The Tunnel: 8 track technology for an I-Pod world

I have been trying to think of an analogy, a parable maybe, to explain the absurdity of a waterfront tunnel to replace the viaduct. I think I have one. This should also clarify the term “backward looking,” I used to describe tunnel advocates. That term is not intended to be an insult or some kind of transportation bigotry. Instead, it’s a kind of explanation of the confusion that could lead otherwise intelligent people to think of the tunnel as a replacement for the viaduct. So here it goes, the parable of the 8-track.

Imagine that for the last 35 years the main way you appreciated your music was using an 8- track player and 8-track tapes. When you bought it back in the 70s it was state of the art. You bought all your music, Donny Osmond, Earth Wind and Fire, Captain and Tineal and Golden Earring on 8-track tapes.

Things were just rocking along until your player started to break down. At first it was small things. A dial fell off, the vinyl siding cracked a bit, nothing serious. But soon it was mechanical problems. Tapes started playing slower. Donna Summers sounded like she wasn’t inhaling helium when she sang “Last Dance.” So you fixed it. And then you fixed it again, and again and then again.

So last night while you were groovin’ to the sounds of Steppenwolf, the player makes a weird sound. And right in the middle of Boddhisatva everything stops, smoke starts pouring out and your roommate, Jack Tripper, pours his Pina Colada on the flames. But its too late, the fire also consumes most of your 8-track tapes too.

Now it’s ruined. It will never play again. You have a choice. You can pay thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands to have someone build you a custom 8-track player and custom 8- track tapes. You don’t know where to start but you put out an RFP. The responses are really high and none of the contractors can guarantee that it won’t cost even more—and there may be legal problems because of copyright issues.

Your other choice is to buy an I-Pod and replace your music on I-Tunes for $1,000 maybe $1,500.

The same is true of the viaduct replacement. Freeways and cars are to transportation today what the 8-track tape players and 8-track tapes are to music listening devices of the 21st century. They work, but most of us agree its time to make a shift to new ideas and technology. Why would we rebuild or conform our thinking around a technology that is running, has run or certainly will run its course. Do we want to rely on Mideast and Alaskan oil supplies? An think about climate change and pollution.

And the thing is that we can still listen to our music, that is we can still get around town, travel to see friends and do everything else we want to do but we can just do it on foot, buses, zip cars or via the internet. The idea that we would spend billions of dollars to recapitulate an old way of doing things is backward looking, it assumes a one for one replacement of an old thing with something that is passé, outmoded and finished.

So let’s get the I-Pod and replace that old Deep Purple 8-track with some MP3s. You can keep the Matador. It’s still pretty cool.