Let’s Get Physical

Books

These individuals have riches just as we say we “have a fever,” when really the fever has us.
– Seneca, 4 B.C. – A.D. 65

An interesting thing has has happened to me as digital music replaces physical albums: I buy more books. Many would argue that one has nothing to do with the other–after all, there are lots of things I do now that I did not do 3 years ago. But I think my book consumption lately says something about the human desire for ownership.

Let’s face it, even when you pay for an album on iTunes or Amazon there is little you have to show for it. When you play an mp3 you can hear it, but what IS it? It is a specific type of “digital file,” and made of some sort of binary ether that few people can actually understand. You can’t touch it, feel it, hold it, look at it, smell it.. (One of my favorite things to do after buying a new album was to smell the liner notes.) So what is it you have?

My guess is that I have been reading and buying more books lately because I’m subconsciously trying to fill the possessionless void left in the wake of the Physical Music Era. I buy books because I still crave something to have. But that’s not all: I’ve also noticed that I listen to music much less than I used to. This is the part that bothers me the most, and again, it may be due to a number of factors. It’s not that I don’t enjoy music less than I used to, or that I’m not as passionate about it, I simply listen to it more infrequently. It seems my lack of physical ownership of the music is making me less inclined to listen to it in the first place. Pet owners should be no stranger to this effect, if only abstractly: a child grows bored with hermit crabs and toads much quicker than puppy dogs and rabbits, simply because they’re not as inclined to hold them. Physical contact should never be underestimated.

The question remains: if my belongings have this much effect over my behavior, then who’s really doing owning who?

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