files from my cluttered old laptop. But they were gone when I went back to the USB drive.

Our children’s childhood records were there today, gone tomorrow.

When Hansel and Gretel scattered their breadcrumb path and headed for the bright promise of the candy house in the forest, they were sure they could return home if they needed to.

They didn’t know there was a witch in the house.

They did not rely on hungry birds.

Sometimes there is no turning back.

Donna Marmorstein lives and writes in Aberdeen. Email [email protected]


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