About 20-years ago, my last op/ed article – “The Columnist Manifesto” – ran in my college newspaper. Besides the fact that I can’t quite believe it was that long ago, what really astounds me is just how much the acts of writing and publishing has changed. Consider the way the process looked back in the early-1990’s.
Now to be sure, this was by no means the stone age. I spent exactly no time chiseling my pictograms onto stone tablets, nor did I have to sharpen my own quills and mill my own paper. I used a Brother WP-1400 word processing typewriter, for which I paid the astronomical sum of $400. The Dell notebook computer on which I am writing this article, cost just slightly north of that. I saved my columns on 3.5″ floppy disks, probably the most state of the art media of the day. The only thing was that the Brother used proprietary formatting, so one could only use the data on it in other Brother word processors. I will say that I was fortunate to have had that machine: besides being somewhat of a novelty to the others on my floor, it absolutely revolutionized how I thought about my writing tasks.
It had a small LCD screen where I could review my work, spell check, and edit before taking to actually printing it out. Printing consisted of the type-wheel whirring and clicking away. To someone who may not have known I had a fully automated typewriter, they would have heard typing going on at some 80-flawless words a minute.
I would then walk my type-written manuscript across campus to the newspaper office, where the paper had retained the services of a retiree to transcribe the work of the papers’ authors onto a Macintosh Classic computer. Quite impressive, really. The paper had 4-of these $1000 machines, although I’m pretty sure they were shared with some other campus club. Those machines had 9″ monochrome CRT displays ‘” not much better than the screen on my Brother although I’m pretty sure the processing speed of my Brother was probably better.
The paper’s clerk would then spend hours “processing” the writing contributions for the week, whereupon the editors would lay the paper out manually, and then send the paper off to the printers.
Consider the amount of work and time that went into that process. My simple article was written, printed, re-typed, printed, and manually laid out. Today, that article would be saved to “the cloud” somewhere or at the least emailed, where it would be received, imported into Quark or some other desktop publishing application, and emailed to a printer; that is if I didn’t just publish it to a blog while I was sitting in Starbucks using their WiFi.
I was so conscientious about saving my work, and yet I was saving it to these proprietary disks that were worthless absent the Brother machine; today it would be saved to GoogleDocs, to my hard drive, and my “sent items.” Our retiree clerk would simply have nothing to do, as would the majority of the editors.
At the time, I’m sure the whole process was hi-tech. Today, it seems like it could be a scene from “Mad Men” or from the 1950’s ‘Daily Planet’ newsroom. I may as well have been sharpening quills, in comparison to what can be accomplished today.
I have been collecting music for exactly 30-years. For my 12th birthday I bought my very first record – a 45 RPM record of J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”, a record I still possess. Yes, my parents clearly didn’t understand the lyrics behind the music…truthfully, nor did I.
Over time, my 45 collection came to number in the 100’s, LP’s came to number in the 100’s, cassettes which came to number hundreds more some of which duplicated my LP purchases, then CDs which came to number over 500 at various points. Over time this amounts to a lot of “stuff.”
Music collecting had become more about collecting “records,” and it is that distinction that I carried with me into my late 30’s. On the other hand, the “Gen-Y” crowd has grown up with digital music – and their collections are digital files. They carry their entire music collection (as distinct from “record collection”) with them in the form of iPods and the other varied and assorted MP3 players.
As a “Gen-Xer,” I was slow to adopt the “music” collection over “record” collection – if I couldn’t feel, touch, or otherwise experience the packaging as well as the music it didn’t “feel” like owning a copy of a work. It almost every other aspect of my life, I had long since adopted the digital medium and while I may not be the “digital native” of Generation-Y, I’m probably one of the most technically literate people going of either generation. But music…music was something different.
However the “stuff” in my life came to be somewhat burdensome. Over the course of time, these things came to be misplaced, given away, or otherwise just stored away as the rest of life’s “stuff” came to be more important. At one point, I would have preferred a Bang and Olufsen system over having an automobile, but somehow over time I found I’d prefer a sofa or a kitchen table. Over time, those things came to dominate my home and managing my records came to be more hassle than it was worth – especially given the limited amount of time I actually took to pull a disc out and play it.
And so it came to be, this stodgy Gen-Xer came to adopt digital audio. I ripped each and every one of my CDs to MP3 – and I realized how many of these discs I really don’t care for anymore, but I kept the digital copies. I bought a USB turntable and ripped copies of my old vinyl to MP3 with varying results. Fully armed with my iPhone, I can carry with me my entire “music” collection and pull up any given song I want at any given time. If I so choose, I can pull up a copy of a partially warped record, complete with cracks and pops – there’s something about the remastered Rolling Stones music that makes the music seem hollow and sterile next to a copy of a somewhat time-worn record.
And so it is, 30-years later, I can literally fit most of my life’s important music into my pocket and take it down off the wall, the CD holders, the display case – what have you. Now, I still haven’t been able to pry my books out off the shelves in favor of a Kindle or Nook, I am a big fan of audio books played on the very same iPhone on which I carry my music – there’s something sacrosanct about the feel and smell of the paper that just can’t be replicated on a Kindle, something completely different than the compulsion to own a “thing.”
I have come to feel comfortable “owning” digital copies over the physical object of a record, and because I can sort through them, build lists, and shuffle I have rediscovered so much of the soundtrack of my life. So, I have come to be free of possessing that physical object for the sake of possessing it, and have come back to enjoying that which I wanted that object for in the first place.
One Thousand Songs In Your Pocket