I’m a firm believer in physical media.

That means books, CDs, records, tapes, magazines—alternative weekly newspapers particularly—even posters and stickers. If I can hold it, I want to hold it.

As 2012 draws to a close, feeling this way makes me old. The progression of media toward digital formlessness has been going on for more than the last 15 years, and it’s now our primary method of consumption. TV is Netflix streams. Music is iTunes. Your favorite news outlet is online, the blogs you read, your Facebook friends, it’s all there.

Playing the role of Death, Norm MacDonald once said on Family Guy, “They got a lot of stuff on that internet.” Truth.

On my office desktop, there is an Excel file in which every CD that comes for review gets logged. This is so I have it for easy reference when a publicist calls or emails and asks if such and such an album showed up, because otherwise I’d have to search on the shelf and it would be awkward and weird and inconvenient. A simple “Find” and there it is. Much better.

Over the last seven years that we’ve been keeping track, each successive 12 months has seen a decline in the number of CDs coming in. That’s not that there’s less artists out there or that The Aquarian has lost touch with PR houses or whatever. It’s just that there are fewer CDs being made. Instead, I get emails, “Hey, check out this band’s new EP,” with a link to a zip file hosted usually by Dropbox, or Mediafire, or some other soon-to-disappear conveyance. Most of those links go ignored.

And here’s the difference in that: Most of the CDs went/go ignored as well. If we reviewed everything that came in every week—first of all, we’d cover a lot of crap—but we’d have to have 20-odd reviews a week. We don’t have that kind of time, staff or patience to search for album covers, sorry. So we pick and choose. But with a CD on a shelf, there’s a chance someone will grab an album at random, love it or hate it, but either way help get its name out. With a link, it sits in my Press Releases folder and dies.

Science has told us over the last few years that when we learn something on the internet, we are significantly less likely to retain it than we would be having gained the knowledge via some physical media—most notably a book or some method of personal instruction. This isn’t a conscious thing, it’s old instinct. It’s how our brains survived. We learn something scrawled on the side of a cave, we might be across the savannah being chased by a lion before we get to that cave again, so we better remember. The brain protects the knowledge. Something online, well, it’s accessible whenever we want it. There’s no need to actually know anything.

I’m not anti-internet. I think it’s done more for shaping our culture in the last 30 years than any other force—even Marvel Comics—and I’d be a hypocrite if I said I wasn’t on board. If you’re reading this online, I’m glad. But when you’re done reading it, I hope you use the internet to go buy a book and then you read that. I hope you put on a record—a real record—and experience the difference between that and clicking play with a mouse, the difference between engaging with a work of art and letting it wash over you.

Everything has a place, and as we roll into what when I was a child I thought of as an unknowable future, it’s more important than ever to recognize that just because something is easier, it’s not necessarily better, and that some things are worth interacting with on a level beyond their simple commodity and convenience.

I hope you enjoy this issue—the feel of it, the ink on your hand, the smell of the paper on which it’s printed—and I hope you have a great 2013. All the best.

JJ Koczan

jj@theaquarian.com

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