Don’t Feel Bad For ‘Netflix Spring Bingeing’

Call it Netflix’s spring binge.

At the end of March, Netflix released the critically acclaimed “13 Reasons Why.” April featured new shows “Girl Boss” and “Bill Nye Saves the World,” while May’s lineup includes the second season of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” along with the return of binge favorite “House of Cards,” back for its fifth season.

Many will relish getting lost for hours on end in these shows. But others might feel guilty about their extended screen time, seeing it as sign of laziness. Or maybe they’ve seen an article about one of those studies linking binge watching to depression.

As a professor of communication studies, I’m interested in understanding the ways people use TV, video games and social media to improve their well-being. And I’ve learned that even though watching TV gets a bad rap as the “junk food” of media diets, it can be good for you — as long as you give yourself permission to indulge.

Why TV gets the shaft

My colleagues and I collected some data suggesting that there is, in fact, a double standard for how we think about different media bingeing experiences. We administered a survey that recorded participants’ thoughts about reading or watching TV for certain amounts of time.

Respondents associated more attributes like laziness and impulsivity with people who consume several hours of a television show in one sitting, compared to those who do the same with novels.

This finding probably comes as no surprise.

Although reading a novel for several hours at a time for entertainment can arguably be just as sedentary and addictive as watching TV, no derogatory term like “bingeing” exists for the act of devouring an entire Harry Potter novel in one night. We simply call it “reading.”

Just think about the pejorative term “binge,” which conjures images of excess and abuse (as with binge eating or binge drinking). Contrast this with “marathon viewing,” which connotes accomplishment, and has traditionally been used to describe the experience of consuming multiple installments of film – not TV series – in rapid succession.

Why is it that we “binge” when we watch a lot of TV, but it’s a “marathon” when we watch a bunch of movies?

Perhaps this double standard is rooted in television’s lower status as a source of entertainment. Historically, TV viewing has been considered a mindless activity, capable of dulling the intellect with “a vast wasteland” of shallow, lowbrow content. Watching TV has also been regarded as a lazy activity that displaces time spent on more active, productive pursuits. Avid viewers of the “boob tube” or “idiot box” will get stereotyped as “lazy couch potatoes.”

Meanwhile, headline-grabbing research linking TV viewing to depression and loneliness hasn’t helped binge viewing’s reputation. These correlational studies may give the misleading impression that only depressed or lonely people engage in binge watching —– or worse, that binge viewing can make people depressed and lonely.

In truth, it’s just as likely that people who are depressed or lonely due to unrelated life circumstances (say, unemployment or a break-up) simply choose to spend their time binge watching. There’s no evidence to suggest that binge watching actually makes people depressed or lonely.

The good news about binge watching

But binge viewing TV has become popular for a good reason: Despite its negative reputation, television has never been better. We are in the midst of a golden age of television, with a variety of shows that provide a steady diet of novel premises, long-running, elaborate plots and morally complicated characters. Far from dulling the intellect, these shows create more suspense, interest and opportunities for critical engagement.

According to journalist and media theorist Steven Johnson, watching these shows may even make you smarter. He argues that because television narratives have become increasingly complex, they require viewers to follow more storyline threads and juggle more characters and relationships. All of this makes the audience more cognitively sophisticated.

Gorging on stories is pleasurable, too. When individuals binge watch, they are thought to have what’s called a “flow experience.” Flow is an intrinsically pleasurable feeling of being completely immersed in a show’s storyline. In a flow state of mind, viewers intently focus on following the story and it’s easier for them to lose awareness of other things, including time, while they’re wrapped up in viewing. One study found that viewers will continue viewing additional episodes in order to maintain this positive flow state, so there is an addictive quality to binge viewing. Interruptions like advertising can break the continuous viewing cycle by disrupting the flow state and drawing viewers out of the story. Luckily, for TV bingers, Netflix and Hulu are ad-free.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits binge watching can offer is psychological escape from daily stresses. What better way to decompress than watching four (or seven) straight episodes of “House of Cards”? A 2014 study found that people who were particularly drained after stressful work or school experiences watched TV to recharge and recuperate.

