As an old man, I have a loft full of history dating back to the very first days I dipped my toes in to computing and videogames. If possible I would own the entire catalogue of the ‘Vintage Computing’ section on e-Bay. Much to my girlfriends disgust it is almost impossible to move around my loft, spanning the entire length of my house, because I have box upon box of some marvelous pieces of machinery and gaming media from the last 3 decades. I love the sight and feel of these items, the history behind each piece, the stories they tell and most of all the memories they hold.
Now, digital media is really worrying me. I love shiny boxes, I love shelves of books, DVD’s and videogames. But where is our future heading? Will future collectors just have a loft full of hard drives? Will things still have a value in the future? I hope so, but am I alone in wanting to hold history in my hand? Digital media doesn’t age, it just copies itself to a new format.
It appears we are all heading towards a digital media world, but I actually hope this promise carries the same weight as the ‘paperless office’ that has been due since the mid 80’s, and hasn’t arrived yet. With the rise of ‘Steam’ for our digital gaming downloads, Amazon for e-books or mp3’s and Sky Player for our movies, will we actually own anything physical in future?
Obviously the producers of such media have a license to print money; no production overheads, no shiny box, no 3rd party retail price rapists and limited distribution costs. All they need is a bit of storage and for you to have a good net connection. The tumbleweeds are already blowing through our local high streets. The minute somebody figures out how to make a digital ham and cheese sandwich then they may as well hang a ‘closed’ sign on the centre of town.
I feel slightly guilty for the last 20 years of online ordering aiding the demise of many Saturday morning names on the high street, but that’s commerce. I may order a lot of product online, but I still enjoy the postman bringing me the packages every morning. It has taken a long time for bricks and mortar shops to realise what they were up against and adapt, by also having an online presence. But let’s not close them completely, they can co-exist. There are plenty of people still willing to pay R.R.P. in Gamestation stores, or £10 cheaper on the website. If the world goes digital, flush the high street down the toilet.
My point is: I need physical media. I don’t get a hard on over a bunch of 1’s and 0’s, they are all the same 1’s and 0’s that everybody else has. But not everybody owns a sealed special gold edition of Zelda WindWaker, a sealed version of The Empire Strikes Back on the SNES, or all original releases of the Final Fantasy series on the PS1, every incarnation of Mario Kart in pristine new condition. I love the fact that I hold these pieces of art in my hand. How much would the Mona Lisa be worth if Leonardo Da Vinci could have only saved it as a JPG file? Physical media is really struggling, monthly magazines are going out of fashion, and your daily newspaper is out of date the minute you pick it off the shelf, because it was printed many hours before. The world already knows what’s going on within a minute of any big news, social networks have seen to that. But we don’t mind reading this history from a screen, I do mind not being able to collect rare pieces of absolute pleasure, for future posterity.
I might be able to buy a digital download of the latest Foo Fighter’s album from Amazon for £3.99, but I would still rather pay an extra couple of quid for a nice solid CD case, with the pretty inserts, that I will immediately find on the shelf in 20 years time to show the kids.
It might be convenient to sit on your sofa and have the entire HMV library at your fingertips, but are a bunch of 1’s and 0’s worth anything in the future, of course they are not. They can be duplicated over and over again, the basis of their popularity, thus completely taking away the uniqueness of a product.
There is a possible upside to the increase of digital media, the fact that physical media will be produced in smaller quantities, thus making them more collectible. But my rant is to beg that we never reach the day where all of our media is digital media.
So who prefers digital to physical? Perhaps we should do a poll 🙂