Did I Say There Is No Hell?

About what might have happened to a 100 billion audio compact cassettes…

Until just a couple of years ago, thousands of miles of thrashed audio cassette tape were decorating our city streets, avenues, lanes, alleys and parks, spread out there like randomly scattered shit-colored party streamers. You would’ve seen tape everywhere. If only you had paid attention...

Most of it ended up there from cassettes that got stuck in a music lover’s car cassette player our walkman. I am sure that most of you will not be too young to have experienced this annoying analog ‘bug’ first hand: suddenly the music you were listening to comes to a grinding halt and you start plucking at the little plastic box in your player;which then comes out, along with this long tangled thread of plastic tape…

Cassettes were much like mp3's. One could always make another copy, and the things were dirt cheap. Cassettes were utterly disposable. So why go through the trouble of mending a cassette? They were just thrown out, especially those that got stuck while you were driving.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn — September 16th, 2007

But these days when you look around in our streets, in the underground, in buses, our trains or in cars, you will find that there’s hardly anybody listening to music on cassettes anymore. As a means for music mass consumption the cassette has become obsolete. The days that pop music hit-albums sold many millions also in pre-recorded cassette format (as well as being illegally copied onto blank cassette tapes another many, many million more times) will never come back again. In this, the year of its 50th anniversary, the long threads of plastic covered with magnetic emulsion in a thin plastic box, developed by ir. Lou Ottens and his team for Philips Electronics Inc. and presented to the world in August 1963 at an international consumer electronics exhibition in Berlin, have all but disappeared from public view.

Where did all the tapes go?

My — educated— guess is that about half of them ended up on dumps, in landfills and other garbage repositories. Much of the remaining half is currently gathering dust in closets, cellars and attics, but will surely also ‘end up in the gutter’ within the next couple of decades or so.

Is it possible to imagine the sheer volume, the quantity of this waste, given the fact that in the mere fifty years of its existence our world was flooded with cassettes?

Let me give it a try…

The number of audio compact cassettes that were produced world wide in the five decades since its introduction has been, according to an authoritative estimation, roughly between the 50 and 100 billion. That makes an average of more than ten cassette tapes (more than ten hours of recorded sound and music) for every single human being alive. For argument’s sake, let us stick to the max and assume, for simplicity’s sake, that all of them were C60's. These cassettes had an effective playing time of between 30 and 34 minutes for each side,and contained on the average some 90 meters of magnetic tape. Which means that we could’ve spliced the past 50 years of cassette tape into one meta-mega tape, stretching out over a length of no less than 9 billion kilometers.

It would take, ladies and gentlemen readers, a spark of light more than 8 hours to travel from one end to the other; we could stretch our meta-mega-tape all the way from here to Neptune and back again; playing it would take about 11.4 million years: if we hit play now, the meta-mega-cassette’s playback will not stop before the time that the ring of debris around Mars has crashed upon the surface of that very planet.

And then finally, imagine: almost all of the music we’d hear coming from our meta-mega-tape would be that of a mindboggling number of copies of Michael Jackson albums and similar top selling pop chart hits, endlessly repeating …

So, did I say there is no Hell?