Unfortunately, this study also found that TV watching didn’t help everybody. Individuals who bought into the “lazy couch potato” stereotype enjoyed fewer benefits from watching TV. Instead of feeling revitalized after watching TV, they felt guilty.

The researchers believe that the shame associated with TV watching can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, making it hard for viewers to reap psychological benefits.

For this reason, we need to shake the notion that bingeing on stories we engage with on TV is somehow less worthy leisure pursuit than bingeing on stories that we consume other ways, like novels. Immersing ourselves in narratives on TV can be good for us, even in heavy doses, but only if we truly appreciate it for what it is: a pleasure. Not a guilty pleasure, simply a pleasure.

How Can Tech Make A Bigger Impact On Our Health?

Look at the wrists of people as you walk along the street, and chances are you’ll see one or two fitness trackers in the mix. They sell well, but are they actually successful in delivering behavioral change? The evidence is decidedly mixed, and even if the person whose wrist you’re ogling looks in great shape, that’s half the problem: the kind of person who buys a fitness tracker is already motivated, and that bare wrist on the man next to them may once have had a band, before he lost interest.

If there was an overriding theme running throughout ActiveLab Live – a one-day event where fitness-industry professionals came to discuss how technology can make people fitter – that was it. Why is this enormous install base having a limited impact on the actual health of the world? Among the delegates were also 12 health startups vying for £25,000 of seed funding – a high-stakes 60-second pitch would prove life-changing for one company.

But before they got to pitch, they would first hear plenty of discussion about the current problems with health trackers. “Just providing someone with information on what they did yesterday and today isn’t necessarily enough to empower most people to change their behaviour,” argued Charlotte Bearn, head of startup ventures at the Behavioral Insights Team. To that end, when looking to make a change, they recommend making sure interventions and actions are easy, attractive, social and/or timely. Ideally all four.

Lara Clements, audience and evaluation lead at the Wellcome Trust, agreed with this analysis. “We know self-monitoring works, we know reward feedback loops work, but something that often gets neglected is remembering the wider context in which people work,” she explained. “People’s motivations ebb and flow, and people’s decision making isn’t very rational, so instead of giving them rational facts, it’s about making things meaningful and personal to them.”

We’re surprised that people’s length of stay in the fitness industry and adoption of exercise is not that strong, but then you do all this exercise and you can’t walk for four days afterwards! There aren’t many parts of that journey that are particularly positive.” Gamification and social elements have worked for MyZone (and others), but there’s still the problem of how to overcome that initial unpleasant feeling that many get from exercise and healthy living.

One interesting case study was shared by Samsung Europe’s head of corporate communications, Mark Hutcheon. “There was a nice experiment done by Adidas when they were developing miCoach,” he recalled. Half the participants were asked to take a photo of themselves post-exercise and were then shown the previous day’s picture before the notification came to run again. “Those that got photos of themselves endorphined up, looking great, were four times as likely to complete the programme and do it at a better, higher level. That’s a very simple thing to do – you don’t need artificial intelligence to remind someone that it’s enjoyable.”

Did someone say artificial intelligence? Yes, although the simple change above doesn’t require AI, it’s the view of Hutcheon that it’s this that will take fitness trackers to the next level. “We’re at the first generation of wearables, and while they sell bucketloads, I don’t think they’re that effective,” he explains. “I think the really interesting second phase is AI-based cognitive machines that will coach you. Whatever the wearable give them in terms of data – how you’re feeling, energy levels or performances – it will coach you, motivate you and encourage you. That’s where I think all the gaps will start to get filled in.”

Of course, the future of fitness doesn’t have to be wearable – in fact, in some ways thinking inside that particular box limits how wide the blue sky is, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors. With that in mind, there were 12 companies looking to pitch for an impressive £25,000 package from the event’s sponsors, including 30 hours’ free PR from Playbook, ukactive Strategic Partner Group membership and five days of sales lead generation from JMB Partnership. I can’t imagine the pressure on the speakers who had to somehow get their whole business across in a 60-second pitch followed by just a 90-second Q&A.

