As I continue my struggle to find my music purchases in hard format while beginning to accept the fact that at some point I’ll have to just ‘keep up with the times’ by downloading music onto my computer, I mourn the loss of traditional music collecting. And movie collecting. And video game collecting. And book collecting. Because let’s face it. Soon, our ‘collections’ will simply be data in the “cloud.” And they couldn’t have come up with a better name to describe what I’ve always considered the purchasing of air. Because to me, digital files are nothing more than air. You can’t touch them. You can’t hold them. You can’t look at them and cherish them and keep them safe and display them proudly.
I laugh when I read the arrogant ignorance on message boards—those saying people who still buy CDs are backwards, and that vinyl and CDs degrade while files never do. Gee, maybe they don’t degrade, but clearly these newbies to the world of technology have never heard of files corrupting, hard drives dying. I’ve had my vinyl for nearly 40 years and my CDs for nearly 25 years, and they all still play flawlessly. In the 10 years I’ve owned computers, files have corrupted regularly and I’ve gone through about 5 hard drives, all my data lost for good. Oh wait—no it wasn’t. Because I backed it all up…on CD.
The digital/hard copy argument aside, the fact is, there is not a hard drive big enough for a person like me who cherishes each individual song in my collection and doesn’t intend to just ‘delete’ it when I get tired of it (which would then require me to rebuy and redownload it 20 years from now when I get nostalgic). I have over 20,000 vinyl records and CDs combined. How many hard drives would I have to buy to transfer all that to digital file storage—even if I did compress the hell out of it, destroying the sound quality in the process? Imagine if I had to do the same for my approximate 1,000 movies, or my 300 video games. And let’s not even think about the thousands of books in my library (a living space that will soon go the way of the stores that sell books, music, movies, and video games).
I know, I know. The CLOUD! I can store ‘my’ collections on ‘my’ cloud in unlimited amounts! Hm…the cloud I have to rent monthly, the cost probably dependent on how much space I need? And once I’m renting my cloud space, who’s to say my landlord won’t raise my rent at will? He’s got my stuff, I’m at his mercy. But of course I might find someone else renting a cloud for a better price. I can just move my life over to that cloud! But will I be breaking a lease? Will I have to pay termination fees? And really, is my cloud actually my cloud? When I put all my files out on that cloud, I don’t have ANY way of knowing who’s accessing my cloud at any time. Perhaps a list of the contents of my cloud will be sold for marketing purposes. Or worse, being examined by ‘The Man,’ so he can learn the few remaining private details about my life that I’ve not gotten around to putting on Facebook yet. George Orwell was right about Big Brother—but the only ones allowing him to know our every move is us. He’s marketed surrender of privacy as a cool technological trend, a club that only the most hip of people wants to join, and we’ve all bought into it.
Just as we’ve bought the idea of buying air. Remember when your purchases were something tangible you actually OWNED? You don’t OWN your files on the cloud. You can’t even recuperate a portion of your purchase if you decide you’ve gotten all the use out of it you can. We used to buy CDs, books, DVDs, and video games, and then when we found ourselves tired of them, we were able to sell them—sometimes for a lower price than we paid, but other times, for a great profit because they were highly sought after. Now we have nothing to sell, nothing to leave to anyone in our wills so perhaps they can sell them and make some money. Yes, every cent we put out is money officially lost forever. We can no longer ‘flip’ our properties to clear out the clutter or ‘pass on’ our prized possessions to loved ones. All we can do is hit delete, throwing our files, our money, and the digital data journals of the times of our lives away.
And what happens if all the clouds go down and my life is lost for good? Sure, we’re told there’s back up and back up and more back up…but we also faced the possibility that the world was going to end in the year 2000 because computers weren’t prepared to enter a new millennium. Computers simply aren’t the forever solution we think they are. Hell, even Ray Bradbury knew in Fahrenheit 451 that the answer to preservation was to have each person memorize every single word from at least one book. That’s because the human mind is a computer. And yet, this source of brilliance is being outwitted—by the very computers it devised. The computers that have stolen my collections from me, leaving my home a cold, cold place that shows no signs of who I am, because that identity is now hidden behind a cloud.