business, consumer experience, technologies

Old Media: Time To Say Goodbye

There was a guilt-tinged sadness when I placed a bunch of books and CDs in plastic bags destined for charity shops a couple of weekends ago. 

It was like saying goodbye to old friends who’d brought me considerable pleasure during another time; a farewell to old media I was almost surgically attached to for a time.

Now though, the brutal unsentimental truth was that they held no use for me. Not even decorative, they sat neglected on a bottom shelf behind a row of DVDs, collecting dust.

Compact Discs

As a clutter minimalist, it was time to address these objects. Wife and I hope to move before long and it would reduce the effort needed if and when that ever happens. (The joy of first-time buyer limbo, life seemingly suspended on the whim of a million total strangers).

I hadn’t glanced at many of the CDs for years. It’s a struggle to remember the last time I played one, or last owned a functional CD player. The only one I occasionally use is in the car. I did have a brilliant final fling singalong with the debut album by Travis last week. But that’s rare.


CDs are the ugly duckling of music vehicles. People don’t get all nostalgic about CDs like they do about vinyl records, or even cassette tapes. We were sold on CDs for their supposed invincibility, but the truth is they get scratched and irritatingly skip. Plastic cases crack and fracture. Those little prongs responsible for holding the disc in place: they snap. Discs invariably go missing from their native cases and get mixed up. There was and is not much charm about Compact Discs.

The sleeves designed for CDs might be an exception. These thin booklets are what defined a band or artist and expressed them outside their music: the cover, the artwork, the photography, the lyrics. But they are not in or of the CD itself, and can easily be extracted and stored elsewhere.  Exceptions could also be found in releases which opted for the cardboard case (the fantastic ‘Drawn To The Deep End’ by Gene), or a different sleeve type form (‘Hail To The Thief’ by Radiohead).

sorry mate
sorry mate

[Read the Composed blog post: Ode to Record Store Day]

Spotify and Music

An earlyish adopter of online music streaming service Spotify, my monthly subscription has never been in danger of cancellation for what must now be around six years.

The service and its library has continued to develop over the years. It’s something I truly value. You watch a film, are reminded of a certain artist or era of music (recently this has involved Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald on lazy Sunday mornings). Within a few taps it’s instantly there, at your fingertips, under your eyes, in your ears, filling your home with the atmosphere of another age.

IMG_7510You can equally browse newly released music and discover a fresh new band. You need a playlist for a party, family event, Christmas or a lazy Sunday: there’s several to choose from.

Providing the internet doesn’t die or I don’t move somewhere without it, I don’t need physical music anymore.

Kindle and Books

It’s harder to let go of books. As a material object, they are undeniably nicer than CD cases. Especially older looking books imbued with musty age and wisdom. You hope it’s hard for other people to bin them too, and you’re just sending them off on the next stage of their time-travelling journey, to sit indefinitely on other shelves.

Physical books which I own and feel fondly about, I will keep.  Although there aren’t that many of them and about 75 per cent of my reading matter over the last few years has been through a Kindle e-reader device. It’s slimmer, more portable and easier to use than books. You cannot easily read a physical book while simultaneously trying to operate a knife and fork.

Sure, the feel of turning pages and seeing print is a pleasure, a nice change from time to time. A browse around Waterstones and you can see publishers making efforts to create fantastic looking books, sturdy blocky artefacts that give a sense of ownership, something that looks (and smells) lovely and inviting on a coffee table or on a shelf.

In the face of all that is digital and intangible yet apparently powerful, there clearly remains a battle-weary pride in the bulky physicality of media. It hangs on in there, fighting hard, making less and less money.

Having books on shelves helps to make properties feel like homes, and it’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon. But however nice it looks and feels, carrying around a hardback book is never going to be a fun user experience.

Feelings and memory

Our attachment to old media concerns sentiment, those feelings music and books and films stir in us through memories: devastation, elation, fascination.

Tearfully turning the last page of a heartbreaking book, euphorically air-guitarring in the kitchen: these can be solitary but immensely powerful experiences which our brain files away in a quickly accessible folder.

When they’ve been a fixed part of life we’ve carried from rented flat to rented flat, it’s harder to say goodbye, like we’re risking the loss of part of our young selves.

That’s why it feels like a cold callous betrayal to suddenly dismiss them from your life. It feels sad and it is hard. That’s why so many of our books and CDs are still sitting around properties, unread, unplayed, unconsidered. They are superfluous now, pieces of dust-collecting furniture. They probably have been for several years already. Technology and life moves on.

There’s a large drawer full of old Walkman cassettes back at my parents’ house, just awaiting my nod for their descent into oblivion. I’ll probably give it soon.

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