There have been a lot of changes in my life lately, and, to be honest, I’m not so sure how I feel about them.
Some people have comfort food. Some people believe in retail therapy. For me, what brings me ease in times of stress is the warm cocoon of media that I have always surrounded myself with. My books, my music and my movies. When all else fails, these are the things that bring me back—that save me. There’s just nothing quite as wonderful as being able to scan the bookcase, the CD shelf or the DVD/Blu Ray stacks and pull out an old friend. Whether it’s a William Goldman or an F. Scott Fitzgerald, an ABBA or a Vivaldi, a Steel Magnolias or an Amadeus, I was never at a loss for stimulation, comfort and salvation.
And it’s not just the content that soothed the savage beast within me. Sometimes it was just knowing they were there—their physical presence in my space was sometimes enough to bring solace, reminding me that there is a world outside my four walls, one filled with literature, music and images that lift me up, make me think and deepen my understanding of this sometimes cold and lonely world.
But now I’m at a crossroads.
I love technology. Anyone who knows me knows that I love new gadgets and embrace all the gizmos and toys that electronically enhance our lives. Tivo? I can’t imagine ever having lived without it. A cellphone that’s used more for texting, taking pictures, checking emails and surfing the internet than for making calls? Guilty. The newer it is, the more I want it. Not that I can always afford it or always get it (iPad, you are still but a dream), but I will always want it. And I have loved it. I can’t imagine my life without gadgets.
But now this technology that I have for so long embraced and encouraged is encroaching on a very protected territory: my media comfort zone.
The first to go? CDs. The downloadable music reality is that no CD ever needs to be purchased again, thanks to iTunes and various other methods of electronically capturing any music you want. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my iPod more than I do most things I own—I still get giddy at the idea of walking around with my own personal jukebox that can call up ANY song I own at ANY time—but it always lived in a parallel universe with my physical CD collection. My CD collection—which already has replaced my record and cassette collection—recalls so many days and years gone by and represents a part of me, for I truly believe there is no truer reflection of one’s soul than the music they listen to. Those CDs on these shelves, in fact, the entire bookcase full we have of silver discs in plastic cases, are our own individual cultural zeitgeists, from the innocence of childhood (ABBA) to the trauma of high school (Tears For Fears) to the anxiety of college (Depeche Mode) to the days of discovery and self-acceptance (Melissa Etheridge) to finally figuring it all out and the depth of adulthood (Dead Can Dance). There’s just something special about having the various chapters of your life all there on the shelf, instead of locked away in some playlist, only to be stumbled onto during Shuffle All. So yes, even though I haven’t bought a CD in probably at least three years (I even downloaded Depeche Mode’s last release), I kept my collection close to me, prominently positioned in our living room, even though I truly can’t remember the last time I actually pulled one down and played it. And yet I could never imagine not having them there.
But, being an adult, and therefore obligated to look at reality once in a while, it soon became apparent that a wall devoted to ancient relics that only sat around gathering dust was not only pointless but a waste of space. The question was posed: “why do we really have these, anyway? Everything that we want on these CDs is in our computer.”
So it was done. The CDs were taken down, one by one, and placed into sleeves in giant binders and put away in a closet, not gone forever, but no longer there on the shelf, beckoning me to stand in front of them and select the perfect accompaniment for the current mood. Gone and probably soon forgotten, these discs are now relics of yet another technological advancement. And even though their disappearance reduces the clutter and represents an opportunity for other decorative options, I can’t help but feel a bit of my heart disappear as well.
As if the CD relocation project wasn’t enough to be an emotional upheaval in my personal media world, along comes…the Kindle.
OK, I’ll be the first to admit it: I love the Kindle. Yes, it’s a gadget and I love gadgets. But this one is so amazing in its potential, I embraced it with everything I am and have.
Until I realized its full implications.
If you think I covet my CD collection, you have no idea how I am with my books. Let’s put it this way: my favorite subject in high school was English, I was an English and Comparative Literary Studies major in college and I somewhat fancy myself a writer. Yes, I love books. And they are my personal history. From my childhood Tintin collection to my college philosophy books to my contemporary collection of film books, there are more bookcases in our house than art on the walls. When talk in our house runs to the “what would you do if you won the lottery?” I always mention that my dream house would have to include two things: a home theatre and a library. My dream has always been to have one room of my house dedicated to just books. A place to read, to find peace and quiet, a place to dream—all encouraged by the words, stories and poetry living on the shelves.
But the Kindle has changed all that. No longer will I be buying physical books and, after reading them, putting them up on the shelf to mark another chapter in my personal history. I will only be left to recall a time when people actually flipped pages and stretched spines. Any growth of my physical collection stops now (as does my lottery library fantasy), and, not only that, a purging of my current collection has also begun, as the discovery of thousands of classics available on the Kindle for free means that my ragged copies of Crime and Punishment, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina and others no longer have to sit gathering dust while they wait for me to come to them. If I can get them for free on the Kindle, why keep them around? Reality and practicality, you are cruel cousins.
So the purging has begun, as space is made and “superfluous” editions are jettisoned. And another piece of my heart is broken.
Which makes me wonder when the time will come that I will be facing down the final media haven in my world: my precious DVD and Blu-ray shelves, packed with the ultimate personal comforts. From Tootsie to Zoolander, from The Ice Storm to The Godfather, from Almost Famous to Notting Hill, these are my go-to guys in any crisis, my harbor in any storm. Having them all up there on the shelf feels like protection and, with their help, I know I can get through any sick day, any sleepless night, any patch of boredom, any need to escape a bad day by just picking the perfect movie tonic from off the shelf and pushing play.
Well, it hasn’t arrived yet, but we know it’s coming. It’s happened to music, it’s happened to books, it’s only inevitable that it will happen to movies. DVDs and Blu-Rays will soon be history, replaced surely with their digital, downloadable superiors, available to us instantly at a lower price. It’s already happened with movie rentals, as my Netflix Instant Queue now has almost as many members as my regular queue, so it’s only a matter of time, the heartless companion to reality and practicality.
I’m not a big shopper, but two of my favorite stores in the world are Virgin and Borders. What do these stores sell? CDs, books and DVDs. The day I will no longer be able to walk into a store and spend hours browsing books on the shelves, fingering through the CD bins or looking at the latest releases on Blu-ray will probably be the saddest day of all. No matter all technology can offer, it will never be possible to duplicate on a computer the experience of being in a store surrounded by books, music and movies—and people who are there looking for the same comfort you are.
I know I’ll get used to these empty shelves in my home, and I know we’ll use the space wisely, life will go on and technology will continue to find ways to make our lives easier and less cluttered, but, for now, I am mourning. Sometimes, you just like having old friends around.