Cybernaut 

The things we’re losing to the digital age

The digital age has many triumphs, but also many casualties - things we love that are no longer around or that are shadows of their former glory.

Take music stores. One of my biggest joys growing up was exploring music stores, first for records and then for CDs (I more of less skipped the whole tape thing except for making mixed tapes for cars), talking to the too-cool-for-school record store clerks in their hipster glasses and obscure band T-shirts. Music stores are where we learned about new bands, where we were reunited with our favourite bands, where we bought the music that we would bring to the party that night.

But now music stores are closing their doors, including some of the biggest stores in the world. The largest music store in the world, a Virgin outlet in Times Square, New York, closed its doors in April as a result of flagging sales.

There are still places to find out about new bands - I like Pitchforkmedia.com, playlists at Lastfm.com and Projectplaylist.com, the podcasts at CBC Radio 3 (http://radiot3.cbc.ca/), and even Much Music's "The Wedge" (www.muchmusic.com/tv/thewedge/), although Much Music seems more interested in peddling celeb shows and reality TV than music.

But there's nowhere to get that music store experience, outside of the handful of chain stores that remain. Independents are rare, although some are thriving by selling vinyl to all the DJs out there.

More and more people are downloading their music from iTunes, Zune Marketplace, Napster (yes, it's back), Amazon and other sites, which is convenient but also kind of sad. I like album cover art, reading the pages of lyrics and the anticipation of placing a crisp new CD into the load tray (even if it usually comes out with a few new scratches).

I think what I'll miss most when CDs disappear forever is the "album" effect. Now people download songs, legally or illegally, as one-offs, but the truly great bands made albums that told stories or that captured a sound or style that could be heard in every song.

Another thing I'm missing right now are movie stores since the Movie Gallery in Creekside closed. I know we still have a Rogers outlet and that many stores still exist but I'd be surprised if even half of the stores in Canada are still around in 10 years. People can order movies to their homes so many different ways now using their computers and converter boxes and don't need to run out to the movie store.

This is a shame because you can't find the variety of movies out there just yet unless you're downloading illegally from bit torrent sites. As a result it's harder to stumble on movies the same way you do in a rental store, like finding movies you haven't seen in years but forgot about or the movie you always meant to see but forgot even existed.

Bookstores are also on the endangered list. While some blame the literature industrial complex (e.g. Chapters-Indigo, Amazon) for the decline in the number of independent bookstores, the move to digital books is far more worrisome. Amazon has sold more than two million Kindle ebook readers, while Sony, Archos, Apple and other companies are making devices that can read books electronically. Recently Google released a beta of a digital library that will have millions of copies of books on PDF that you can download to your portable electronic book reader.

The number of digital libraries out there is also growing (check out www.archive.org to get an idea how many titles are available), and many libraries - including the Whistler Public Library - can offer people downloadable ebooks.

The trouble I have with electronic books, other than the fact that I spend far too much time staring at screens already, is that I enjoy the physical bookstore and library experience. Browsing through a list of titles on a website and walking the aisles in a bookstore are very different things, and I much prefer the latter when it comes to making discoveries. I can't picture reading my 19-month-old daughter an ebook.

Last but not least I miss pay phones, even if I only used them as a last resort. While cell phones are convenient, nobody ever crashed a car while talking on a pay phone or interrupted the movie you're watching.

They have also made us lazy and laissez-faire. Take the ski hill: in the past you'd arrange a time to meet somebody at the light board and if they weren't there then the 10-minute rule came into effect. Now everybody brings their phones up the mountain with no definite plans of when or where to meet, chatting in lift lines and on chairs and it's harder than ever to get everybody together in one place. Ear time has replaced face time and nobody makes concrete plans anymore.

You can't stop progress and the future is going to be digital no matter what our opinions may be on the matter. Still, I find it helpful to reflect on everything we might lose as the world changes, and whether there will be any point in leaving the house ever again.

 

 

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