Friday, January 21, 2011

Physical Media

I spent a bit of time in a used CD store today. It's not something I normally would do. I get almost all my media from the public library. Thousands of dollars worth a year. I go to the library at least once a week, sometimes twice. Anything I can't get there, I either do without or buy off Amazon. As much as I like the idea of used bookstores and used CD stores and all that, I just don't need to own these things, and I've never had a desire to own the thing, the visceral, personal connection to it. The thing itself, the plastic disc, is a means to an end for me. Books are a bit different, I do enjoy owning books, but I only accumulate them if I'll want to refer to them, or if I know I'll never come across them again. Otherwise, I just give them away when I'm done. The weight that things have, possessions, objects.

But it was interesting looking around the store. I had a $3 credit from a DVD I sold them. Got the DVD free at work. So. Went through all the used CDs, the $1 bargin bin, the bundled DVD packages of TV shows. Sort of nice to expose yourself to something tempting and then realize you don't really want it. A purification of sorts. I ended up getting a couple things I hadn't heard by groups I'd heard of out of the bargin bin. You can't go wrong with $1 CDs.

Got me thinking. CDs and DVDs are maybe the last physical media our culture will ever use, as far as music and movies go, and books are even heading this direction, although they won't go as far. Everything is streamed, online, instantly accessible. Blockbuster only stays open out of a sense of nostalgia, discomfort with a digital world. There is no longer a need to go out to acquire and bring back the physical means by which to watch your movie. Besides, who doesn't have Netflix? For this in-between time in which not everything is instantly available yet online.

The music store was so 90's. There were so many little categorized objects. It was so geeky. There was so much weight there. So many precious little things. That sense, that collector's mentality dictated the terms of the space, the decor (busy, colorful, dim, loud), the very ethos of the place (a little fuck you, a little playful). All that came out of the objects, the weight of their presence. I suddenly felt nostalgic for the days when a thing was itself. When you saved up and anticipated the release of some album or another and waited in line to buy it and took it home giddy and immediately put it on and listened to it 4 times through, because that thing was it. That plastic disc was the only way to get what you wanted, same with records before. This was never my history with music. I came in right at the death of this era. I spent hours and hours up at night reading about bands on and downloading them via Napster. I never paid for music, never had that physical connection to it's paraphernalia.

There's something important about the objects, though. They are the texture of the world, the reality surrounding the experience. Without them, there is no reason for anything to be a certain way. What I mean is, imagine a quickdrive, a memory stick. It is a vessel, an empty, expressionless carrier. There is no reason, no need, and it would be disruptive for it to be customized to its content. It is simple, black, utilitarian, all purpose. It does not have its own identity the way a CD does, the packaging, the cover, the booklet, paper or plastic case, in some highly marketed cases, an elaborate physical presentation like this retrospective of Motown Records #1 hits my mom got my dad 2 Christmas' ago. The box holding the CDs is the original recording studio building. It's a little bit of genius in the world, a thing that is done perfectly.

So what's my point? I don't know exactly. Just that as things become more digital, interchangeable, transitory, there is less reason for anything to be any certain way. I wonder if our objects will become nondescript, interchangeable. If we'll lose that childlike excitement of going to a music store to acquire a thing that is in itself the experience we want to have.

No comments:

Post a Comment