Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Static Age

2001: A Space OdysseyWhile I've been downloading electronic music for a decade, I only recently joined the 21st century with one of those nifty iPod thingies. I've been conservative in its use so far, in that while HAL Jr. has several hundred songs in his pocket-sized casing, I haven't yet gone in for podcasts, videos, pictures and the like.

While this handy-dandy portable electronic gadget is getting as much use in my household as the Walkman did 25 years ago (meaning: 24/7), it gives me pause to think about the future. I'm far from a luddite, but the trend towards downloading cultural and entertainment artifacts such as music, film, and yes, books may have interesting repercussions.

Rock n' Roll High SchoolFor instance, when I first became an aunt, I eagerly looked forward to the growth and maturity of the nephews and nieces so I could gift them with favorite records, um, I mean, CDs. Now that they're old enough to be blessed with my copious musical knowledge, a CD is almost as foreign and twice as useless to them as a wax cylinder was to me. I can buy them an iTunes gift card, or send them a playlist of songs to download, but the days of making mix tapes or purchasing a work of music for someone because you think they'll like it are almost over.

What about movies? As it is, I can't lend a VHS tape to most friends. Pretty soon we won't be able to trade DVDs either. Or photos? All my memories from the last five years aren't in a photo album or frame or shoebox, but in an online program called flickr, all ones and zeroes depicting those occasions and emotions. Marriages and births have transpired without any reminders on the wall or nightstand.

Irish JournalBut the one that makes me saddest, the one that is definitely coming down the pike eventually, with the Sony reader and NetLibrary and Kindle, is the loss of the book. Getting my father an Amazon gift certificate isn't the same thing as buying him a copy of the forgotten, exquisite Irish Journal, and then trading emails about it for a few months afterwards. Again, I can recommend Irish Journal or some other literary gem to him, but there's something about putting a cultural object in someone else's permanent possession. They may love it or hate it or make a quick buck off it by reselling it, but it's something personal. It's how books and music and movies have been discovered and shared for ages. Or at least the past hundred years or so.

So while I love my iPod, and wished I had jumped on the bandwagon much earlier, I'm really hoping that physical and digital objects can find a way to coexist in this world. If only so I can lend you a book that meant a lot to me, or embarrass and educate my nieces and nephews with some very, very important music.

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