"For those of you under the age of 21, it's basically a big CD, okay?"
— Craig Shoemaker
An adult digs up their old record collection out of the attic and their kid asks what they are. The parent nostalgically names all the singers of their day whose works have been put to their vinyl discs. Then the kids says, "No, I mean, what are records?" Followup with the parent saying, "I was going to say these made me feel young again."
A subtrope of Technology Marches On, initially fueled by the novelty of the notion that a format of media could actually become obsolete. It bears mentioning that it started cropping up in fiction before 1990, and the characters unfamiliar with records were full-grown adults, meaning that in its earliest form the trope ran on shameless hyperbole. Even in the 21st century, though, its realism is dubious. Most young people do indeed know what a vinyl record is, even if they never listened to or owned one themselves. Modern DJs still use them, for instance. They've also been undergoing a resurgence of popularity among audiophiles, hipsters and indie music fans (and even some teenagers), thanks to their retro appeal and their exemption from the abuses of the Loudness War. It remains to be seen if their recent semi-popularity will show up on TV any time soon, but it's enough to make this a Discredited Trope.
This trope can also be used for 8-track tapes of course (arguably more understandable, since many people know of 8-track but don't know what the actual cartridge looks like). Expect it to be applied to audio cassettes any time now, VHS in about five years, and to CDs in 10-15 years or so, possibly taking the whole notion of going into a store and buying a physical object with recorded music on it into the history books (well, online files if books are also obsolete) with them.
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This 1984 ad for Atari word processor software features a variation of this. Pitchman Alan Alda extols the program's then-astounding features to a little girl, then states, "Atari may make the typewriter obsolete." "What's a typewriter?" the kid asks in response.
In a current ad for a contraceptive, a little boy is shown standing on his parents' record collection which he scattered on the floor, and his plastic dinosaur is going round and round on the record player. Why his parents have a turntable in this day and age is left as an open question.
Depending on the parents' age, it could simply be an old LP collection, which pretty much anyone who was a teenager before the 1980s might have had. Most modern-made turntables are sold just so Baby Boomers still have something to play these on.
Anime & Manga
In one episode of Cowboy Bebop, Spike and Jet receive a Betamax tape for Faye in the mail. They are initially stumped as to what it is. And even when they are told to find a VCR to play it, they go through the ruins of Tokyo to find the electronics museum and return with one for VHS. It's particularly funny that Ed, who is younger than either Jet or Spike, knew what it was. Then again, Ed is a Gadgeteer Genius and Playful Hacker.
The comic strip Fox Trot did this once. In fact, the example in the trope description exactly matches the dialogue of the strip in question. Also seen in Zits, Blondie, and the US Dennis the Menace.
Related: A My Cage strip involved Norm getting weird looks for having a portable CD player with him at the gym instead of an MP3 player.
Opus in Bloom County took it to a large extreme, where a person wearing a brown outfit seemed to be completely unfamiliar with what a newspaper was, even when Opus tried explaining what it was three times when selling the Bloom County local newspaper. The guy, when Opus could give the simplest explanation he could give (paper), also mentions that it "feels like kleenex."
A series in Crankshaft revolved around Ed trying to replace his copy of Rhapsody in Blue. The clerk at the store, who is at least in her 20s, had never heard of a record before. This was in 1988.
Films — Live Action
In Honey We Shrunk Ourselves (a straight-to-video sequel to Honey, I Shrunk The Kids), Wayne Szalinski describes the gramophone to his son as "an early record player". He then has to clarify that the record player was "an early CD player".
Inverted in the first Austin Powers film, when Powers attempts to play a CD on a portable turntable. An early script of the second film had Felicity doing the same thing at the very end.
In She Devil Mary comes home to the young girl dancing with the butler to a record. She throws the turntable off the shelf and takes control of her home. Even in 1989, turntables would have been replaced, especially in a rich ladies house.
