Recording 003: Tape vs. Tap

Some might find it surprising that the word “tap” predates “tape” by roughly thirty years in reference to the concept of recording. From a technological standpoint, this makes sense considering wire-based communication (i.e. the telegraph) was first successfully used by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844, whereas the magnetic tape and recorder did not debut until the Berlin Radio Fair in 1935; however, from the way many of us think about recording, it feels a bit strange. Most of us spend significant amounts of our daily, weekly, and yearly lives making and sharing audio and video recordings of our friends, families, and ourselves. The fact that the device for, and act of, listening secretly to a transmitted conversation predates some of the main technologies we relate to communication itself is at least a little disturbing. Even more disturbing is the ability of, and desire for, tapping to outlive recording technologies. How many of us have used an actual tape recorder in the past twenty years? Now compare that to how many of us have had phone calls, e-mails, texts, posts, and search histories unknowingly recorded in the past five. When so much of our lives are on tape, why wouldn’t they also be tapped?

When, not long after his inauguration, Trump accused the Obama administration of wire-tapping his Trump Tower phones, it was easy to laugh. Trump is so consistently hyperbolic in his statements (i.e. tweets) that they lose any credibility; he truly is the troll who cried wolf. But the ways in which we knowingly and unknowingly record and are recorded by one another (and by governments and corporations) should be at the forefront of our daily thoughts and conversations. Every call, text, status update, tweet, and gram is a recording we can no longer exercise full control over. It’s scary to think about, but it’s scarier to ignore.