On physical media

Even though most of the media I consume nowadays is available in downloadable digital form, accessible through the internet, I still have some soft spot for some physical media.

I haven’t yet bought that much music online. I’m an annoying nitpicker and almost all the music I have bought in the last 25 years has already been digital, except the ten or so LPs I did buy because I got them cheap (I don’t have an LP player anymore). I still buy cds occasionally, but less than I used to, because after putting all my collection on a hard disk, I found out that I have more than enough music to listen to. So, there quite few new physical music items in the house. I do buy some records by small Finnish bands occasionally, though, and I do like the album art on some cds, but I rarely look at it, so I probably could do without buying physical music at all.

This week Jari, my friend, commented that I’m “one of them”. I asked what he meant and he said that I’m one of the few people who still subscribe to physical magazines. The one I had just mentioned I subscribe because my union provides a subscription two magazines out of eleven, and I thought this computer magazine, MikroPC, would be good. I also subscribe to Scientific American.

I like to subscribe to these two magazines. They both have interesting articles, and I probably could subscribe to them digitally and read most of the articles online, but for me having the physical magazine makes me read them more thoroughly. Even if I could subscribe to the magazines for a tablet (and if I had a tablet), I probably wouldn’t. I throw the magazines away after reading, though I do pass the Scienfic Americans to my father-in-law first. (He does the same thing for Tekniikan maailma for me.) This means I don’t collect them, like I used to do for some magazines earlier.

The physical magazine is somehow a collection of interesting articles and other pieces, which somebody has put some effort to compile. This makes it more enticing to read for me than the same articles on the internet, and they are a reminder at home for me that I do have some reading to do. It’s very easy for me to get distracted when I’m on a computer, so I don’t feel I concentrate on the reading that much.

So, for now I’ll subscribe to some magazines, just to get the editing done. I do miss the Mathematical Recreations columns in Scientific American, but there are other good columns in it. even now. When I get a tablet, I’ll probably subscribe to other publications, but on the desktop computer I don’t see the need, and even with a tablet I probably won’t read in the same way.

We also do own a lot of books. I have bought less and less books lately, but I haven’t yet bought a tablet or an ebook reader, for various reasons, mostly having to do with Yet Another Device syndrome and DRM. I will probably get a tablet at some point and hope it can double as a non-DRM ebook reader, which it presumably will, but the time hasn’t yet come. I do use the library a lot, and they loan out physical books still.

I have long venerated the physicality of books – I like them as objects in themselves, as my parents owned (and still own) a lot of books, and like the idea of having a filled bookshelf. I have also thought of physical books as being more permanent than ebooks, but John Scalzi wrote this week about the permanence of books, and that got me thinking. I already consider my “real” music to be on the disk, so why not books? I think I stated the reasons in the previous paragraph, though I still like books. I won’t get rid of all the physical books, but when the DRM problems get solved, and when somebody thinks of publish ebooks usably in Finnish, I’ll get a reader and not look back.

For some things having multiple physical books is a boon, though. I have planned many roleplaying sessions with 5-10 books open at relevant pages and even though an ebook device (or a computer) can of course have that many books open, the display is not as large as my kitchen table or living room floor. (I expect to have a working kitchen table touchscreen in the future, though. This will change things.) So, for that having the books just as ebooks would not be as useful as physical books. Also for some art references it’s good to have multiple books open.

Today I also noticed that I have too many physical media for computer games. I finally threw out the Space Quest collection I had. It didn’t work very well in the Windows XP I tried to run it in last, as the discs said that the game was optimized for MS-DOS and Windows 3.1. As these are not very current systems and I can get the game (rather, games) for current Windows at Good Old Games very cheaply, there’s no point in having the games on cds as badly working versions.

Usually I don’t like buying the same content twice in different formats, but getting old programs working is always a hassle. I also don’t play those old games that much, so I don’t have to buy them.

I should probably sometime soon go through the games I own and see which ones to throw away. Not the Ultima V box, as the map is very good, but other stuff could go.

It seems that mostly I don’t need most physical media, though there are some benefits to it, and also some nostalgy. The permanency issue is not clear-cut and I think I’ll return to it later as this is getting somewhat long already.

2 thoughts on “On physical media

  1. Two very good points there: Editing/prefiltering and objects-as-art.

    The editing/prefiltering you mention for magazines is an incredibly important aspect of these things for the information age, where we can easily get more information than we could read: We need someone to filter out that information. I actually think that one of the major points of systems like Google Plus, RSS etc. is to make it easier to filter out the raw data on the net. Magazines (journals, rather?) do the same, basically. They will only be replacable once we have blogs that approach a similar high quality.

    Objects-as-art was mentioned recently in a blog entry at http://tinyurl.com/7ygjpkk about books, mentioning specifically how books are not simply collections of text, but also art and important decoration for many homes. While the amount of books will go down over time, I’m quite sure they will not vanish completely (think “paperless office” – yeah, right). It will take a very long time to make us get rid of books as decoration.

  2. Pingback: Libraries are useful | Pare's blog

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