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Before 8-track tapes ever got off the ground, they were pronounced dead. Along came cassettes, followed by CDs. The poor 8-track had a very short life. If you want any 8-track tapes, let me know. I have too many. But I'm sure they'll become valuable some day.

At least I was lucky enough to miss the short-lived CD video player boom. I don't expect to see local video stores stocking wide selections of CD movies for rent anytime soon.

But now it looks like CD-ROMs are growing, expecially in the industrial instruction market. They tell me that you can put 50,000 pages of text in an average CD, so if you want to publish an instruction manual, this sounds like your ticket.

But just as I'm gearing up for CD-ROM, I understand that I must make choices on that technology, too.

CD-ROM is a flat, shiny disc about the size of an old 45 rpm. It is chock-full of information-pages of texts, voices, images or a combination of those things. It is revered as the new technology. Millions of us are racing to computer stores to buy the machines that allow us to view the material.

But CD-ROM means "read-only memory." That means, at least so far, that you can retrieve and view the information but you can't re-cord additional information on the disc.

So the big debate is simple: Do you want to own your information, possess it, with a CD-ROM? Or do you want information only when you need it, available on demand through some sort of online service or through a phone or cable company, for a set fee?

Who will want to buy information when they can rent it?

We could be moving toward a sort of library concept, except that you don't physically have to visit a library. You can access the information from your phone or PC for a fee.

I'm not sure which way this information debate will go.

But chances are pretty good that I'll bet on the wrong horse. I still have my 8-tracks. And did I mention by beta videotapes?

Now I learn that my television will be obsolete. The phones, when they go digital, will be next.

Technology is great. But most of us don't understand how fast it's moving. Our technology won't wear out; it will just become obsolete or inefficient.

Now, about those digital audiotapes...

Mr. Crain is vice chairman of Crain Communications.

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