Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Digital Me

I finally did it.

I got rid of a bookshelf, and about 300 paper books.

To understand the significance of this, a few things need to be known about me.

1. I collect stuff. Mostly media. Books, magazines, videogames, music, movies. I'm one of those obsessive-compulsive types who acquires all the books an author has written, even the out-of-print stuff. My house is filled with shelves, each loaded with rare stuff, all well-organized and neatly accessible. When other collectors come over, they drool.

2. My oldest and biggest collection is my personal library. I have over five thousand print titles. Many of them autographed. Lots of them hard-to-find.

3. I don't part with things easily. I've got the ownership bug, and once I own something, I want to keep owning it. I'll lend out things to friends, then wind up buying a replacement for myself when I don't get it returned in a timely manner. That empty slot on the wall bugs me until I fill it.

Now, at a few points in my life, I replaced formats. My LPs and cassettes became CDs. My RCA Videodisc collection became VHS, and then DVD and Blu-Ray. These newer formats were improvements over the older ones, so I didn't mind upgrading. Like any collector, I wanted the best.

Then things began to get weird.

I had a wall of CDs. A whole wall of them. After the Herculean task of ripping them to mp3s, I noticed I wasn't listening to the physical CDs anymore. My stereo spent a year gathering dust, because I had good speakers on my computer, and an iPod. That lead to an iPhone, iPad, and auxiliary jacks in my car stereos.

Finally, I embraced Apple Airport, and set-up speakers throughout my home, so I could stream music from my computer to any room using my iPhone and iTunes.

The stereo, and the CDs, went bye-bye.

I still like to collect music. I simply no longer needed the tangible object that held the media (LP, cassette, CD.)

Slowly but surely, the same thing is happening with my movie collection. On each of my TVs I have WD Live Hub devices. These stream video files from my computer. It only takes a few minutes to rip an HD DVD to an mkv or iso file, which then sits on my hard drive and can be watched in any room in the house. It can also be taken when travelling--much easier than taking a stack of CDs.

I became so used to using iTunes as a way to organize my music, I bought a program called Movie Collector to keep track of the movies and TV shows I own. Now I can browse my collection on my computer, or my iPhone. I'm also happy streaming Netflix and Hula from the WD devices.

So my physical music collection is gone, and my physical movie collection may some day be gone.

But I always thought I'd keep all my books. Books are special. There's a much greater emotional attachment to them.

At least, I thought there was.

But, like music and movies, I realized all I really cared about was having a copy available if I needed it. And that copy didn't need to be made of paper, taking up space in my house.

I knew this would happen eventually. I predicted it would, a year and a half ago. (In that past year and a half, it turned out I was right about a lot of stuff, and it's worth following that link and all the links mentioned in that old blog entry because they're more relevant than ever, and they'll likely answer all the objections that come up to this post.)

In that same year and a half, I've bought ten paper books, mostly from my peers when attending their signings.

I've also bought over 200 ebooks. Including many that I already had in paper.

So now I'm doing what I did when I got digital copies of music and movies I already owned--I'm getting rid of the hard copy.

I was shocked at how little this bugged me, to actually give away books. Some of which I've had for decades.

But it was easy. And it won't stop with this first batch.

As I buy more ebooks, I'll get rid of the paper versions.

In some cases, I'm getting rid of the paper versions without having the ebook replacement. Simply knowing I can get the ebook if I need it is enough peace of mind to allow me to let the paper version go.

I've got ComicZeal4 for my iPad, which reads color pdf and cbr files brilliantly. So long to all of my mags and comic books.

Some say that the cloud will eventually replace all ownership. Rather than have a movie or book in your personal collection, it will be available to you whenever you need it, in any format, for a rental fee or as part of your ISP. I'm skeptical about this, because I believe people still do want to own media. But that media doesn't have to be physical. It can be a digital copy.

Correction. It will be a digital copy.

You got rid of your 8-track tapes, and floppy disks, and Betamax. You got rid of your Razr and bought a smart phone. You threw out the tube TV and went with an HD flatscreen. You sold your Atari 2600 at a garage sale for $5, and now play Wii with your family.

The new tech replaces the old tech. Books are just more of the same.

You may not believe me. You may think you'll take your paper books with you to the grave.

Do me a favor, and bookmark this page. Look at it again in 18 months.

You'll see I was right.