I spoke to a number of them beforehand, fortunately, and was pretty impressed with the clever thinking at work. There were several promising-sounding companies on display. Take ShapeLog, for instance – a bit like Chromecast for gym equipment. In other words, it makes old, dumb gym equipment smart, and they claim it can track individual gym users with 96% certainty thanks to a cunning dose of AI. That means that without wearing anything or logging in, gym visitors can expect a tailored report delivered to their phones providing stats and info about their session before they’ve even left the car park. Neat.

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Then there’s iPrescribe Exercise: on the surface of it, a familiar-sounding iPhone app, in that it logs heart rate through the camera and provides a fitness program. The clever part is that it uses your heart rate, weight, height, date of birth and up to 20 different medical conditions to provide a customized workout without needing a doctor to intervene: it’s all done via the data. Smart enough for a recent appearance in Harvard Health.

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While some – such as a Swiss-ball style controller for VR headsets – were high-tech, others were admirable in their simplicity: a site for connecting pensioners to take on sports and tackle loneliness, and StepJockey – plaques that can be installed at the bottom of office staircases showing the estimated calorie burn, and allowing employees to scan their phones as they pass them for inter-company competitions and prizes.

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The eventual winner took a different approach: instilling good habits when young. Imoves works with more than 500 schools and provides active lesson plans beyond PE, with dance elements. With the extra support, maybe the company’s desire to be part of every school in the UK will help make this the next generation of fitness tracker-enthusiasts – the type who’ll always use them, rather than leave them in a drawer, uncharged.

Charging Your Devices Could Soon Be as Simple as Connecting to WiFi

It seems like almost everything has gone wireless. Yet somehow, when it comes to charging electronic devices, we still have to deal with cords. Sure wireless charging exists, but only for small devices like your smartphone. And even then, it’s not convenient as you might hope. To actually power a device, a phone must maintain contact with a charging pad, which means it can’t be used while charging. This seems to be even a bigger hassle than dealing with cords and cables.

That’s not to say, however, that advances aren’t being made in this field. For instance, researchers from Disney Research just demonstrated a new method of charging called quasistatic cavity resonance (QSCR) that allows power to be wirelessly transmitted throughout a room, which means you can easily go about using your devices while you charge your battery.

QSCR works similar to how WiFi hotspots provide internet connectivity wirelessly. To demonstrate, the team built a 16×16-foot room with aluminum walls, ceiling, and a floor with a bolted aluminum frame. The interior was then filled with near-field standing magnetic waves. The result was a room that was able to power cell phones, fans, and lights simultaneously without the use of cords, cables, or awkward charging pads.

By inducing electrical currents in the metalized interior, they were able to generate uniformed magnetic fields that then transmitted to receiving coils which follow the same resonant frequency. Devices that operate in the same megahertz frequency could receive power at any point in the room, while magnetic waves that don’t have the same frequency are unaffected.

Research simulations show that this method can effectively transmit 1.9 kilowatts of power, which could fully charge 320 smartphones.


Scientists have been working for years to create stable and reliable wireless power transmission. But, the closest we have come to achieving it today, prior to this breakthrough, was through using charging pads and cradles, which don’t offer much distance. This new development is the first step towards truly wireless charging tech.

To make this technology commercially available, there won’t be a need to construct entirely new, metal rooms. The researchers believe that as they refine the technology, it will be possible reduce the required metal for interiors. They also think that people will be able to simply add modular panels, use conductive paint, or install copper poles in existing structures to get the same results.

This innovative method could be a technological game changer because it essentially makes electrical power as accessible as WiFi, lending itself to new applications—from portable electronics to robotics.

“In this work, we’ve demonstrated room-scale wireless power, but there’s no reason we couldn’t scale this down to the size of a toy chest or up to the size of a warehouse,” said researcher Alanson P. Sample.

This Robot Surgeon Is Outperforming Human Doctors

Imagine you needed a life-saving operation. Would you choose an experienced, human surgeon to perform the procedure or a robot? According to Dr. Peter Kim, vice president of the Sheikh Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, the machine might be the better choice.

Dr. Kim is specifically thinking of STAR (which stands for smart tissue autonomous robot), a robotic surgeon. The machine uses advanced 3D imaging to ‘see’ its subjects, along with sensing technology that lets it work with greater precision than humans are capable of.

