Anybody want to buy a used Discman?

by M.J. Hearle

At the risk of dating myself, I’m old enough to remember buying vinyl records. My first and second record was Michael Jackson’s BAD. The first copy melted during a particularly hot Saturday afternoon when I carelessly left it on the back parcel shelf for too long. 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. As far as I was concerned CDs ruled. Since that time, it’s been made abundantly clear that CDs do not rule. They have in fact been rendered more or less obsolete by digital downloads. 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 prophesized the book would succumb to this extinction level event. It’s not hard to see why. eReaders are simple to operate and more importantly gratify that ‘I WANT IT NOW!’ impulse endemic to the iGeneration. 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 ultimately 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. The subtle sensory stimulations that accompany the act of reading that you’re probably barely aware of but that you’d miss if they were absent.

This might seem like a tenuous argument but I think 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.

I still have BAD on vinyl, whereas my CD version has long since been 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.

M. J.