Recently, I’ve been very interested in media. Specifically, media before the Internet age. As someone who grew up with computers and social media, it’s very hard to fathom a world without computers and social media. The idea of a world where you can’t just Google something is mind-blowing. A world where you had to look something up not on the laptop two steps from your bed, but in the library down the street. A world where the only interactions you had with your friends were vis-a-vis.
Because things weren’t digitized or virtual, I somehow imagine this “old world” as being more real.
I’ll illustrate with a few media examples.
Books vs. eBooks
I’m a literary purist. I tell myself that I will never succumb to the ebook phenomenon. And so far (so far), I’ve been successful…
Books have a tactile aspect that ebooks can’t reincarnate. You walk up to your book shelf. You run your fingers over the spines of your collection. You make your decision. You slide out the book (sometimes it gets stuck). You open the book and breathe in its musty papery scent. You fan through the pages with your fingers, noting the weight, feel, and texture of the paper chosen by the publisher.
Whereas you tap a screen and open a PDF and well, yeah…that’s kinda it.
There are so many things that make up a book. Books are not just the words written by an author. There’s the shape of the book: is it hardcover, paperback, big, small, square, rectangular? The smell of paper: is it old and musty, like your grandfather’s attic, or new and crisp, as if still warm from the laser printer it was printed off of? How about the font: is it serif or sans-serif? Or the cover art: is it conceptual artwork or photography, or conceptual photography?
Ebooks, PDFs, .docxs…they’re imposters.
Records vs. MP3s
Recently, I’ve been really interested in vinyl, and am pondering whether or not to purchase a record player. I like retro music and retro stuff, but of course my practical millenialism made me Google all the pros and cons before settling on a turntable.
Through my research into turntables, vinyl, and people who collect such seemingly useless, bulky, kinda stupid, impractical things, I’ve discovered there’s a real difference between how we listen to music as millennials today and how our parents and grandparents turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.
These days, you hear a song you like on the radio. You stream it on YouTube, or you torrent it from the net. You listen to a bunch of different songs from different artists on the radio or a YouTube playlist or Songza, and a few songs will stick with you, but most likely you won’t listen to more songs from the artist. Not many people actually buy songs nowadays, which makes music seem more expendable, like it’s a less tangible thing that’s just passed around. This guy has a pretty interesting opinion:
I can’t speak about the old days because I wasn’t alive in the old days, but I somehow imagine the experience to be a little different. People bought albums and listened to them from a-side to b-side in the order the artist intended. People got to know the artist by buying full albums and looking at the album artwork in its original, 12-inch length and width. People bought these tangible records at stores, supporting the artist and actually making a financial commitment.
The experience has definitely change. I wouldn’t say it changed for the worse, necessarily. I do like listening freely to all sorts of music in the comfort of my bedroom.The radio is still a great medium for spreading musical awareness and it’s a good thing many artists get exposure by radios, social media, Songza and YouTube. And radios (hence social media?) has existed long before the 21st century.
Social Media vs. Real-life Encounters
Social media gives us both losses and benefits. We’re connected to more people by social media. Social media keeps us in touch. We’re less shy with the indirectness of social media, and we’re more likely to share personal things we may not share face-to-face on social media. We’re more direct due to indirectness, but we’re also more…indirect.
Personally, nothing has yet exceeded the experience of sitting down in the dark around a campfire with your closest friends, telling stories, getting philosophical, and goofing off until the early hours of dawn. Being with people in person is such a simple, almost primeval, experience that is profoundly human.
I believe it’s written in our DNA to plunge our hands into the rich, cold earth of our gardens. We’re programmed not to program, but to wrap our limbs around trees to climb them. We yearn to dive head first into the welcoming, raw waters of a lake. Evolution has given us the gift of literacy and media enjoyment, and so we must take our hands out of the dirt sometimes. But who says we have to depart so far from reality?