As a result, it is able to operate with fewer complications and better outcomes than even the most experienced human doctor.

But, Dr. Kim says, the robot’s not likely to stand in for human doctors any time soon. “The goal is not to simply take away or replace surgeons, but really enhance surgeons’ capacity and capability,” he said.

Kim also foresees a future where technology like this can be a democratizing force, making complex medical procedures available to more and more people around the world.

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This Transparent Robot Is A Fisherman’s Dream

Researchers at MIT have developed gel-based robots that are so at home in the water that you can barely see them when they’re submerged.

Made from hydrogel — which as the name implies, is mostly just water — the scientists created a flapping fin robot, a kicking appendage robot and a grabbing claw robot that is featured in the video above. Each robot is powered by water pumped in and out of its structures, and that water is what allows the robots to move, kick or grasp. Similar hydrogel robots have absorbed water slowly, but that process makes those robots slow moving, and they perform their actions with less force than these water-pump-powered robots do.

Researchers are pleased with how fish responded to the soft robots. “When you release the fish, it’s quite happy because [the robot] is soft and doesn’t damage the fish. Imagine a hard robotic hand would probably squash the fish,” lead researcher Xuanhe Zhao, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT, explained in a press release.

While the robot would clearly make any angler’s day, Zhao and his team are eyeing medical applications for their hydrogel robots.

“Hydrogels are soft, wet, biocompatible, and can form more friendly interfaces with human organs,” Zhao says. “We are actively collaborating with medical groups to translate this system into soft manipulators such as hydrogel ‘hands,’ which could potentially apply more gentle manipulations to tissues and organs in surgical operations.”

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Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans Could Soon Become a Reality

Imagine living in a world in which verbal communication is no longer required, a society in which telepathy is the norm, where people would be able to “speak” to each other using only their thoughts.

Scientists have long been contemplating the possibilities of brain-to-brain communication in humans, and it appears as though their dreams could become a reality within the next year or so. Such a system would be made possible via major advances in the technology that have been achieved via recent trials involving animals.

In one study, three monkeys were connected through individual brain implants, then placed in separate rooms. They were given the task of controlling a virtual arm on screen, a task they could only complete successfully if they worked together. In the end, they did. According to Miguel Nicolelis, the study’s lead author, “They synchronized their brains and they achieved the task by creating a superbrain — a structure that is the combination of three brains.”

Alternatively, another experiment that tested brain synchronicity in four rats was able to accomplish similar results. After 10 trials, scientists found that the rats were able to think as one 61 percent of the time. They gained higher accuracy in solving simple problems when they combined minds.

More recently, the research has focused on humans. In one study, researchers placed two people in separate rooms and gave them the task of playing a game of 20 questions on a computer using only their minds. They transmitted “yes” or “no” answers with the help of an EEG cap, which tracked the brain activity of one person and triggered an electrical current in the other person’s brain.


One day, we could attempt to take it up another notch in order to detect individual thought processes. These thoughts could be transmitted to another person, influencing the decisions they make.

This could be an enormous game changer for people with paralysis and other medical conditions that prevent them from being able to perform physical tasks. For example, assembling a robotic suit equipped with brainet, a synchronization of multiple brains acting as an organic computer, could allow people to receive help from others when learning how to use an exoskeleton to regain movement.

For now, it’s proving quite difficult to create a device that mimics pure telepathy. Our brains are unique, and each of us thinks differently, our thoughts being influenced by our individual memories and experiences. The resulting brain patterns make it hard for neuroscientists to develop brain-to-brain communication, but if they can reveal an individual’s patterns of thought, they could potentially use another person’s brain activity to trigger those thoughts.

Fans Will Watch A Super Bowl LI Shaped By Technology

The Super Bowl LI is right around the corner, and tech companies are lining up to be associated with the February 5 event. From sensors embedded in the players clothing to 360-degree cameras all over the field, technology will also provide viewers with a new experience of the game.

Fox Sports teamed up with Intel to enhance game night by providing 360-degree video from “inside the helmet of any player on the field.” This experience is being called “Be The Player,” and it’s created by an array of 38 Ultra HD cameras placed all around the field, which capture a 360-degree view of action. Video editors can then virtually replicate gameplay from any player’s perspective. So there’s no actual camera’s inside the players’ helmets.

