At a time when a lot of people are divesting themselves of books, CDs and DVDs and going completely online, I'm a holdout.
I'm a longtime avid bibliophile. A few years ago, a family member asked if I would like a Kindle for Christmas. I politely and gratefully declined.
For one thing, a lot of the books I am interested in are too old, specialised or obscure to be found on such devices. That's not me turning my nose up at the new and popular. I read plenty of recently published books too - but except for on sites like the Internet Archive, a lot of older books are hard to find. I'm forever combing the second-hand online market (often expensive but a godsend), used bookshops (what's left of them), the Lifeline Book Fair (a thrice-yearly pilgrimage) and libraries (though they seem capricious about what they keep and for how long, and obviously the books can't be kept). I'm not a wealthy collector of first or rare editions, except for a few favourite books - some new, some second-hand - that I want to have in hardcover, new or old. We aren't talking Gutenberg Bibles here, but authors like Raymond Chandler, Peter De Vries and, for a bit of nostalgia, the Three Investigators series (still incomplete).
As for movies and TV: people are repeatedly telling me I should get Netflix. But I haven't yet, despite the temptations. There are financial and logistical considerations - Netflix is only one of many streaming and cable services, and it would be expensive and impractical to get them all. And there's the risk I might become a hermit, constantly looking for something - anything - to watch. That series everyone's talking about looks great - no, there's that movie I've wanted to see for years - oh, wait ...
Some of these problems remain with DVDs and Blu-rays, of course. But as well as the joys of binge-watching (and getting some exercise by having to get up and change the discs), there's also the enjoyment of the extra features on many discs - documentaries, interviews and audio commentaries.
You don't have to worry about losing access for legal or technological reasons: even if your internet connection goes down, you're OK as long as you have working players and electricity or sunlight.
As physical media disappear as the main way to access content, so too do many of the works represented on them. Movies, for example, don't always make the changeover from VHS to DVD, or DVD to Blu-ray, or Blu-ray to streaming/pay TV. It's the same with records and cassettes transferring to CDs and downloads. Some appear to be inaccessible indefinitely. While some of this is because of legalities and some of it because of lack of demand, it's still a loss, just like when items go out of print - surely one of the advantages of the internet is that everything can, at least in theory, be preserved? But it isn't, and until it is, there's reason to hold on to what's available only in physical formats. The same applies to books and recordings: some are inaccessible. Maybe there's an argument that the good endures and the bad doesn't, but that isn't always the case - and there's no accounting for taste.
I was never a big LP fan - too cumbersome, too fiddly - but the fact that such sound could come out of a piece of vinyl had a magic to it that tapes and CDs couldn't imitate. I was more a cassette guy but, in technological terms, welcomed the advent of the compact disc (which hasn't been replaced by rival formats like SACDs). The physical formats often have better documentation - liner notes, lyrics, that kind of thing - and are playable on a decent sound system (though I don't have a dedicated high-tech audio-visual media room - maybe one day). Now there's a CD trend, especially in classical music, towards good-value big box sets: none of the aforementioned frills, but lots of content for less. This might be the last gasp of an industry trying to make money from its legacy, but I'm glad to be here for it.
Some formats do make a comeback, like vinyl records, but that seems to be more for aesthetic reasons than any serious attempt to restore them into the mainstream. Still, it shows that physical objects are still valued - even by people who weren't around in their heyday. I won't get into the argument about which format sounds better - I don't feel equipped to judge.
The tactility and uniqueness of objects is part of the appeal - reading something online is a very different experience to holding a book with its own feeling, physical properties, even smell. Newspapers have these qualities too, along with one distinct advantage over reading online news (ever tried wrapping vegetable scraps in an iPhone?).
I'm not a complete Luddite. I use the internet and email and I'm on Facebook (though not Twitter or Instagram, or whatever the cool kids use nowadays - TikTok?). I watch and listen to lots on YouTube, a valuable resource when it comes to things like discovering - or rediscovering - old songs and concerts, the joys of old TV shows like What's My Line? and 1970s TV movies (though some of this content appears and disappears, and I've never been able to find some titles, like the Richard Thomas TV movie The Silence - not, obviously, the Ingmar Bergman film). But it's a supplement, not a replacement.
Another reason for retaining loyalty to physical media is that once you've bought a book or CD or DVD, it's yours to enjoy whenever you want, as many times as you want. You don't have to worry about losing access for legal or technological reasons: even if your internet connection goes down, you're OK as long as you have working players and electricity or sunlight.
The downsides? Cost is one, obviously, though as with all pleasures, it's a matter of what matters to you, and being selective and judicious. Another is space: sometimes painful culling has to take place to discard what's no longer wanted in order to make way for what's new. And organising and finding items can also be tricky.
And, of course, the all-digital collection has its benefits - lots of accessible content in very little space, able to be summoned with relative ease. But the non-physical supplements, not supplants, my collection.
I don't know when - or if - I will succumb to the siren song of the online world, streaming and downloading, but I can't see myself getting rid of my old-format collection. As long as I have the means to enjoy it, I will keep it.
- Ron Cerabona is The Canberra Times' arts reporter.