Analog Man In A Digital World

Well, the Digital Revolution continues to lunge forward and my feelings remain mixed.

I have always been a big fan of technology and the convenience and pleasure it provides.  I love having a smartphone, an iPod, a speedy internet connection, a free show to give to the world, and all things high definition.  Yet all this cool technology comes at the cost of some of my other pleasures: tangible media.  I’m not sure how quickly the average person’s mind races, but I’ve been inside my own for over thirty years and it moves pretty fast, so I will break this down into sections for the sake of digestibility. 

MUSIC

I understand the benefits of digital music.  Since I work in a digital medium, I know how great it is to record a show or shoot a video and release it to the public directly within a few days of completion.  Naturally, there is no money needed for pressing discs and printing booklets, which keeps production costs down and yields a higher profit if it is sold for the same price as its physical counterpart.  Plus, it’s essentially more Earth-friendly to purchase digital music since no plastic or paper is used for packaging and you don’t burn gas driving to the store to buy a CD.  It makes sense all around.

I consider myself a product of the age I grew up in, where music was bought in a store and shopping for titles meant searching through bins and aisles and not simply clicking on screens from home.  Sometimes it was an adventure of sorts if getting to a particular store required a bit of driving.  Now, instead of heading to an independent store for a midnight release on Monday night or waiting outside a large chain retailer Tuesday morning, you can simply pre-order an album online and have it download as soon as it becomes available.  I’ve lamented closing of record stores before so I’m not going to go into it again.  I truly appreciate how the artist can control the distribution of their music and reach a wider audience through digital sales.  Still, there’s a part of me which relishes the treasure of their music as the result of some hunting.

I remember a friend and I discussed the outbreak of MP3s years ago and he insisted that, if anything, another tangible format would have to come along to replace the CD, not simply the intangible digital file.  Instead of another physical format, the CD would be replaced by an entirely new device almost none of us would have dreamed of: the iPod.  What a difference a decade makes.

MOVIES

I love Netflix.  On top of all the “green” reasons I listed before, streaming is an awesome way to access movies without the hassle of renting a beat-up VHS tape.  An entire library of films are now made available on a variety of devices, with many films and TV shows you’ve probably never heard of but want to take a chance on.  Combine streaming services with DVR’s and home entertainment is now something which is no longer dictated by a network’s schedule; it is dictated by the viewer’s schedule.  It’s funny how the prospect of new technology once seemed like it would provide exceptional convenience and give us all more time during the day.  We’re busier than ever these days so time hasn’t been freed up for us, but we do have control over some of our entertainment.  As long as those who did the work are getting paid fairly for this new wave of distribution, I understand it.

I own loads of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, probably for the same reason I own thousands of CDs.  I’m just attached to owning tangible product.  I really dig special features as well.  I’m a sucker for behind the scenes featurettes and audio commentaries, so owning the disc is practical for me.  It seems many people just want the movie, plain and simple.  As a result, you can buy or rent virtually every movie and TV show digitally.  To no one’s surprise, rental chains and Mom & Pop stores have been closing at an increasing rate.  I’m saddened by this for the same reasons I’m sorry to see record stores dwindle.  There’s something to be said for walking around and browsing, at least for me.  I’ll miss the experience of wanting to watch a movie, unsure of what I’m looking for, walking through the genre aisles and having my eyes fall upon something new or familiar.  It’s just not the same as scrolling and clicking, is it?

BOOKS

This is the one which is most baffling for me.  Who knew e-Readers would take off as much as they have?  Okay, some people did.  It seems to be the next logical step in the media evolution.  After all, everyone already has a mobile device which they use to listen to music and watch movies.  Seems like such a waste to not shed physical burdens altogether.  The digital book thing probably has more to do with the advent of tablets and larger devices to house all digital media like the Nook, Kindle, and iPad.  Plus, books have been around for hundreds of years so the threat of eliminating them seemed far less likely than the other two forms I discussed.  Do we really want everything to be found on a screen?

Early 2012 estimations suggest Amazon is worth almost four times the value of Barnes & Noble, the last large scale book retail chain.  In the next two years, Barnes & Noble will eliminate its dedicated music and movies departments as a result of declining physical sales.  Could their book sales really be in a similar slump?

Like music, some authors have embraced the digital medium for their output as a way of controlling the distribution of their art.  Amazon has begun making digital publication deals with authors which essentially make them partners with the online giant.  Book publishing houses are freaking out at the prospect of losing their significance in the equation.  The playing field between authors and publishers is beginning to level, leaving publishers’ and the mighty chain retailer’s futures facing a question mark.

Somewhere at the lowest end of the equation lie you and me.  In case you haven’t gotten the drift of my outlook, I enjoy browsing for books as well.  Skimming through a book or reading the first few pages to see if it grips you enough to result in a purchase is another experience I’m not ready to give up yet.  I was devastated when Borders closed its stores last year.  I’d head there regularly to pick up movies, music, books, and the occasional cup of coffee.  I had a particularly strong affection for the Borders in West Long Branch, NJ.  I would shop there a few times a month for all sorts of things.  In fact, I remember getting an email from them advertising an upcoming acoustic open mic night at the store, something I immediately wanted to be a part of.  For whatever reason, regrettably, it slipped my mind and I didn’t perform there, and I’ll never have the chance now.  It surely would’ve been a memorable experience to play in that store.

So what’s the end result?  Honestly, I don’t know.  The youngest generation among us has grown up with the Digital Revolution so that can only lead to it becoming the majority of media in my lifetime.  However, I believe book stores and record stores will become more like specialty shops, with a DVD section stuck inside for good measure.  Even if there is a small demand for them, physical media will not disappear entirely.  Remember how everyone said vinyl was dead during the 90’s?  I’ll bet every album in the iTunes Top Ten has a vinyl release as well.  That niche market has even expanded in its own way.  Many times, these records will come with a download code of a digital version or be bundled with the CD version.  As long as there is a market for this stuff, someone will put it out there.  Who’d have thought people incapable of operating a blanket would buy that backwards robe called the Snuggie?  This is what I mean as far as not being aware of a market.

As for me, who knows?  Maybe I’ll shed all my shopping habits and become a nomad who carries his media collection on a tablet in a backpack.  If not, I’m sure there will be little record stores with aisles for me to explore.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I’ll get back to full-on funny next week.

TTFN. Ta ta for now! (I read that in a book)