Aside from using 360-degree technology, Fox Sports will also increase the quality of viewing the game with 4K and 8K cameras and augmented reality to overlay graphics in real time — all things only fans watching at home will be able to enjoy.

Zebra Sports, a company with player-tracking technology, will be at the big game producing creative graphics of real-time stats, which it gathers with wireless sensors on the players’ shoulder pads. Those sensors are capable of tracking location, speed, acceleration and distance traveled. Companies like Microsoft, Google and Reebok have also created technology that is used by coaches in order to help players perform better.

Tech companies are also clearly there to market their products to consumers. One of the most out-there promotions thus far is a Tostitos limited-edition “Party Safe” bag, which apparently can tell when a fan has been drinking and call an Uber for them. The chip bag is not entirely an accurate Breathalyzer; it’s just equipped with sensors that can detect very small amounts of alcohol in a person’s breath. Therefore, the bag is more of a gimmick to make people aware of the dangers of drinking and driving and be safe. A red steering wheel with the message “Don’t Drink And Drive” will appear on the bag every time it detects alcohol. It will then offer $10 off an Uber ride if users tap their phone against the bag.

Tech companies are also going to have a big showing in TV spots for the game. Wix is back this year with another commercial this time featuring Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and action movie super star Jason Statham. More tech companies will definitely release ads in the coming week, but some of the companies that spent an average of $4.8 million in 30 second TV spots last year included T-Mobile, Amazon, Pay Pal and Wix’s competitor Squarespace.

Disney World To Debut LED-Lit Dancing Drones

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Disneyland and Walt Disney World — both FAA-designated no-fly zones, mind you — with a special exemption that permits the parks to operate semi-autonomous drones. Essentially, the waiver, which expires in 2020 and can be revoked at any time, allows domestic Disney theme parks to maintain their cherished no-fly zone status while opening up the airspace above them to “multiple small unmanned aircraft systems” during the daytime and evening hours.

Since the announcement, the Mouse-devoted have been waiting anxiously to find out what exactly Disney plans to do with its newfound drone-approved status. How exactly will Disney Imagineers — the design, architecture and engineering wizards responsible for the “magic” at Disney Parks and Resorts — put drones to work?

As a method of happiness-enforcing aerial surveillance?

As a newfangled way of delivering Dole Whips and churros to famished park guests?

As a swarm of terrifying robo-Tinkerbell clones that regularly descend upon Fantasyland for awkward photo ops?

While Disney Drones won’t be fulfilling any of these roles (nor will they help to manipulated an army of nightmarish, blimp-sized marionettes envisioned by the company back in 2014), they will play a starring role in an upcoming choreographed aerial light show titled “Starbright Holidays — an Intel Collaboration.”

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This special nighttime “holiday experience” will involve 300 LED-equipped drones swooping and sailing through the air in unison above Disney Springs (née Downtown Disney), a lakeside shopping and entertainment complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. According to the official Disney Parks blog, the performances will be “accompanied by an original Disney arrangement of classic holiday songs recorded by a full orchestra.”

It’s not yet known how frequently the Christmas music-soundtracked show — already likened to a “beautiful alien invasion” — will be performed or when it will officially debut. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, a five-minute “rehearsal” was staged at Disney Springs earlier this week.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen LED-equipped flying robots perform an intricate aerial ballet across a darkened sky. But this is the first time Disney has attempted such a feat and, as such, it promises to be quite the spectacle. It’s also certainly the first time that hundreds of unmanned flying machines have been used to form a giant Christmas tree.

According to a press statement issued by Silicon Valley-based semiconductor chip behemoth Intel, “Starbright Holidays” marks the first time that a “show-drone performance of this scale” has been staged in the United States. It also marks the public debut of the Intel Shooting Star, a newly developed lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — “a quadcopter show drone” — festooned with built-in LED lights than can be programmed to illuminate the night sky in upwards of 4 billion color combinations. While Intel has designed drones and dabbled in large-scale dancing drone performances before, Shooting Star is the first drone designed by the company specifically for synchronized light shows like “Starbright Holiday.”

