Saturday, January 13, 2018

Why I like physical media

I'm talking books, and discs of music or video files. Somehow along the way we have accumulated many of these things. A great many. Anyone who has visited the wine cellar, and turned around has been confronted with the very great many books. I used to know how many there were because I kept a list for insurance purposes. That is now fragmented across several technologies so I can no longer easily say how many books we have. I don't have the faintest idea how many CDs, DVDs, we have.

(insert a photo of all the CD's and DVD's.) (You'll have to use your imagination. I'm not up to taking an artistic photo of dust bunnies. I mean plastic cases.)

The CD's are a little less obvious, but they have recently come to light. Do any of you remember iPods? Better yet, lets go back in time a bit more. Tape, as in cassette, 8 track, reel to reel, betamax, VHS. Record players in both 33 and 45 RPM complete with different hole sizes and adapters. Plus 78's if you really reach, and probably some others that I don't know of. People bought these physical things in stores.

All were a way of listening to music or watching video. People would create their own mix tapes on cassette, and it was a huge innovation when you could carry around a battery powered 'portable' player. The first video tape machines were hugely expensive, and one could buy a lifetime membership in video clubs to save on the astronomical cost of the tapes. I somehow doubt any of those clubs are around now.

Life goes on. Apple wasn't the first to sell a digital audio device, but the first iPod, 'with 1,000 songs in your pocket' was a major game changer. Do people still say sell like hotcakes? The iPods sold better than that. People like carrying their own music around, which baffles me a bit. It's nice, but not that important.

At the same time came a program to copy music from a CD into a database to be copied onto iPod and successive devices. That's about the last time I understood what was happening, and it's become much more complicated. I don't intend to go into that.

Eventually I got an iPod and ripped some music to it. Then at least some of the music went onto my phone so I didn't carry around the iPod anymore, not that I used it that much. It normally lived on a little player and blasted out the tunes for bike spin workouts. Lest you think I'm a hopeless Luddite, my phone can talk to a small device that wirelessly plays music directly into my ears, which is nice in the office, though it sometimes means asking people to stop talking for a second while I turn the music off.

Our last car held 6 CD's in a carrousel. It was great to see several USB ports in the new Fit. I dug out the old iPod so Linda would have music when she drove. That didn't turn out so well. It didn't want to run in the cold, and when it restarted it was always on a song I hated. A few times I couldn't get it to go at all, even though it was always plugged in so the battery should be charged.

Eventually I got sick of it and started researching if I could plug a USB stick with music on it directly into the USB port. That worked! I was amazed. So I spent some time cleaning up the iTunes library, mainly deleting songs and artists that I didn't want to listen to anymore. That got the size down to 20 GB or so, and I copied that onto a big USB, plugged it into the car and had music! Nearly instantly as opposed to the long start up time for the iPod, and it even remembers where it is.

Then I realized something was weird. Mostly starting with artists who's name began with R, up to the end of the alphabet, much of the music wasn't there. A few other artists before R. Sometimes iTunes could see the name of the album, but there was no actual music file. Not all of them, and I couldn't see a pattern. Most of those I still have the disc and decided rather than try to find them electronically and fix it, I'd just recopy the disc. There's lots of space on that hard drive, and lots of room left on the USB.

Well. One red CD holder that used to live in the old car, two drawers full, two revolving cd storage units, three fabric box thingies, and one big cardboard box, all full of CDs. Sorting through and finding the desired CDs wasn't too bad, but there are also a bunch that hadn't been imported and I like the music, so I added them to the pile.

I saw lots of discs that I remember buying, and usually I remember what the music is and don't want to hear it again. And then there are some discs that I have no idea what the music is, other than the genre. I shake my head at some of it. Aside from an attack of the sneezes from the dust, it's going ok. I am choosing to be amused when iTunes insists that some files cannot be found, yet when I put that CD in, asks if I want to replace the existing files. Sheesh. Just between you and me, iTunes needs a major rewrite.

All this is happening on a 10 year old computer because it's the only one with an optical drive. Well, the old Cube still functions, sort of, but putting the digital files on that is pointless, there is no way to get them off again. The new iMac and laptop have no optical drive. I guess they figure if you want to copy or create a physical disc, you will go buy an external disc drive.

Don't get me wrong, there are advantages to digital. The file itself takes essentially no space, in that 1 file or a bazillion are available on the device. It is usually easy to copy a file from one device to another, with implications both good and bad that I won't get into. Sorting, playlists, and all sorts of metadata are possible if you're into it.

But, he said.

There are some nasty surprises to digital files. You may think it is sitting there all cozy in it's ones and zeros, but it is every so gradually atrophying. That file format may become obsolete, which has happened to me several times in the text world. Worst of all from my perspective, is that your digital file might 'go away' without warning because of licensing issues.

Just because you bought a digital copy of some music or a movie and think it lives on your device, doesn't make it true. What you've bought is a code that lets you download it again when you want, unless something happens along the way, and they decide your country or region isn't allowed to see that data anymore. Movies are bad for that. I'm sufficiently old fashioned that I think there is a cost to downloading unless I'm home using my WIFI. I do not want to be downloading music on a cellular data plan.

A book is always a book. It can be found on a shelf fairly easily by looking. It's even easier if there is a consistent shelving system. A file can still be there on the computer, but it can be hard or even impossible to find. Maybe the title or creator isn't quite as you remembered, or there's been some slight computer corruption that renders it 'invisible.'

Yes, of course books decay as well. I've some books that are nearly 100 years old and the paper is going yellow. With care they can still be read, should I desire to read the un-Bowdlerized versions of the early Hardy Boys novels. They might go another 100 years before falling apart completely. With better paper and some care with oxygen and light, books can last for centuries. There is no digital technology so far that can make that claim.

I can take my book anywhere in the world or even to space and read it. If I bring the disc and playing device(s) and whatever adapters are needed for the power supply, I can read or watch my book or movie. Some people like the feel of a book in their hands, or the look of the rows and rows of books in their library.

Books in particular need no batteries, no device to play them back. Pick it up and read wherever your heart desires. Just don't drop it in the bath. Books and discs can be lent to a friend, or be sold to a used book store. None of these things are remotely true for a digital file.

Still, anyone want an 80's vintage set of Encyclopedia Brittanica?

1 comment:

  1. Too funny! And too true! I lost the thread on digital music years ago so we still listen to CDs, tapes (yes, we still have them too!) and the radio.


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