Physical vs. Digital: Moving Day Musings

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Part of my DVD collection, packed ready for the move

I blogged recently about my upcoming home move, and how I was throwing out my Mini-DV tapes. Moving to a smaller place forced me to consider what’s important to me and what I can live without, and it’s interesting how the march of technology affects those decisions.

A few years back I got rid of my CD collection, choosing to use just iTunes for listening to music. More recently I considered doing the same with my DVDs. After all, how could I justify having 100-odd DVDs on my shelves, when they could all fit onto a hard drive the size of just one of those cases? If I could just import my DVDs into my iTunes library like I did my CDs, I would have done it. Movies on physical media would be no more for me. But of course you can’t do that. You have to buy all your films again as downloads. Or rip them all using Handbrake, which is clumsy, tedious, and unreliable, but nonetheless maybe I’ll do that some day soon.

The decision is harder with films than music, because – to be perfectly honest – I was always a bit embarrassed of my CD collection. I had no regrets about losing their physical presence from the shelves where all could see them. Ironically, in recent months I’ve acquired a turntable and a small vinyl collection, which I’m quite proud of.

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All hail the Boss

There is definitely something, then, about physical media and its packaging that appeals to me. As a kid I would always make packaging for stuff – drawing covers for my amateur films, making boxes for Lego kits of my own creation. Packaging, that physical presence, is deeply engrained in me, and perhaps my whole generation. It’s telling that, when I first considered dumping my DVDs, I planned to have a noticeboard onto which I would pin a postcard or magazine cutting image of each film I owned as a download, to proudly display my virtual movie collection.

And then there are books. I love books, and my personal library constituted a significant proportion of my stuff on moving day. A small memory stick, at an infinitessimal fraction of the size and weight, could store all of these tomes; many of them would be free to acquire digitally, as they’re out-of-copyright classics; and many of them, in all likelihood, I will never read again. Yet still I can’t part with them. Perhaps because the book is a centuries-old invention, that does not rely on a compatible device to play it, that never runs out of batteries, that shows its history in every crease and grubby fingerprint. Particularly with those classics, I feel connected to everyone who has ever read that story down the years, even if the copy I’m reading is brand new.

One thing that did¬†go, however, was my TV. Again, a deeply engrained part of my life, but one which no longer feels necessary or relevant. (Conversely, radio increasingly connects with me, but that’s probably just because I’m getting old. Ken Bruce rules.) There is rarely anything I really want to watch on, and if there is then the best use of my time is to save it for my next train journey and download it to watch on my iPad. So both of my TVs and DVD players departed, along with my TV license.

I also said goodbye to my printer, which I pretty much ceased to use once I got my iPad – my new means of taking documents out into the wild. And my landline, which saw most use recently as a means to contact BT telling them I no longer need their services. If only Alanis Morrissette understood irony this well. (And now you start to see why I was embarrassed by my CD collection.)

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Just before the removal van arrived

Phone, printer, TV, CDs. Not so long ago, life without those things seemed unimaginable. Who could have predicted I would ditch these things, yet retain records and books? Vinyl sales are on the increase – is this a sign of a wider backlash against the intangible realm of the digital? Will 35mm projectors make a comeback in the homes of movie connoisseurs? OK, probably not.

And this is the final paragraph, where I wrap these musings up into a nice, tidy point. Sorry, there isn’t one. I just wanted to put down some of the thoughts about the transience of media and technology I’ve been having. What media is important to you? Is the medium itself important, or is it only the content that matters?

Physical vs. Digital: Moving Day Musings