The Case for Physical Media
What happens when your internet service provider fails?
Once upon a time we had things called CDs, DVDs, vinyl records, VHS tapes, and newspapers. (Some unlucky folks invested in Betamax and Laserdiscs but that’s another story.)
These items took up a lot of space, were heavy, and cost a lot of money — at the time. However, they were tangible items that you could hold, collect, and put on display for your friends to show how cool or sophisticated you thought yourself to be.
Then we turned a corner in media storage technology. Suddenly iPods, Kindles, and smartphones became some of the means by which we consumed media. We no longer needed space consuming artifacts of a bygone technological era.
Listening to music now means making a Spotify mix. Watching your favorite movie means using your old college roommates’ Netflix password. If you want to “tape” a TV show, you don’t stick an actual videotape into the machine, you set your DVR. Any book ever published is now available to read off a tablet, and you never ever have to get newspaper ink on your fingers again.
Life — and our apartments — has become a lot less cluttered. But life has also become a lot easier, too. Access to unlimited content has become the norm. It is a pleasure that most of us partake in. Instant media rules our lives. All we have to do is log in.
But now we have a new world problem: What happens when your internet service provider crashes?
The service provider in my neighborhood was out for more than 36 hours this weekend. No transparent explanation — just no internet, no cable, no DVR, weak cell service, and worst of all, no season finale of The Mandalorian on Disney+. The tech giant assured us that it would be fixed by 3:30am the next day (it wasn’t). Then they pushed the estimated restoral time to the next day. All while their website said, “We are not detecting outages in your area.” Oh, really?
Being trapped at home in the middle of a pandemic has made me much more reliant on the virtual world than I ever was. So without being able to Zoom, watch Netflix, my DVR, or scroll Twitter without using the last of my data, I did what now seems unthinkable. I read a book. Like an actual book, one with paper pages. Later, I dusted off some DVDs and played them on my old PS3. It was weird. The whole experience felt so…so…2007.
There is a case to be made for physical media. There’s something that digital media can’t replace…the physical part. You can hold it, look at it, examine it. Also, physical media can always play when the online grid fails (if you still have a way to play it.)
If nothing else, DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, and books show your friends how cool you think they should think you are. It’s a lot more fun at a party to rummage through someone’s book and CD collection than it is to scroll through their phone. That’s just creepy. And probably illegal.