Disney and Intel reportedly spent five months working together to develop the show, although Shooting Star drones will not remain exclusive to Disney. The Sentinel notes that all 300 drones used in each performance of “Starbright Holidays” are controlled by a single computer. Launched from a parking lot behind the west end of Disney Springs, the total fleet consists of 700 drones. (Naturally, you need backups at the ready in case a drone overheats and needs to be taken out of service like a cast member dressed as Winnie the Pooh on a 110-degree Central Florida afternoon.)

About the size of and weighing a little less than a standard volleyball, the foam and plastic Shooting Star drones can fly for up to 20 minutes — that’s almost twice as long as the Magic Kingdom’s beloved Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show.

Which brings us to the big question: will drones ultimately replace fireworks at Walt Disney World and other Disney parks?

Not to fret Disney purists — the nightly fireworks aren’t likely going anywhere anytime soon. But as Josh Walden, general manager for new technologies at Intel, explains to Quartz, buzzing ‘bots do have distinct advantages over traditional pyrotechnics:

Walden told Quartz that Intel’s Shooting Star drones won’t necessarily replace traditional fireworks displays — they offer something different, and can be used in conjunction with fireworks. But, he said, they are more environmentally friendly in the long run, as they can be used multiple times. They’ll also likely set fewer things (or people) on fire than fireworks tend to.

On that note, Sally French at MarketWatch notes that Intel’s show drones could indeed prove to be safer than fireworks, which sent 10,500 folks to emergency rooms across the country in 2014. Although a number of freak — and sometimes fatal — incidents have occurred at Walt Disney World over the years, very few have involved fireworks. However, falling embers from the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular show did spark a fire that lead to the evacuation and a brief shut-down of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride in November 2014. In a gruesome roundup of deaths and accidents at Walt Disney World, the Orlando Sentinel also notes that exploding fireworks burned six park-goers during a New Year’s Eve celebration in 1999.

Of course, most visitors to Walt Disney World in the coming weeks will likely spend little to no time worrying about the scant possibility of being maimed by a malfunctioning quadcopter. After all, they’ll be too busy gazing upwards above Lake Buena Vista, eyes agog and mouths hanging open in wonderment as hundreds of robotic orbs paint the sky with festive holiday color.

Rest In Peace: The VCR, 1956 – 2016

This is the third in a series of obituaries which used to just be for late, maybe-great clothing retailers and the symbols they once provided, but now includes once-beloved technology. 

The Videocassette Recorder, a piece of technology already so obsolete you would be forgiven for not realizing it hadn’t died long ago, finally kicked it for good last Thursday, when Funai Corporation of Japan, the last known VCR manufacturer on the face of the Earth, announced it would cease production by the end of July. According to the New York Times, a company spokesperson said Funai will keep on selling VCRs “though its subsidiary until inventory runs out and will provide maintenance services as long as it can.”

The VCR is survived by the technologies that fueled its demise, which rule for now (the DVD), the foreseeable future (the DVR, streaming video) and probably forever (piracy). It was 60 years old.

It was a player and it crushed a lot (of the competition)

The Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company introduced “the world’s first economically and technically successful magnetic videotape recorder,” the VR1000 — colloquially known as the Mark-4 video recorder — in the mid-1950s. As Fred Pfost, an engineer at the time, wrote in a blog post, he and his team introduced the Mark IV recorder at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters’ convention on April 16, 1956. They were announced by the vice president of CBS; Pfost surreptitiously recorded the opening remarks and, as soon as they were over, pressed play. (This was new invention in and of itself: Not just the first working video recorder, but the first instant replay! The sports world is forever in his debt.)

“There were about ten seconds of total silence until they suddenly realized just what they were seeing on the twenty video monitors located around the room,” Pfost wrote. “Pandemonium broke out with wild clapping and cheering for five full minutes. This was the first time in history that a large group (outside of Ampex) had ever seen a high quality, instantaneous replay of any event…The experience still brings tears to my eyes when I recall this event.”

