Friday, 27 June 2014

Digital Vs Physical

The slow march towards digital distribution of entertainment is one of those hidden pluses of the Internet age, with games, music, film, TV and books now becoming cheaper with the cost of distribution and manufacturing cut out as well as being a boon to independent content creators; digital distribution really is brilliant... except I prefer physical copies of things. Now I'm not one of those Luddites who decries all things past the cassette tape, I love what digital distribution has done for consumer choice, just sit a while and listen to why I think digital isn't all that for a few things.

Seeing as iTunes more or less kickstarted the digital revolution we may as well start with music. Now for music I've no problem with the digitisation of music, with crisper audio and no need for bulky cassette or CD Walkmans. The iPod and all the others like it, are prime examples of the good the digital age can do for a medium. But that's not to say it's all good; for some audio buffs the cleanness of some recording can retract from the feel of a song, I myself am partial to a number of old uploads of vinyls on YouTube, the light crackle of the needle reading the record and other impurities can really add to a song, to give an old blues ballad that extra feeling of roughness to an old crooner lamenting his loss; though admittedly this is a personal preference and some songs older songs do benefit from a digital makeover.

Film and TV have probably fared the best, with visuals now looking their best and the conversion to high definition breathing new life into older films and the likes of Netflix and Hulu+ giving millions access to new and old alike. Not to mention funding their own shows without the meddling of sponsors and networks, like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black being huge successes as well as giving people access to smaller independent films the digital age may revitalise the film industry. The only true loss with the digital age is the fact that all the old VHS copies of Star Wars without all the CGI meddling are nigh unfindable these days without resorting to less than legal means.

Video Games, much like film and TV, has benefited greatly from digital distribution. With services like Steam offering massive deals on everything from the biggest AAA titles to the obscure gems of the past as well as giving a new platform to the rapidly growing indie market allowing such masterpieces as Bastion and Limbo to get the recognition they deserve. Alongside sites such as (Good old Games) reworking older games to run on newer systems. The indie market has also thrived on consoles with Sony offering the likes of Journey and Flower on their PlayStation Network digital service and the XBox Live Arcade allowing user made content. Digital distribution has been nothing but good for the games industry. But me being old fashioned I still prefer my old collection of PlayStation games lined up neatly next to my books, there's just something more satisfying to running your finger across the spine of a game umming and ahhing while you choose a game, pulling out and old favourite just to appreciate the box art is an experience like no other. In comparison scrolling up and down your Steam list just feels empty to me.

Now so far I've been mostly positive with digital, liking each one so far with just a few minor gripes to be had, but here is where I am completely against digital distribution. Books. E-readers have been around since the early 2000's but only grew in popularity with the release of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 and I have never liked them. I've used both a Kindle itself as well as apps on various devices and they have never done anything for me. Now, I can understand why people like them, they're convenient and the text can be adjusted depending on your needs, that's all good but I still hate them; they're just too clean. You don't get that new book smell with a kindle, or that musky smell of an older book. You don't get the the yellowed pages of an older used book, or the fraying of pages, the bending of spines, the light rustle as you turn the page; the hardening of pages of a book that's been caught in the rain. You just don't get any of this with a kindle, a Kindle is just a piece of tech and data but a book is so much more, it's a story, a feeling and experience. Books are such an old thing that they carry so much more, books, especially loved ones, the dog eared ones, have soul. 

Jeremy Clarkson in his book I know You Got Soul goes into how certain machines, the ones with impurities and design faults were the ones that were truly great, the ones that had soul to them. This is books to me, they're old and clunky and kinda rubbish, but that's why I love them. It's like books are an old Mustang and Kindles are a new model, sure the new Mustang is more fuel efficient, comfier and has all the modern gadgets and is clean instead of yours which has been under a sheet in your garage for a few years, but when you have your friends are over, which would you be more proud to show to them, to let them take a spin in? Or to put it another way, if or when you have kids what would you rather leave them? A book you loved as a child with frayed edges and the cover just hanging on with cellotape, or the password to your Amazon account so they can download it? If you answered the latter then... well you're awful. But if you answered the former then you're like me, an old fashioned sort who loves the look of mis-matched books sitting on your shelf, with tiny paperbacks standing proudly amongst their hardback counterparts, some with embossed lettering, others faded from the years, but they are all there, your favourite books barely held together from constant re-reading sitting proudly in the middle... and you just don't get that with a Kindle and, well, that just sucks.

Alex Chhaya

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