The Sad Dwindling of Physical Media

I've recently been pondering notions of sharing my digital media throughout the home. I've been pricing Windows Media Center solutions—and, indeed, salivating over the forthcoming Apple-based media-center solution—that will let me burn all my CDs, for example, to a hard-disk-based stereo component so that I can dispense with the physical medium of the CD itself, storing it away as essentially a backup. Similarly, I envision myself saving my photos and home movies to this device, and down the line, even having the storage capability to store my DVD films on hard disk, thereby relegated all those nicely produced DVD packages to backup storage.

The benefits of gathering all my media into a central digital repository are obvious. I'll be able to access any song or photo or film clip almost instantly and share it throughout my networked home. These benefits are truly exciting and—no question about it—represent the future of the connected home.

The problem is that I've always been a sucker for physical packaging. When I buy a new DVD, I value the cover art, and I take a few minutes to peruse the included booklet, if one has been provided. I enjoy the look of my DVDs on their shelves, nicely alphabetized and awaiting consumption. I even like the tactile feel of the case's glossy surface as I slide it out, crack it open, and place the disc in the DVD player's tray. Is that crazy? I don't think I'm alone in my tendency to fondle my DVDs. There's just something about the physical heft and sensation of a well-packaged DVD set that I don't want to lose as we careen into the all-digital realm. When I peer into a future ruled by merely ethereal digital media, I admit to a sense of loss.

Will we always crave that sense of touch when it comes to our media—and therefore resist our inevitable shared-media future? Will we always have a place for physical CD cover art, for elaborate and intricate DVD packaging, and even for the printed and bound book rather than the cold, glowing font of an e-book? Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but my house will always contain a number of physical libraries, nicely sorted and appreciated.

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