An Argument for Aether

The title page of a novel I found at St. Mark’s Books in NYC. This copy was published in London in 1972.

This is something we’ve lost in the digital age: the giving (and receiving) of physical media.

Blogs and online articles are trumping magazines and newspapers. Amazon’s Kindle is attempting to displace books. Mp3s and online playlists have overtaken LPs, mixtapes, and CDs. And when Christmastime comes dashing through the snow, it becomes more difficult to find gifts you can wrap. (Though Sandisk is giving it the old college try with their slotMusic format.)

Media and art are becoming aether. You can see and hear the result–the art–but there’s nothing to touch. The tactile sensation of holding a book, album, or magazine is an important sensory experience that is getting pushed aside in favor of convenience. This is not a new observation, as it is a point that has been belabored and overthought by armchair industry experts since the days of Napster. However, I argue that most people don’t really miss the days of physical media, and the 21st century aether we are all consuming is a more direct, efficient, preferred way to get the satisfaction we’re seeking from artists.

Society has always been on a consistent path to rise above bartering and trade. Stones became fish hooks. Fish hooks became coins. Coins became dollars. Dollars became credit. And credit is simply another form of aether. It’s virtual money.

To be surrounded by objects, and to purchase objects for other people, is to indulge one’s nostalgia for commerce. I think most people are coming to the conclusion that it simply becomes clutter in the end anyway. They also don’t have to go to the store anymore. One less errand.

Are we really losing much with the decline of physical media?

Here’s a story to illustrate my point: there once was a man in England who purchased a book called “Fiesta” for a green-eyed beauty he met at Boxley. Her name was Jane. He inscribed a romantic sentiment on the title page and gave it to her as a sign of his love… The book was later purchased in October 2008 for $3.50 at a used bookstore in New York City.

Perhaps the digital age is helping to prevent heartache the world over.

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3 Responses to An Argument for Aether

  1. c wall says:

    The Strand, maybe?

  2. lithe says:

    No. Check out the caption of the photo…

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