Being raised by parents with neat-freak tendencies bordering on the obsessive-compulsive, it was drummed into my impressionable head from a young age that there are few things in life more satisfying than a good purging of the things cluttering up one’s personal space. Now, it could simply have been that my folks picked up early on my somewhat slovenly tendencies during my adolescence bedroom and used this mantra of minimalism to counteract said tendencies. They failed miserably, by the way, or so I had thought until I finally made the liberating decision, in the spring of 2011, to rid myself of the overwhelming majority of my really quite vast CD and DVD collections and go digital.
Such drastic action was, I freely admit, motivated primarily by financial necessity; I was broke and in need of quick cash to fund a move abroad. Friends and family were stunned at my decision. I must admit there was a definite feeling of sadness and more than a few moments of hesitation as I packed several huge boxes with the records and movies that had defined my youth, and I had to remind myself constantly that these things were merely possessions, not the very fabric of my being. That I would not be robbed of my mojo, Samson-like, when parted from my collection.
I posted everything on a used-media website and then, once everything was packed up and shipped out to web-based purchasers, I began to feel pretty good about the whole endeavor. I had cleared out the clutter and made a good bit of cash doing so. Mother would’ve been very pleased indeed. It had also occurred to me in the weeks leading up to my decision that, being honest with myself, I didn’t actually use those physical copies of my music and movies anywhere near as often as I used to. Like many, the way I indulged my passion for music, movies and TV shows had changed with the advent of the digital revolution.
For a start, most of my listening experiences now came (and still come) from Spotify, the Swedish-based on-line streaming service offering all the ad-free, unlimited, streaming music one’s little heart could possibly desire for a very reasonable monthly subscription fee. Other sites, such as Bandcamp and SoundCloud, allow emerging artists to gain significant exposure through word of mouth outside the ultra-competitive world of record labels, and puts them directly in touch with eager listeners.
Still feel the archaic need to actually “own” your music, rather than stream sounds to your device of choice? There’s always iTunes. Love ’em or hate ’em, the technological and cultural behemoth that is Apple have pretty much cornered the market in on-line music sales through sleek interfaces, extensive libraries, and merciless marketing. The modern music and media junkie is now in a position to get exactly what he or she has always wanted, and what vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, and MiniDiscs could never provide: all your music, everywhere.
Movies and TV shows have also gone mobile in recent years, with viewing habits tending more toward demand for a more flexible and versatile media experience. The increasing appetite for content on mobile devices, not to mention the rise of on-demand services such as Netflix , Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video and LOVEFiLM, has drastically altered the way viewers consume their media. This is perhaps observed most noticeably in an extension of the trend started by the advent of the DVD box set, whereby viewers (including yours truly) would gorge themselves on the lastest TV series, often watching an entire season in one sitting.
Netflix in particular is making bold moves to capitalise on this trend by commissioning original series such as the excellent House of Cards, and bringing back the previously cancelled, but much loved Arrested Development. Both instances saw multiple episodes released simultaneously, enabling the viewer far more control over how and when to enjoy the show than afforded by regular television networks. As is the case with the consumption of digital music, the modern movie and TV buff demands a variety of, and control over, content that physical media has struggled to keep pace with.
So by going digital not only had I regained some much-needed space in which to store more practical items like my underwear and gained the chunk of cash required to complete my move, but I also established more complete control over all aspects of what I listen to and watch. Good times. There was, as it turned out, another benefit to my new found love of all things digital. Something I only began to consider long after selling off my stuff; the not insignificant matter of finance. CDs are bloody expensive. DVDs and Blu-Rays are bloody expensive. Fact is, streaming the vast majority of my media from the likes of Spotify and Netflix has saved me a small fortune over the past few years. A very reasonable monthly subscription to both services sets me back considerably less than I would previously spend per month on the latest releases and, in these ongoing times of financial hardship, that has to be a good thing.
Of course there are drawbacks, and I am not for one moment suggesting that going completely digital is for everyone. Even for an evangelical digital convert like myself, there were some things that I just could not bear to part with during the mass clear-out. Signed CDs by favourite artists had to stay. As did the DVD and Blu-Ray copies of the Star Wars movies. Yes, even the prequels. It would also be untrue to say that I do not, on occasion, miss having something tangible to hold and enjoy. Especially when listening to a new record for the first time I sometimes feel a pang of regret, missing the experience of scrutinising the art-work and absorbing the lyrics, revelling in my obsessive fandom. These days, however, I reassure myself that I am a thoroughly modern man, a citizen of the digital age, and one who has transcended such trifling material concerns.
