At the risk of dating myself, I’m old enough to remember when record shops weren’t the sole domain of hipsters and audiophiles. If you wanted to listen to your music at home you had two options: cassette tapes or vinyl records. Cassette tapes were fine for the car but if you genuinely wanted good audio quality you couldn’t go past vinyl.
The first ever record I bought was Michael Jackson’s BAD. So, was the second.
The first time I bought BAD, it was a particularly hot Saturday afternoon. I remember sitting in the parking lot of the record store, looking at the album cover and thinking Michael Jackson looked pretty damn cool in his leather. I remember putting BAD on our car’s back parcel shelf. It was hot back there but I thought nothing of it. By the time we got home the record had been warped by the heat and rendered unplayable. Luckily, my mum was generous and patient enough to drive me back so I could buy a replacement.
When CD’s appeared I made the jump to the new technology quickly and without regret. So what if vinyl sounded better? I couldn’t play a record in the car or on my Discman (for you Gen-Y’er’s, a Discman was a portable cd player your could carry around with you. Kind of like your iPhone, except it only played music and was prone to skipping if you jumped around too much.) As far as I was concerned, CDs ruled. Since that time, it’s been made abundantly clear that CDs do not rule. Digital downloads and cloud-based streaming have more or less rendered CD’s obsolete. DVDs and Blu-Rays are probably not far behind. Apparently, there’s no room for physical media in the digital age.
With the introduction of eReaders, many folks prophesied the humble book would succumb to this extinction level event. It’s not hard to see why. eReaders are simple to operate and, more importantly, gratify the ‘I WANT IT NOW!’ impulse which only seems to grow more prevalent. So long as you have access to the internet, novels by your favourite authors are only a few clicks away. Even better, eBooks are cheaper than regular books.
That stated I think books are here to stay. Sure, it’s inevitable that the percentage of physical books sold to digital is going to shift in favour of digital, however, I don’t think the difference will be as drastic as the publishing industry fears. Why am I so confident? It’s easy – you hold a book in your hands.
Oh,I know CDs and DVDs are tangible objects as well and that hasn’t served them too well in the long run, what I’m discussing is something different – the sensation of paper beneath your fingertips, the soft whisper of a page turning, the faint smell of dried ink. All those subtle sensory stimulations you’re barely aware of but would miss if they were absent.
As we travel further into the digital age – an age defined by its ephemeral quality – sensual objects will take on greater value (and is there a more sensual object than a book? Something that not only excites the senses but also stimulates the imagination). In a world where all my media exists in a folder on my computer, a book on the shelf is going to be something special.
The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy put it best in conversation with Neil Gaiman. Gaiman was worried the advent of eReaders would mean the death of the physical book, until Adams handily explained, ’Books are sharks. Sharks have been around for a very long time. There were sharks before there were dinosaurs, and the reason sharks are still in the ocean is that nothing is better at being a shark than a shark. Books are really good at being books and no matter what happens books will survive.’
I still have BAD on vinyl, whereas my CD version was long since lost to time. Why do I have it? Because vinyl sounds better and as I get older quality means a lot more to me than immediacy. Likewise reading words on a page will always be a superior experience to reading them on a screen. Sometimes the media adds a little magic to the material. It grounds it, gives it shading and depth that no amount of 1’s and 0’s will ever match.