These Ampex VCRs were prohibitively expensive for most; they cost $50,000. The first video tape recorder for home use was the Sony CV-2000, which was marketed in 1965. The reel-to-reel CV-2000 could record and play back black and white images, but most of those machines wound up being used for medical and industrial purposes, according to Sony’s history site.

The future was closer than ever with the hip-sounding Sony U-matic, which came on the market in 1971. It could fast-forward and rewind! Then the Philips VCR, made available to consumers in 1972, changed the game with its first model, the N1500, that incorporated all the best qualities of recorders that came before it. There were basic controls — the play, pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons — plus a clock with a timer, so you could record shows when you weren’t even home.

How the porn industry saved the VHS tape

Sony’s Betamax came out in 1975; hot on its heels was the Betamax’s rival, the VHS format by JVC.

VHS (Video Home System) was developed in 1976. Its features were impressive: A super-compact two-hour tape, longer playtime, and speedier rewinding and fast-forwarding. The JVC system, called Vidstar, was quite pricey. The VCR would set you back $1,280 (as Wired reported, it would be $4,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars). The blank tapes were $20, or $72 in today-bucks. Still, it was appealing: Back in the day, before every Marvel movie was approximately eighteen hours long, a two-hour tape was enough to record an entire feature film. The Betamax tapes had only half that recording capability and were more expensive than VHS-players.

JVC licensed its format to other electronics producers, filling the marketplace with VHS machines, Wired reported. “In just its first year, the VHS format took 40 percent of the business away from Sony. By 1987, about 90 percent of the $5.25 billion market of VCRs sold in the United States were based on the VHS format.”

The fight for market share between these two incompatible formats lasted ten years, until 1985, when JVC introduced VHS HQ (high quality) and, two years later, Super VHS. What really fueled the victory, though, was allegedly not that crisp sound and image but an even more powerful force: Pornography. Legend has it that Sony, pure as the driven snow, would not allow smut to sully its Betamax tapes. JVC and the rest of the VHS scene operated by more of a live-and-let-live ethos; powered by this nation’s unstoppable thirst for pornography, the VHS emerged as the dominant format.

Before Netflix and chill: A trip to Blockbuster

Today’s children may never grasp the infuriating feeling of getting home from the video store– you know what, I’m getting ahead of myself. A video store was like a Netflix you had to pace through, where you could easily run into people you knew. This limited what you could rent, because what ifJosh — not marching band Josh but Josh in a band which is a completely different thing — knew you were renting the Lindsay Lohan remake of The Parent Trap for the eight billionth time? You would die, RIP you, like the VCR is dying now.

At first consumers shopped at small, cool video stores, and the people who worked at these establishments were medium-pretentious: snobbier than independent bookstore employees, less condescending than record store staffers. Those small stores were crushed, as small stores often are, by the entry of a corporate behemoth, Blockbuster. Blockbuster went defunct in 2014, but just twelve years earlier, it was the king of the video rental market; the chain boasted over 2,800 stores worldwide. Sometimes you would go to Blockbuster, or your local video store, on a Friday night after waiting all week to see the movie of your choice only to find that your movie of choice had been rented out. There was nothing you could do. You were helpless in the face of this devastation.

But Blockbuster was edged off the throne by Netflix, which — from its beginnings as a DVD-delivery service in 1997 to its present-form as streaming hub — was something of an accessory to the murder of the VCR. As lore has it, Netflix founder Reed Hastings started his company in part out of frustration that Blockbuster charged him a $40 late fee for failing to return Apollo 13 on time. (Late fees were Blockbuster’s bread and butter: In 2000, the chain took in a stunning $800 million in late fees, 16 percent of its revenue for the year.)

Anyway, back to today’s children! For it is these youths, those who are too young to bear the mantle of millennial, who can scarcely fathom the struggles their elders faced. (Do we have a name for them yet? Are they “Generation Z”? Snapchildren? God I hope not.) They can never know how it felt to be ready to watch a movie — popcorn all popped, blanket just so, the good corner of the couch secured while your sibling was running to the bathroom like an amateur — only to discover after sticking that VHS tape into your VCR that the previous renters had been so callous as to notbe kind and rewind. This feeling, the waiting during the interminable whirring of the rewind, was buffering’s ancestor.

