On Physical Media

There is particular joy in physical media, whether it is music, games, even software. In the last couple days alone, I have seen kids playing cassette tapes, and a child poring over the box and instruction manual of a PSP game, and calling out the various items of note from the manual. Not playing the game, but reading about it. And reading about the associated things from the game.

That’s been lost with so many modern things. People love actually touching vinyl records, the sleeves, and picking something to listen to by moving through. The paradox of choice is real– i have Spotify, which has essentially All The Music, I have a personal collection of MP3s somewhere in the 50 gig range, and yet it’s the 25 records that get the most play time, at least the play time that involves the whole family.

Endless choices are paralyzing, and the EASE of just typing in “whatever” is less fun that actually looking at pictures on sleeves and making a choice, removing the inner slip case, and putting the record on the platter.
I’ve had conversations about physical media vs streaming with a friend who thinks I’m out of my mind, but he made the connection between listening to vinyl and driving stick.

In most modern cars, there are zero advantages to driving a manual transmission. It used to be more efficient, it used to be faster, but none of those pros are still accurate. But I still drive a manual transmission. It’s less boring. It makes me feel more a part of the journey.
And maybe that’s the point with vinyl. It brings the other senses into the aural journey. It’s not just your eyes, but your eyes and fingers get involved as well. (And your nose, depending on the age and previous owner of your records.)
There was a time that old video games came with maps, manuals, explanations and descriptions and items you could touch as you journey through a game. Even perusing a shelf and picking a game or album is different than a list on a screen. I don’t know the neurological reasons as to why it’s different, it’s a tactile feel. And as everything moves more and more to shiny screens, to interfaces that exist only a screen, maybe the ability to have something that is a Real Button is a good thing.

The newest Teslas has no buttons (other than for the windows,  I have to assume?) Not even a knob for your AC or heat, just a slider on a touch screen. I have been listening to music on the go with an iPod mini lately, and even being able to reach down and push ‘Next’ without having to look but just FEEL has been not only fun but satisfying.

It’s possible this is simply the manifestation of Curmudgeonhood, but maybe I’m on to something here. As technology progresses at a lightning pace, maybe it’s time to reconsider the feel (and the smell) of things.

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