I’m a big believer in the transition away from physical media when it comes to entertainment, but sometimes it’s a bit befuddling even for me to think about how (relatively) quickly I’ve gone through the (various) transitions.
Ten years ago, I listened to most of my music on CDs, though in the car, I was still cassette all the way. I had a basement full of comic books and old Wired magazines. I had about ten groaning bookcases and a nightstand piled high with the books I had yet to read. I owned a moderate number of VHS tapes, but I don’t think I had yet gone over to DVDs. I even carted around, every time I moved, about a hundred pounds of vinyl.
If I wanted something new, I went out of the house. I browsed bookstores. I hunted around used CD stores. I rented at Blockbuster. I was, on a weekly basis, carting new atoms into my house by the kilogram. Books, magazines, comic books, CDs. And once they came in, they never left. Well, except for the Blockbuster rentals. They got out, though rarely on time.
Fast forward ten years. There are a few CDs left in the basement, but most have been sold or given away. I’m begging my wife to throw away the few old VHS tapes of kids’ shows that she thinks Connor will someday like. We own a bunch of DVDs, but I’ve digitized most of the good ones so we can play them on our various media-friendly devices — Zunes, an iPad, phones, laptops, an Apple TV, an iRiver. The number of groaning bookcases has grown, but I don’t think it will do so anymore, thanks to a couple of Kindles, three Sony Readers, an iPad and a bunch of apps for other devices.
We don’t buy much physical media anymore. These days, buying new things is a lie-in-bed sort of affair, the way it might have been portrayed in Scientific American circa 1952. Do I want to watch that Freakonomics movie? Let’s have a browse on iTunes. Do I want to read a few issues of Ex Machina? (Hint: I do.) Get the iPad and check what’s just been released. Do I want to read A Dance of Dragons? Sigh. Pre-order for my Kindle and bite my nails until it’s released.
The convenience is easy to get used to, but it’s pretty astounding when you compare it with what we used to do. I’m forever finding songs to like in the soundtracks of movies. Only these days, instead of jotting down the name of the song, getting in the car and driving to whichever local CD store has the most knowledgeable staff who can hunt down the right track for me, I just flip open my laptop, and within two minutes, I can have legitimately purchased and be listening to the song I want. And quite possibly just that track.
But here’s the funny thing, and you can have a good laugh at me if you like: I still love going to bookstores. Always have. I like to poke about, check out the covers, flip through the books. I’m about the only person I know who knows that new-book-day is Tuesday and new-comic-day is Wednesday. Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t bought more than four or five physical books for myself in the last two-and-a-half years since I went digital. I love my Kindle for daytime reading and my iPad for when my wife is asleep.
But I still can’t shake the bookstore habit. I like to boast that my one super-power is that of recommending books. Tell me the last two books you liked, and I’ll tell you the next one you’ll love. I guess all my years of browsing around bookstores is where my power came from, and if I don’t go back every now and then to renew it, the magic will fade.
So it’s pretty much goodbye to atoms around this household these days. I started off by talking about what it was like ten years ago, but what about further back in the past? If my ten-year-old self from back in the seventies could see the kind of life I get to live now, he would have thought it incredibly cool. Books on screens, music from phones, movies stored in devices smaller than books.
Of course, the lack of flying cars and jet-packs would have been a let-down.
And what’s to come? I think if you fast-forwarded to my house ten years from now, you’d find no CDs, no DVDs, no magazines, no comic-books.
And about ten groaning book-cases.