One of the things I remember about Bon Jovi when my passion for the band was at its height was listening to the “New Jersey” album repeatedly on my Walkman. I’m pretty sure I had a tape (if I remember correctly, CDs only came out a few years later). I think I received the tape as a birthday gift and I have this memory of me listening to the album in the back of my parents’ car on a trip to some holiday destination. They are good memories for the most part.
Rock back then (and it wasn’t all that long ago) had a much more authentic feel to it. Maybe it was because the way we listened to music was more analogue than digital. It was all about tapes and radio and if you were going on a trip you had to plan your media consumption pretty carefully because there was only so much space for your tapes and books in your bags.
You also had a pretty strong sense of owning your content even though, technically, you licensed it just as you do now. Having to insert, rewind, fast forward and play actual magnetic tapes in a plastic container that could become frustratingly tangled was a stark reminder of just how analogue it all was. You couldn’t just download a new copy of the album if the tape became twisted or snapped. You had to save up and go to a local music store (remember those?) and buy another tape. Similar thing with books. All that paper and tape defined our consumption.
Then, technologies advanced and we moved on to CDs and digital content which transcended those physical limitations. This may be starting to sound like a longing for the old days but it isn’t. I am very glad I live in a digital era where one device can carry thousands of books and songs and it all fits in my pocket.
At the same time, we shouldn’t lose that sense of owning our content. It is so easy to do that with so many ways to share content. Take Medium as an example. It is a remarkable platform and it becomes more and more appealing to be as it evolves. I love the writing environment. It is simpler and so much easier than using WordPress on this blog (which isn’t exactly that unpleasant either) and I have been tempted to just write on Medium many times.
The problem is that I don’t really own my stuff on Medium. Technically, again, I do own my content but publishing on Medium means you have to give it up and let it find its own way in the world without much more than a flimsy tether to you. Obvious Corp could change its business model, Medium’s features and your investment in all than beautiful Medium writing would go the way of a SnapChat conversation. It may never happen but it isn’t really up to you, is it?
This isn’t to say that publishing on your own blog guarantee’s your content’s survival into the future. Web hosts can close up, software can break (or, in my case, be broken) and a cosmic calamity can wipe out all human technology leaving us with analogue tapes and paper books. We really should let go more but should we just write for a platform that isn’t ours and hope our work stays in touch and visits some time?
I’m not so sure that this is the way to go. Just because there are so many appealing places to publish our thoughts, passions, random ideas; doesn’t mean we should. As much as I am a fan of Medium and the incredible writing I find there, I think we should hold on to that somewhat unhealthy attachment to our stuff and write for a space we control and then let that stuff reach out to those other platforms without leaving the comfort of home.
I don’t miss that cassette tape, as much as I love the music it carried. I do make damn sure I have backups of its digital descendants, though. My trust for the digital world only goes so far. You can call me old fashioned.
And, in case you were wondering, I still like Bon Jovi.
Update (2015-04-05): This is a little meta but I had to share how Medium embedded this post in a short Medium post I created to share this post. It is very cool!