Later than same evening, an entirely enjoyable night with the family spent watching That Thing You Do! could be ruined by what was, looking back, the reasonable request of a parent to rewind the video before returning it to the shelf.

I made that glitch famous

In theory one could use a VCR to record television shows. This liberated audiences from the time-space continuum, allowing us to watch television shows on our schedules. We didn’t have to be beholden to some corporation’s idea of when shows are supposed to air! No, we could watch what we wanted to watch when we wanted to watch it. Free at last, free at last, etc.

But freedom in theory so rarely manifests as freedom in fact. What would actually end up happening is you would set the recording for Tuesday night on the WB at 8:00 p.m. for an hour — to do this, you entered a bright screen in a shade technically known as Doogie Howser Blue; this was the secret control center of the TV set and every time you used it you were convinced you’d broken the precious television for good — and even if you did everything right, some baseball game or breaking news or whatever would run late.

Of course your VCR couldn’t adjust like some nimble, modern thing. No, the VCR was as clunky and slow as it looked. It was not a “smart” device. In the 1990s, we were naive, and we did not ask our devices to be smart. We thought: We can be smart, and we can operate the devices, and that will be enough.

So the VCR would just start recording at eight like you told it to and then stop recording at nine, cutting off the last eleven minutes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And because this was the real deal dark ages, of dial-up internet and nothingness, you couldn’t just download the episode somewhere or even read a witty, informative recap, nope, you just had to LIVE there, in the not-knowing, until next week’s “previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” gave you the bullet points. A person might have thought: That this baseball game, a sport for men, is displacing Buffy, a feminist superhero who fights against the forces of darkness, is a metaphor too perfect to invent. And also: Why is this technology so flawed and annoying to use?

Families also stored home videos on VHS tapes, and then teenagers (it was always a teenager) would record over these priceless memories — competitive rounds of Coke and Pepsi at bar mitzvahs, bowling alley birthday parties captured with that shaky, handheld Blair Witchcinematography — replacing them with something else of arguably equal importance, like the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.

Literally dead

The VCR was killed, finally, by a one-two punch of technological advancements: The arrival of the DVD (first sold in the United States in 1997 and ruling the marketplace by 2000) and, in 1999, the DVR; TiVo unveiled its Personal Television Service that January and shipped its first TiVO DVR on March 31. And these technologies, too, can probably feel irrelevance on the horizon, as streaming rises like the climate-changed-tides and “TV” becomes less a physical thing, bound to the box itself, and more of a style of storytelling that can be accessed on any platform at any time.

Redbox, a DVD ATM, is still a thing, though revenue is in decline. Most of the kiosks are outside convenience stores, lingering there even when no one has much use for them, like 14-year-old boys on skateboards.

What was once the dominant entertainment viewing and recording device of its day is now the kind of thing modern, iPad-owning toddlers look at in fascination and horror, wondering how we ever lived in such lame, inefficient times. VCRs used to feel like the future. Obsolescence, like death, comes for us all. RIP, VCRs.

First U.S.-Approved Drone Delivery Drops Off Donuts From 7-Eleven

The robot apocalypse is here, in the form of drones delivering donuts.

Yes, that’s right, technology may soon supplant the jobs of delivery drivers too. The first drone delivery in the United States approved by aviation officials has been made, thanks to drone startup Flirtey in collaboration with 7-Eleven. It successfully carried and dropped off a chicken sandwich, hot coffee and donuts from a 7-Eleven store in Reno, Nevada, reports

“This is just the first step in our collaboration with 7-Eleven. Flirtey’s historic drone deliveries to date have been stepping stones to store-to-home drone delivery, and today is a giant leap toward a not-too-distant future where we are delivering you convenience on demand,” said Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny.

7-Eleven is only the beginning. Online giant Amazon is also working on a drone delivery program, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the most ubiquitous of all delivery services catches on: pizza. In the long run, perhaps drones could even replace postal workers.

“Drone delivery is the ultimate convenience for our customers, and these efforts create enormous opportunities to redefine convenience,” said Jesus Delgado-Jenkins, 7-Eleven’s chief marketing officer.

The technology does leave open one pressing question, however. Do you still have to tip a drone?