I received Thor from Amazon today and headed off to my nearest iStore to buy an external SuperDrive for my MacBook Air so I could sneak a peak at the movie over lunch. I walked in, took down the R799 item from the shelf and noticed how hefty it felt in my hand. Looking at the box and feeling the weight of the drive I immediately questioned why I want to invest in this anchor to physical media when the content I consume is increasingly digital.
Louis Gray wrote a post in April titled “Physical Media Has To Go. I’m Digital Only From Here.” and started with the following:
Moving across town last summer was a real eye opener in terms of seeing how tied we still are to physical things. Beyond all our sundry items needed to survive, there were boxes upon boxes of nice-looking and possibly interesting books and other media – DVDs, CDs, the occasional VHS tape nobody had bothered to toss. All of them took up room, and made for heavy lifting. But there’s no real good reason, beyond nostalgia, to ever get any more. I want all my music, photos, videos and books to be electronic, and I want everything else gone – even if it looks great on the bookshelf. Same goes for my kids. Once they’re done with their board books, I want them to get used to eReaders. By the time they reach school, textbooks should be relics of the past anyway.
These days my software is digital and where I have software on physical media from my MacBook days, the next versions will be bought online either from vendors directly or from the Mac App Store. This applies to virtually all software I use. I haven’t bought a CD from a music store for years or a physical book I wanted to read for about as long (with the exception of a fun book I bought for my wife). I buy my music online, my books from the Kindle store and the occasional movie or TV series in digital form. Ironically, I still buy some movies on physical media because we have an old DVD player that plays DIVx and Windows Media files which I don’t really use much. If I had the cash for it, I’d convert my home to a completely Mac-based home with Apple’s products driving our entertainment needs as well as our work needs and probably wouldn’t have a need for those physical DVDs anymore.
We probably won’t pack up all our physical media (books, CDs, DVDs) and sell or donate it just yet (for one thing, I think my wife will beat me with some very physical media if I tried) but the incentive to buy more physical media is just gone, at least for me. While digital media can be more restrictive than physical media (you can read a paper book anywhere, anytime and its charge lasts as long as the book does), digital is far more convenient. I have about half a dozen books on my Kindle I am reading on and off. My latest purchase is Steve Jobs’ biography which is a 656 page tome in hardcover. Before that I bought Reamde which is Neal Stephenson’s latest book at a mere 1 056 pages in hardcover. Oh, I am also reading Jeff Jarvis’ Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live which is a relative lightweight at 272 pages. I carry these books (actually, these and quite a few more) with me everyday and it all weighs somewhere between 140 grams and about 544 grams, depending on what I am reading my books on. All those books fit into my pocket or my bag, no fuss, no associated physiotherapy bills.
There are other benefits. Digital content is increasingly available on multiple devices and with bandwidth costs dropping and speeds increasing, all this cloud-based stuff has become more and more feasible, even for us South Africans (albeit more affluent South Africans). On the flip side, physical media is wasteful and bulky. Its not readily portable and is making less and less sense as more of what we do goes digital.
So there I was in the iStore about to spend R799 on this physical media tether, thinking about how much of my content is digital and how much more of it will be available digitally going forward and I had my “Louis Gray” moment. I put the box down and walked out the store.