3 min read

Taking a step back from the everything everywhere all at once cloud.

Rachel Kwon shared her “half-baked” thoughts and reflections on the benefits and drawbacks of going digital with media that resonated immediately and even more so as I read through the entire post. 

Technology has changed the way we consume and create media has evolved, and considering all the benefits against the drawbacks, sometimes it doesn’t feel like a net improvement to me. Or maybe it’s just that things evolved too quickly, we got excited about all the upside and didn’t think enough about second and third order effects, and now we’re still figuring out a way to catch up. I haven’t decided how optimistic or doomsday I feel about all of it yet.

This is a topic that comes up weekly in my conversations with either Brett or Luke; and just about any time I talk with someone who remembers the previous digital switch (1.0) from albums and cassettes to compact discs. We don’t lament our own migrations to digital (2.0) but we all agree that after decades of listening, reading, and viewing everything from the cloud there are certainly some trade-offs we did not foresee. One is the tangible feel of using older media. Brett and Luke still listen to a lot of music on vinyl while I play around with Minidiscs and CDs. I tried vinyl but as I didn’t grow up with that format (cassettes were a lot more common where I grew up in Alaska because they didn’t break as easily as records did during shipping) I didn’t have nostalgia to inspire getting up and flipping an LP every four songs.

Universally I think we all miss discovering new music as an in-person experience—either through a conversation with friends or hanging out in a music store. Both Luke and I have fond memories of walking into Tower Records or Virgin Music and hitting up the sample stations where you could listen to an entire CD. We both used to skip through tracks to get an idea of the album, listening for the types of notes and beats that resonate—especially when listening to trip hop or the like. And then there were the visits to smaller shops staffed by quirky die-hard fans of music who always had a take on any album (It should be noted that while High Fidelity is listed as fictitious, it is in fact, a dramatized documentary). In Anchorage, we had Mammoth Music and it was nothing short of awesome no matter which store you visited. Just going into the store usually netted an immediate discovery of what the staff were playing. I know many record or vinyl shops have a similar vibe, but a lot of what I hear are albums I already know and it’s just not the same. This also likely has more to do with my age as I presume post-CD folks have just the opposite experience.

I am a collector by nature and as such I have amassed a huge collection of music, movies, and books. After moving a few times in three years, these collections became costly and annoying. So, like Rachel, I started going digital on everything, no longer buying physical media and books to reduce adding any more weight to our next, inevitable, move. Donating hundreds and hundreds of books and movies to the local charity organization. 

I felt good about the switch until I started to recognize that by moving to virtual (aka digital 2.0) I was spending more time collecting or gathering media than I was using it. Especially music.

For whatever reason I just don’t listen to music that much anymore, but it used to be one of my main interests. I loved listening to music, going to shows (at my peak I was going to 3-4 shows a week), talking about music, discovering new music, recommending music to friends, all of it. 


I’ve started buying physical media again though I only buy books if they are special editions. I recently completed my collection of Duran Duran CDs while I have “burned” several other albums onto Minidisc. And I’ve started to collect Criterion edition movies in Bluray format. Interesting to note that physical versions of movies now come with a code to download a digital version from a handful of stores including Apple and Google which is appealing.

One thing I’ve noticed about going back to physical form is the immediate tendency to question whether I want that item or not. Do I really want to buy a CD or movie that I don’t feel that strongly about? No. The answer is always no and there is joy in that because it means fewer distractions—more time and attention saved. What’s that saying again, oh yeah, less is more.

In the end, Rachel asks, “Am I wrong? I feel like I’m biased about all of this because I remember the Before times, and like most humans, I’m wired to prefer the familiar and fear the unknown.”

No. You’re not wrong, but I don’t think it’s a preference for what’s familiar and a fear of the unknown. Rather, it's a change in your path after healthy reflection with a bit of nostalgia. We can easily swap analog for digital for virtual but it will never come with complete satisfaction as we’re hard-wired for physical interactions.