It’s a typical evening. My wife and I sit in the den, unwinding after putting our daughter to bed. I’m at my desk, sorting the snailmail. She’s at hers, fiddling with her iPhone.
I find myself eyeing the various media that have steadily overtaken the room. It’s a mess. There’s simply not enough space for the books, magazines, games, software manuals, financial records, and other junk we’ve accumulated since we bought the house. Two desks, two file cabinets, three bookshelves, a hutch, and a closet are no longer enough to contain it all.
I do what I often do when I’m overwhelmed: I open Firefox. After a few minutes’ worth of internet meandering I’m struck by the ironic nature of my predicament. Here I sit, with a near-infinite amount of content right at my fingertips, surrounded by a comparatively minuscule quantity of real-life media that threatens to overwhelm my personal space.
And I’m seized by a sudden, impulsive thought: If it can’t be digitized, I don’t want it anymore.
I start wondering what I can dispose of first. A few hundred dusty CDs take up half the bookshelf next to me. I can’t remember the last time I cracked open a jewel case for any other reason than to rip an album to my hard drive. I can’t recall the last time I bought a music CD, for that matter.
Our old photo albums sit mostly untouched in the closet, piled atop boxes full of 4×6 snapshots. Meanwhile, our digital photos and videos are compulsively organized online. The stacks of paper bills I receive each month are now paid almost exclusively via the internet, where I can peruse my account histories at the click of a button. Why am I still filing away these paper account statements? And doesn’t TurboTax keep copies of my tax forms?
Even treasured documents suddenly seem less valuable. Our marriage certificate, our daughter’s preschool artwork, my high school diploma and college degree…they’d all be more manageable scanned and saved in digital form. And they’d be safer, too. Protected from the elements, damage, and loss. Like my music, photos, and everything else, they could take up residence on my hard drive, or even better, somewhere out there in the internet “cloud.” Immediately accessible, but invisible. Effortlessly manageable. Out of my face.
I note the two gaming consoles atop my desk. A third resides in the living room. My PC is on the floor beneath me. The laptop’s on the kitchen table. Each device is connected to the internet, and each offers abundant gaming opportunities. I’m sure I could play games the rest of my life without ever purchasing another DVD or Blu-Ray disc.
It’s a comforting thought, given the fact that over the weekend I traded in several dozen console games. Good console games, that I truly loved. I eye the bookshelves where the games once resided. The recently vacated space seems incongruous in the company of the still-packed shelves above and below.
It was a bit painful, on a purely sentimental level, to trade them in. But the decision was easy to rationalize. I rarely replay games, even when I have the time. The longer I keep them, the less retail value they’ll have. And it probably won’t be long before I don’t own the hardware to play them anymore. Besides, I remind myself, like the rest of the media piled and stacked around the room, there’s a good chance those games will find their way online in one form or another.
I envision trips to used record and book stores, the back of the car piled high with items for sale. I see dollar signs on ebay. I imagine full trash bags and piles of shredded documents. I bask for a moment in the sense of detachment.
And then I begin to feel uneasy.
I might not need photo albums, retail copies of games, music CDs, or even books, I realize, but I’m hopelessly dependent upon the electronic versions that have taken their place. Not to mention the devices that deliver such content.
I remember how I lost my iPod last year. I was so traumatized by the thought of enduring my public transportation commute without it that I purchased a new one the next day without giving it a second thought. I’m unable to envision life without a mobile phone, and I’d feel completely disconnected from the world without internet access. The thought of losing online access to my finances feels me with terror.
I think back to my most recent red ring of death experience. My Xbox 360 died just weeks before BioShock‘s release, and not playing BioShock wasn’t an option. My 360 ended up arriving in time, but not before I seriously considered paying for a major PC upgrade, or maybe even a replacement console, so I wouldn’t have to wait.
I find myself thinking about the old sci-fi flick, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Specifically, the scene where the extraterrestrial Klaatu shuts down mechanical processes across the globe. I indulge my anxieties a bit, conjuring up mental images of similarly ridiculous scenarios, in which unforeseen events shut down electrical power, halt all data transmission, or wipe clean data storage media. I’m horrified.
I push my chair away from the monitor and keyboard, and survey the contents of the den anew.
“Honey,” I say, turning to my wife, who sits at her desk browsing the App Store.
“Mmm hmm,” she replies distractedly.
“I think we should buy some bigger bookcases.”