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It’s something I think about from time to time; Why do we feel the need to own a hard copy of music or films anymore – especially those of us that work around computers?

I eventually succumbed to the iPod and I’m really pleased I did.  I listen to far more music because of it and revisit tracks I’d long forgot about and sampled tasters of bands I’d never heard of far more frequently but this reminds me that we’re potentially at a transitional phase.  Will we ever go all-digital when it comes to music and films?

Increasingly we have technology in our lounges that is web enabled so you can easily imagine a time when you can download movies to your TV…  I have a fairly decent sized DVD collection and partly through eco-matters and the fact that when it comes to this stuff I always hunt for the lowest price, I’m starting to wonder why it is I buy media like this.

There is a difference in looking through racks of CDs to find something; an inspired choice.  You can pour over the artwork and maybe invoke a bit of nostalgia.  The whole thing has been designed from the track listing, the artwork, the packaging, etc.  The logo might change for an album, the band photo might have different members than their previous album.  Is there a way we can replace this with the purely digital?

Years ago, I’d buy into a band and I’d collect everything by them as it came out and hunt down back issue stuff – but maybe that’s partly due to growing up in a record shop ;)  I’ve got rid of loads of CDs over the years and yet I still have a hoarde of 100s of old albums and singles.  When bands are no longer popular or have long been forgotten, aside from personal value, what are they except plastic boxes taking up space on your shelves?

The digital thing concerns me too.  If I buy a CD, I’ll rip it into iTunes so that I can take it around with me but I’ll do this at the highest quality MP3.  Most downloads are half the bit-rate and because of the compression, they lose elements orf the tracks you can’t get back.  Although on a portable device like an iPod you can’t notice too much, on a larger/better system I’m convinced you can – but is that because I’m biased because I understand how the compression algorithm works?

So – I’m torn between the old and the new.  I’m not ready to be all digital yet but I almost resent having lumps of metal and plastic like CDs.  I like rooting through a pile of CDs I’ve not browsed in a while, which are in some random order and finding a jem – cover-flow doesn’t come close!

Finally, there’s the almost philosophical point in this – our sense of ownership.  We go to a shop and buy a ‘thing’; it’s ours.  If it’s all digital does it somehow degrade the sense of ownership and with it, lose the investment we can make in buying into the bands or the films we chose to have access to?

If the digital future brings subscription-based models to the fore, isn’t there a danger that in having wide-open access at someone else’s discretion that we become more apathetic.  Want the entire works of the Rolling Stones?  Turn on the music tap.  Want 100 tracks by new artists the system reckons are like what you already own?

On the other hand, maybe it’s a sign I’m not a teenager any more ;)

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7th May, 2008