There's a sort of inversion in Wayne's World 2 (1993): Cassandra predicts a gloomier future for vinyl than what actually happened. She says vinyl will soon stop being manufactured and as a result her band's album will never be issued in the format. Vinyl took a hit in the early 90s, with CDs having overtaken the market share from cassettes, which themselves limped on for a few more years, but she was still off the mark. Her remark about her album might have been less so, however, as it may well not have been issued on vinyl at the time for the reasons stated and may not have enjoyed enough enduring popularity to justify a vinyl run in the future.
Live Action TV
Tower Prep showed where this trend might be going. When they find a record, CJ and Suki ask what it is. Gabe responds that "it's kind of like a hard copy of a MP3." Never once were CD's mentioned, showing that CD's might quickly become the new records.
In an episode of Home Improvement, Jill offers the boys "her old 45s" for a party, to which one of them responds; "You're giving us guns?"
In another episode: Brad calls a record player a "machine that plays the black round things that spin", Tim corrects him and later Mark tells Tim that he read about record players in his history class.
Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show does a variation on this. Cliff has a huge collection of old jazz records that he keeps in his basement as a form of "offspring repellant". If the kids come down there, he invites them to listen to his jazz records. They always refuse and run away.
Inverted in an episode of House where a man has just awoken from a vegetative state after ten years and asks what an "Ip-odd" is.
In My Wife and Kids the children are genuinely stunned and amazed that Micheal was able to turn on the TV by pressing buttons on it rather than use the remote. Even asking how he did it.
One episode of The Colbert Report had Stephen interviewing an NYU art-history major. The conversation went something like this:
Stephen:Ted Nugent has condemned your generation as lazy and apathetic. Your response?
NYU Major: Who's Ted Nugent?
Stephen: Well, uh, he made a bunch of hit records in the 70s.
NYU Major: What's a record?
Stephen: Okay, uh, it's the way we used to buy music.
NYU Major:Buy music!?
Doctor Who pulls it quite often in the new series, as most born sometime in the '80s or later have little to no frame of reference for Police Boxes (other than from the cultural impact of Doctor Who) — improved communications technology (cell phones and walkie-talkies among them) have rendered the whole point of a police box completely irrelevant.
The week of Valentine's Day in 2012 had an 80s themed week for the UK Deal or No Deal. It featured an interesting twist involving a cassette necklace. According to Noel Edmonds, this could have been a problem to younger viewers who wouldn't know what cassettes were.
In an episode of Veronica Mars that aired in 2006, Veronica expresses surprise that "they still make vinyl". Piz tells her that they still put out dance music on vinyl, but being a record collector, he should know that vinyl was and is more extensive than that. In a previous episode he was seen with a copy of London Calling by The Clash, which he said was unscratched and cost him 99c, which implies it's an original pressing, but the cover is a little too pristine not to be new, which means the writers didn't have an excuse for their ignorance either.
Steve Albini, producer (or "recording engineer" as he prefers to be credited, if at all) of many, many obscure and semi-obscure albums, as well as better known albums by Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Bush and Cheap Trick, declared an inversion in the liner notes of the CD version of his own band Big Black's album Songs About Fucking: "The future belongs to analog loyalists. Fuck digital". He later re-iterated his vague, non-committal stance on the issue, releasing two Big Black E Ps on a single CD which he titled The Rich Man's 8-Track Tape.
"The Vinyl Countdown" by Relient K is a song lamenting how kids these days don't know what records are. Naturally, it was a vinyl-exclusive single.
Invoked in Car Talk: The Musical, in the form of a joke designed to fly right by anyone under 40. A man is lamenting that, at age 45, he's too young to have a heart attack. His boss tells him, "Hey, 45 is the new 78." Anyone in the audience who laughs has gray hair.
Fallout 3 - Three Dog says "I'm your friendly neighborhood disc jockey. What's a disc? Hell if I know, but I'm gonna keep talking anyway." But Fallout is very Zeerust, so records were not replaced with tapes, CDs, and MP3s, but with giant square cassette tapes the size of 45s.