And it totally works. Yessir. Most of the time.
Long response here. But you did catch me while I’m on break and bored, so.
I had a very interesting, peculiar response to this article.
First off, it was very well-written, Sir Stubley. Props from an English major.
Though I was able to understand and appreciate how big a deal it was for you to wave goodbye to physical media (I have several friends in the same boat), I must admit to being somewhat baffled by it all. I’m no way insinuating you’re stupid for it, mind you; it’s simply a perspective I never shared. Words like “liberating,” “drastic,” and “regret” can only appear to me as odd, and misplaced.
Again, I appreciate the sacrifice you made. Sacrifice is subjective, and if it felt to you a sacrifice, then by all means, it was.
Kudos on that. That’s not exactly easy to do.
I’m somewhat rare in a certain regard, however, especially as a mid-20-something who grew up with physical media: how excited I was to see the Jurassic Park VHS waiting for me on my bed! I watched, was kind enough to “rewind” (remember that?), and then watched it a second time without hesitation. I was 6. Fond memory, indeed.
But I am in no way sentimental about it.
Your article focuses on music, TV, and movies. I grew up a literary junkie, my room stuff-stuff-STUFFED with books. Of all sizes. Paperback. Hardback. We had to make space in the garage for my library, even. I never much dug music though; it was always a background noise kinda thing to me. I haven’t been excited about an album in more than a decade, and that does not bother me. I have my favorites, sure (Rage Against the Machine makes the sound of my soul), but beyond that…meh.
My drug was books, and continues to be.
Now, as much as any reader, I fondled pages with glee and got high as can be on paper-binding glue, reveling in that moment when I realized that there’s more of the book in my left hand, and less of it in my right.
However, I drove straight into the digital landscape without so much as a glance at the rear view mirror. And if we ever needed to make as much space as we could on this planet, then I’d have no problem whatsoever stuffing books (and CDs, and DVDs) right into a giant garbage ball and rocketing them off to space.
(If you get that reference, then we are friends).
I’m sure the parallel is obvious. Whereas music-lovers and movie-hounds have their iPods and Netflix, we readers have the Kindle, and e-readers like it. And from the moment I heard about these e-reader things, I was ecstatic. “You mean to tell me…that I can have the complete works of Shakespeare, the complete collection of Robert Frost, the Lord of the Rings, the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes, all of Michael Chabon’s work, all of Stephen King’s…and all of Hunter S Thompson’s…in one tiny spot…that fits right inside my laptop bag?”
I was in. And now I do have that library in my laptop bag. Plus several, several more. To me, words are words, and music music, and the means by which we receive them are, more or less, irrelevant.
I think all this just goes to show. On the very same day, there are people like me out there, and there are people like you out there. We’re on the very cusp of a significant, historical transition. We’re right in the middle of it, the thick of it, a time period which scholars several hundred years from now will note and discuss. That’s really neat to me, being apart of that. You have to think: the upcoming generation will have no conception of physical media. They’ll just have heard about it – one of those long-ago things: “Did you know they used to make books with paper? Nuts…”
But the benefits of digital are too strong to ignore, as I believe you came to recognize. For one, yes, there is the space. There is also the lower prices. There is also the ability to connect with and become aware of new artists across all forms.
That last one has me most excited. New writers, new musicians, new filmmakers…they have the opportunity to express themselves and share their work to a tremendous degree, at very little financial cost. It might cost too much for labels and publishers to embrace them; but it is a very little thing for someone out there to say, “Eh, it’s 2 bucks. Why not?” Digital allows us that 2 bucks because, obviously, there’s none of the costs of printing, shipping, or promotion, etc. It’s much easier for new (and perhaps better) artists to reach us. I am thrilled at that, and have already found several fine indie writers on Amazon. You also see it in musicians such as MC Chris, Pogo, and Ronald Jenkees, artists who propelled their careers with MySpace and Youtube.
In the end, I do appreciate sentimentality. I also understand that this enormously significant transition isn’t exactly easy for people; the automobile was one odd thing to be gettin’ around in at first, too.
I am however glad you joined the Dark Side. Digital media appears to be nothing but good to me, and I’m excited to see it happen.
Your article makes for great reading, and is a fine bit of commentary on the digital phenomenon and how it affects people.