On Collecting: Books, Ebooks, Movies, and Music

bookshelf

A lot of people pick sides in the ebook vs. paper book debate, but I’m square in the middle. I use and enjoy both, finding positives and negatives for each.

I like the portability of e-readers, being able to store a thousand books on a single device. I also like being able to adjust the text size, font, brightness, and background color. I like being able to search through the entire text, copy, highlight and save quotes, instantly look up words and definitions, all straight from one device. Plus there’s less paper waste, and you don’t have to worry about losing or damaging your book. You can just download another copy to a new device.

But I also like physical books. As a writer, I spend enough time as is staring at screens all day, so it’s nice to look at paper for a change. Also, I like physically turning pages while reading and seeing how much I’ve read and how much I have left. But I think the number one reason I still buy physical books is to put it on my shelf as a trophy after I’m finished.

Books are one of the few things I still collect. I collect movies as well, though not as much as I used to. With music, I stopped buying physical copies completely over a decade ago.

Yet I still buy lots of physical books—mostly used. It’s become a hobby of mine, going to used book sales at libraries and Goodwill. I’ve bought so many used books at this point that I doubt I’ll ever have time to read them all. But still, I buy more, if for no other reason than to add to my collection. So why do I still collect books but not movies and music, when I love movies and music just as much as books?

Books are different from CDs, records, DVDs, Blu-rays, and cassettes, in that a book is the actual medium itself. The book is the work of art in full, whereas with music and movies, you need a separate machine to play the work of art. The DVD/CD is not art; it is merely a tool that allows you to experience art. As technology is always changing, there isn’t much point in collecting movies when VHS tapes are later replaced by DVDs which are replaced by Blu-rays which are replaced by who knows what in the future. The changes are worth it because the quality improves, but that only further makes your older collection obsolete.

This isn’t just a matter of books vs. movies and music; it’s text vs. audio/visual content. There’s no need to collect audiobooks or video games in physical form either. It’s easier to just get the digital file. There’s no difference between listening to a CD and streaming an MP3—the experience sounds exactly the same in your ears. However, a board game (as opposed to a video game) would make sense to keep in physical form.

I used to collect a lot of music: first cassettes, then CDs. I once bought Will Smith’s Willenium album twice because I accidentally cracked my original CD. The fact I actually did that boggles my mind today on multiple levels. But it happened. It wasn’t too long after that, around the launch of Napster, that I stopped buying physical music altogether. Now, I use Spotify and will pay for MP3s of an artist I want to support, but there’s simply no need for a physical disc anymore. Or if I do want a CD for my car or something, I can easily copy the MP3 files to a blank disc myself.

Technology formats are forever changing, but as long as humans have eyes and a brain, we will be able to read a physical book. What ultimately separates books from music and movies, is with a book, you don’t need another machine to experience it. Your brain is the machine.

If somehow a solar flare or EMP wipes out the entire internet and all electronic devices tomorrow, we could still read physical books. Then my personal library would come in real handy. Not that I fear that will actually happen, but you never know.

As technology continues to advance, as it inevitably will, and ebooks and digital reading devices change with it, I will be there at the forefront, changing with the technology, reading the newest form of books. But at the same time, I will also continue to build my collection of old-fashioned physical books made of paper and ink. Just as I read modern books and the classics, study history and the present, I will always live with one foot in the past and the other in the future.

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