Played straight in an episode of "The Marshmallow Money Show" (a now-defunct online Flash series that was on the old Cartoon Network website), when one character notes that record stores nowadays only sell C Ds and tapes, yet are still called "record stores", to which another character quickly responds "What's a record?"
Inverted by Mayor on The Powerpuff Girls, who tries to play a CD on an old-fashioned record player (and proceeds to mistake the horrible scratching noises that ensue for "techno music").
Played straight in the Arthur episode "Francine Frensky, Superstar". (Note: This was one of the earliest episodes of the show, the second season of a program that is in its fifteenth season as of 2012 and shows no sign of stopping.) The kids shot blank looks at Mr. Ratburn when he talked about Thomas Edison's invention, the phonograph, and prompted the following exhcange:
Ratburn: It played music, with a needle. Binky: Is this some kind of a joke?
This may explain why in the later episode "Popular Girls" (Season 3), during a spring break day camp, one group of Arthur's classmates brings in vintage/antique things, and when Jenna demonstrates a record player, the kids all "Oooh" in awe.
Used liberally in Futurama pretty much anytime old technology is mentioned or found.
Professor Farnsworth: Show us this... "The Wheel".
Not records, but in the same spirit of the trope: An episode of Batman Beyond has Terry going to the home of a Science Fiction writer, and finding a typewriter. He pokes at it and asks, "What is this? Some kind of word processor?"
One episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon had the turtles take cover behind a stack of boxes. Raphael looks into the boxes and the following conversation takes place:
Raphael:Donatello, what are these?
Donatello:These are phonograph records. They're what people used to listen to before they had CDs.
Michaelangelo:Whoa! Someone really burned these pizzas!
In Kim Possible, the grandmother gave Kim's younger brothers a collection of vinyl records. This was played with: they knew what the records were, and were excited to receive them.
First twin: Wow, vinyl records! The legends were true!
Both played straight and subverted in Ed Edd N Eddy. In one episode: The Eds are rummaging through Eddy's attic, Ed finds a 7-inch 45rpm record and says: "I found a doughnut!" Eddy corrects him and says: "That's a record."
Also subverted with Eddy having a turntable in his bedroom and is frequently seen playing records.
Then again, this could just as easily be an aversion, as Ed Edd n Eddy isn't really set in a particular time period.
In the King of the Hill episode "Just Another Manic-Kahn Day", Bobby and Joseph find a box of Hank's old record albums. Bobby knows what they are but Joseph picks up a record and says: "The computer these things go into must be huge!"
In an episode of The Cleveland Show, Cleveland takes Rallo to a record store ("it's where insufferable people come to find obscure music no one likes") and Rallo asks "where do they keep the MP3s?" Cleveland tells him that records have a warm sound you can't reproduce digitally, then puts on a hissing, skipping record. "Takes me back".
Family Guy: Brian tries to impress a girl in a club.
At a certain (non-secret) base in the US there is a room that can only be entered by using the phone on the outside of the room to call the people inside of the room to come and open the door. The phone on the outside of the room is a rotary phone and there have been cases where the new, younger people don't know how to operate the phone.
One has to wonder what the purpose of dialing is if you'll only ever use it to call the other side to open the door. Perhaps they installed it before the invention of the spoken passphrase.
It may have been installed back when the only thing the phone company would allow you to attach to their phone lines was one of their telephones. Of which there were two varieties: the kind that hangs on the wall, and the kind that sits on a table. It was a regular phone, connected to the regular phone system, with the extension for calling inside the room written on the phone. The purpose was to tell someone inside the room to look at the security camera then come answer the door.
Double subverted by various toys first revealed in mid-2012. Soundwave's finally a tape player again, but only in the form of a high-end, collector-oriented "Masterpiece" toy — the upcoming kid-oriented Soundwave toy is based on his armored car form from Transformers Fall Of Cybertron.
This video shows the children of a mother who grew up in the '80s attempt to use technology from that era.