The Illusion of Permanence

Amidst the frustration and rage deriving from a recent mp3 fiasco (I tried to use the ipod plugin for winamp and subsequently formatted my ipod and lost half the music on my harddrive. Note: I strongly suggest NOT using this program.), I’m beginning to long for the old days where I could flip through a sturdy CD book to find the track I wanted. Of course it was probably my fault. I should have backed up my files before using new software, hell I should have a RAID Array and tape backups of all my important files.

But no, I just have a little old cheapo IDE harddrive ordered off the internet to store all my music. Halfway through college my CD burner crapped out or I neglected to buy more CDs and don’t have any more backups. So now years of livelihood disappear in a digital flash. Of all the “magical” tricks computer technology can accomplish, the vanishing act is the most prevalent … and by far the most frustrating.

It makes me realize, however, that physical media is key. All the old Punk CDs I bought back in middle school are still lying around somewhere, probably an old Addidas shoe box in the attic. But all the music I downloaded freshman year off Napster. Gone forever, as though it never existed.

In fact, I bet twenty years from now, I’ll be able to sift through the dust and old christmas ornaments and find those Punk CDs. Finding the current MP3s I listen to now (or having my ipod survive that long) is much less certain. In fact, I bet it will be impossible to find this blog post in twenty years.

We always think of digital technology as eternal, endlessly copyable, lossless. But the old analog media – the 7 inches, the vhs tapes – that stuff will creak to life when all the CDs are scratched to oblivion and the harddrives are zapped to silicon paperweights.

In twenty years, I wont be able to give my kids (whatever) copies of all the music I listened to. At least not the physical “thing” I used to listen to the music. I wont have records and CDs or cassettes. I’ll have a beat-up old iPod, battery dead for years, flash harddrive wiped into meaninglessness. It’ll be a cool antique, turn of the century crap that might find some collectors on the 2025 edition eBay.

But it won’t work. Like the rabbit in the hat, the magic act will have ended long ago, and all I’ll have is a dingy shell and a memory.

Good thing books dont need an OS, a power source, or an appropriate codec to function.

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