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optical disks

Unreasonable Stance: Downloads can never replace optical disks

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Welcome to the Unreasonable Stance, where our own John Biggs takes the minority opinion on a tech matter and defends it with convenient data, spun numbers, fanboyism, and insults until he proves, without a doubt, that those that disagree with him are filthy mouth-breathers.

What was the first thing you bought in January 1990? If you said “Food” or “a tankful of gas,” you’re lying or weren’t born then. You bought …But Seriously by Phil Collins. On CD.That CD defined that season and everyone — including you — had it. And why? Because it was a disk and you had to have the disk to enjoy the music, right? And the disk is caught up in the music and the music is caught up in the disk. You might have been hungover, in love, or heartsick, but you bought that album, cracked it open, and put it on your Sony CD player and listened and dreamed and cried.

Try doing that with a download. Try hugging your iPod on a cold January morning, realizing that it was just another day in paradise and there were folks out there who had less than even you. Some people didn’t have CD players. Some people couldn’t afford CDs. Phil Collins spoke through that little silver disk. You opened it up and you saw Phil’s face and you knew he understood what it felt like to be cast off, abandoned, poor. Just like Phil. Albeit with considerably more money.


The CD and the DVD and, soon, Blu-Ray is more than just a flat piece of metal sandwiched betwixt plastic sheets. It’s art made flesh, the corporeal expression of the record executive’s art. You can no sooner sell a song divorced of its shiny plastic coating than you can sell a pair of shoes without a leather upper and a soft, creamy rubber sole. The medium, buds, is the message.

What we fail to understand — and what the record and movie execs do understand — is that access to media should be difficult. You should go through the same heart-wrenching creative birth pangs Phil Collins or Marilyn Manson or Pat Boone goes through every time you go to buy an album. You need to feel alienated at the store, used and misused at the register, and then elated when the finished product finally plops down on the passenger seat of your Ford Probe and you drive home for a bit of solitary listening. Wayne Newton didn’t sing so you could just click a button and download his oeuvre. He sang so a man in a plant in Budapest can stamp out CDs and send those CDs to Scranton and you can go buy that CD. The cast of Police Academy had to suffer to make that movie so it’s the least you can do not to go to a garage sale and buy a used copy on DVD. You go to Tower Records and… wait… you go to Circuit City… wait. You go to Best Buy and maybe Wal-Mart for a while and buy it, pay the tax, and own the music the way Bootsy Collins does. You pay to live the music.

I feel sorry for record labels and movie studios. People like you feel you should get everything for free, every day of the week. You don’t walk up to a theatre expecting to let in with a smile and wave. You pay. You don’t walk up to a hurdy-gurdy player expecting him to dance a jig and twirl out a tune without a tuppence thrown into his jaunty cap. You don’t expect the man who owns a black bear cub to make that black bear cub ride a bicycle without you paying a few kopeks for his trouble? Yet you expect an entire industry to bow down to your every whim — today music on computers, tomorrow on microwaves, the next day on satellites whooshing through space — if you won’t buy their bits of plastic. Is it any wonder that downloading and freeloading have the same number of syllables? You are swine.

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