Somewhere in between early college and late college, my media
purchasing habits changed. I went from needing a physical copy of
everything, to preferring a digital copy or a free copy I could return
once I was finished with it. Maybe this could be because I was sick of
moving all that junk every time I moved during college (every year),
or maybe it was because I got older and was more realistic about
whether I was really going to watch that movie or read that book
again. I’ve been purging all the stuff for years now and only a few
choice books and comics remain. All the CDs and DVDs and video game
boxes are gone.
I’d like to think that I’ve matured, but it’s probably more likely
that I was swayed by social trends alongside getting older. I remember
being a kid and dreaming about having a house someday with a library
that would rival Neil Gaiman’s – that’s the motivation behind keeping
all that stuff, but now, as an adult thinking about buying a house in
the next few years, I dream about a Spartan dwelling wired with media
access devices, but no physical media.
And I don’t think it’s just me. People are embracing e-books, digital
downloads, streaming, and other non-physical methods of media access.
These things get more prevalent every day.
I think people are coming to realize that physical media, under all
that pretty, colorful packaging, is just a portal to an experience. If
you own a DVD, you own something physical: a plastic disc in a pretty
cardboard and plastic holder. If you watch a movie – you have an
experience. While plastic disc peddlers have done a damn fine job of
creating the link in our minds between the experience of a movie and
the movie’s physical media, the more digital becomes the norm, the
more that link is shattered.
And rightly so.
Maybe I just make a bigger deal of things because I like to believe
the world is a complex and interesting place. Maybe it’s not – it
could really be that digital is just cheaper and more convenient and
that explains most, if not all, of digital’s popularity. But I don’t
think it’s that simple. I think there is a paradigm shift in our
perception of what media is – and now, with digital getting more and
more popular, the notion that media is an experience (an event, i f
you prefer) is much easier to divide from the idea that media is a
plastic disc or a paper book. Maybe books are a slightly different
case because the act of reading is an important part of the
experience, whereas opening a DVD and loading in a disc is more
But no matter what, you can never repeat an experience. Of course, you
can try by owning the media that gives you a portal to a quantifiable
portion of the experience.
But that time you watched Garden State with a girl and then kissed her
for the first time on her couch? Or sped down a dirt road in the
pounding rain with the windows down, soaked the to the skin, quivering
with young lust and listening to Coldplay’s Yellow? Or that sunny
cicada summer you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in
your car, eating hot french fries, after class and before you had to
go to work, in those glorious stolen hours?
You’re never gonna get those back even if you buy the physical media.
I’d like to think people are seeing that idea – but maybe it’s easier
to Netflix something from the couch than to waddle down to the local
Wal-mart to buy a copy.
Hard to tell.