I just finished a moving and was completely overwhelmed by my 25 boxes of books, my 200 CDs and countless cd-roms, shoe-boxes of photos and half-filled albums, dvds, old magazines and miscellaneous files.
All this came from two decades of accumulation. Contrary to what most people would imagine, I did not get a warm feeling out of unpacking all this stuff; I instead got the cold chills of having my new house invaded by physical objects that would gobble up space, collect dust, need to be shelved properly (in what order? height, topic, chronological…) etc.
Then I came to realize more than ever how wonderful this digital age we live in really is. It allows us to produce and consume media without consuming space. We could therefore have a “zen-like” home, with few objects and very simple furniture, and yet at the same time have the house full of digital books, music, movies and photos.
Books: I no longer buy physical books. I get them off Amazon, and read them on the Kindle or on the Ipad. It is wonderful: I can have my digital shelves full without having to place books all over the house for lack of proper shelving; I can buy the books immediately and the selection is humungous; I can annotate them as I wish, and the annotations sync to my desktop and Iphone, which means I can read in every environment; there is a built-in dictionary that appears as soon as you tap a word, so that I can finally learn those darn SAT words I always tried to avoid because opening the dictionary distorts the flow of reading.
Movies: Netflix and Itunes give me virtually all of the movies I could ever dream of at a very reasonable price. No more buying random DVDs or going to the local DVD store bitching about the minuscule selection and about the fact that it is very difficult to get any movies that are over a few years old!
Music: Rhapsody is a dream come true! Virtually every album, be it classical or contemporary is on that service. I can explore every music style, every band, every genre for the monthly price of a cd. Plus, with the Iphone or with an app on the Mac called Airfoil I can listen to my Rhapsody music on my best speakers, which is a must. No more opening CD cases, pushing the CD tray button and waiting for the “cup holder” to come out. I found it tedious, in the past, to switch between one cd and another, and it was impossible to program a playlist. I once had a friend who had a mechanical way of doing it: a 10 disc CD changer! Luckily those awkward machines don’t exist anymore!
Photos: who ever looks at albums? Better yet: who actually takes the time to do albums? Well, the digital age has changed that: thanks to devices like the Apple TV, our photos are always with us, on the big screen. All I do is I unload my photos from the camera to my MAC, and the MAC immediately syncs to my Apple TV, which is hooked up to my TV. I us my photos as a permanent screen saver for my TV, so that they are always present in my life, unlike those albums that are in a drawer somewhere. And how wonderful is the GPS feature “places” that allows you to view your photos based on where you took them? It is so neat for people like me who travel so much and love to remember exact locations.
Backup: remember the ridiculous way we backed up our data in the past, by creating dozens of cd-roms, and then dvd-roms? What did you we put in there? Photos, Music, random video bits etc. Everything was labeled quite superficially, so to find out the contents most of the time there was not alternative but to put the CD in the computer… Well now I can honestly say that I never use the CD drive and I am happy to see that some models of computers are coming out without the optical drive altogether. For storage I use the Drobo, with its awesome redundant data creation; for backup: Apple Time Machine and Super Duper. I am also closely looking at an online backup service, such as Mozy, to feel even more secure.
Printing: I find that I almost never print anymore. I do virtually all of my reading on the Ipad, so I print only if I have to send a document to the outside world or if I need to file and important document (but I do this more and more rarely, since I have an electronic filing system). No more papers all over the house!
In conclusion, we hear all sorts of criticisms about this modern digital age, but I am an incurable optimist. The technology that has allowed us to dematerialize media has made our homes much tidier and elegant, while radically improving our media consumption experience. I will never look back. That is not to say that I will dispose of my physical books, photos, dvds and cds; those will remain, as a souvenir of my pre-dematerialized life, when learning or entertainment meant the accumulation of physical objects and cramming them into an ever-shrinking house.