The end of physical media
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is widely considered a dystopian novel, yet on a certain level this classification does not make sense. The inhabitants of that universe are almost entirely happy, and can easily maintain their happiness through taking well-designed pills. Even the foundations of this happiness are solid as children of the brave new world are designed and conditioned from birth to be happy with their lots in life. So why is that society considered dystopian? Perhaps its because it dis-includes certain individuals, labeling them as savages. But this does not make the universe dystopian- it simply makes it a science-fiction portrayal of the world’s inegalitarian reality. I would argue instead that this brave new world is seen as dystopian, not because of the daily realities faced by its citizens, but because of how these realities differ from our own. People who fear this world do not fear living in it, so much as they fear the process of getting to it.
In Brave New World, problems can be solved with simple medication. This is understandably disturbing to people used to living in a more intricate manner. Yet, perhaps it is worth asking, whether our replacement of many older technologies with e-versions, is equivalent to diluting life’s challenges with fix-all pills.
It is our generation that will perhaps experience the dystopian side of this shift. Visits to the library and the video store (and in later years CD stores) were events that gave my childhood meaning-not just because of the end products I got from these trips, but because these trips put a silver lining on the clouds of errands. These trips were a chance to enter little worlds with distinct atmospheres and filled with potentially exciting material. The convenience of the internet may have spelled an end to this era, however. Blockbuster has gone extinct in Canada. HMV has failed in the America. Borders books has shut-down completely.
While it may be ironic for a socialist such as myself to bemoan the demise of these big corporate entities, I see my reaction as a response to a bigger picture issue. The fall of these giants illustrates one of capitalism’s internal contradictions-in its drive for efficiency it cannot even protect its own. Meanwhile, citizens are left to download “Big Yellow Taxi”, quoting it by singing “don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone”. The decline of physical media shows how the free market is not the democratic entity its proponents make it out to be. Joseph Esposito of the Scholarly Kitchen argues that people prefer physical to e-books, but chose the latter when looking to save time and money. In a better world, people could reap the benefits of technology without having to worry about destroying physical stores and the art they contain. The current system to a certain degree, however, operates as a zero sum game
Luckily, all hope is not lost. A reaction against the destruction of physical media has led to a recovery for vinyl records, with UK sales doubling in the past year. While things look bleaker for DVDs and video stores, some small stores have managed to stay open in the face of Blockbuster’s collapse by offering specialized libraries and more expert customer service. Still it’s a struggle, as expressed by filmmaker and ex-video store owner Jon Spira who said he felt tempted to spray paint “use it or lose it” across his Oxford store.
Physical media and its stores provide pleasant, low keys experiences that we can add to our daily routines. The existence of physical media is also artistically valuable. Take the Cat Stevens record Tea for the Tillerman, for instance. In the age of iTunes it’s the hit “Wild World” plus 10 other simple, pleasant songs you could choose to download. As a cohesive, physical entity, however, it’s an anthology of songs of journey, love, protest and existentialism. Its a musical-storybook of a grown person’s nursery rhymes complete with whimsical cover art. This is not to say we should not respect technological progress, but progress should not destroy the joys we have and confine us to the e-world. As Stevens sings in the opening track from the aforementioned album “I know we’ve come along way/we’re changing day to day/but tell me/ where do the children play?”comments powered by Disqus