Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Disposable Word


I have a confession to make. It's not something I'm proud of so please don't think less of me. Deep breath....Okay, here goes...I have downloaded music illegally. In fact, I used to do it all the time back in the days of reliable peer to peer file sharing networks. I thought, hey, I love music and I'm pretty handy with this internet stuff, so why am I still paying for CDs?

Several years, and a few computer viruses later (thanks a lot Limewire) I learned the answer to that question.

My hard drive was stuffed with thousands of songs, yet I felt strangely unfulfilled. It wasn't until I got drunk one night and downloaded the complete discography of Led Zepplin that I understood why. It was Houses of the Holy. When I was sixteen I had it on cassette with a crack in the plastic case and the song titles worn off from too much handling. A friend who had forsaken Zepplin for Def Leppard gave it to me. I not only loved the music on that album, but I loved it's physical presence. It had a history. It occupied space in my life. It had eight tracks that could only be skipped by a very practiced fast forward or a lucky rewind-and-flip. The digitized representation of Houses of the Holy that now resided on my hard drive was soulless and insubstantial. I could remove it from my life with the flick of a finger. So I did, along with all my other downloaded albums.

I recently had the same experience with books, courtesy of an app called iBooks for my iPhone and it made me very, very sad.

As e-readers like amazon`s Kindle and Apple`s iPad gain popularity let us not forget the lessons we have learned from the rise of the mp3. No two-dimensional, touch screen representation of a novel will ever replace the real thing. the iTunes software environment will never be as sweet as the shelves of your local bookstore. A book you buy and take home, read and then proudly display on a bookshelf has real value. The personalized inscription, dog-eared corners and smudged food stain on page 55 are important. You can lend it to a friend and tell them you picked it up at the airport and read it on the plane. You just can`t do that with a Kindle. The books contained in those things, even though they may be excellent reads are ultimately disposable and meaningless. Just like Def Leppard. 

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