I sat and ran it over in my mind a few times trying to imagine how much shelf space they’d take up in the material world. Four thousand three hundred and twenty five books. How many books did I have in my apartment? Maybe a couple hundred? Six by nine inches, on average maybe an inch thick? Twenty four books per square foot. I guess they’d take up almost a quarter of my floor space? On my desktop the folder took up a few square centimeters but as related to time the digital and analog books would occupy the same space. The authors took the same amount of time to write them and I would spend the same amount of time reading. For me four thousand three hundred and twenty five books translate roughly into that many weeks or eighty three years. I’ll be one hundred and sixteen years old when I polish off the last book. That’s supposing Ray Kurzweil is wrong and the Singularity doesn’t transform us into a machine civilization in 2045. If he’s right every book ever written will be instantly download into our cyborg brains. Either way it’s going to take me awhile to finish all of those books.
It’s a unique problem in the digital age; with practically unlimited storage space and access to cheap, or free-as in public domain not illegal downloads- media, it seems hard to decide what to read, listen to, or watch. Sometimes it’s almost paralyzing. I spend more time sifting through reviews for the perfect movie than I usually do watching the movie. There’s a fear that comes to having almost unlimited access to media. Ok this seems like a good one it got a 7.2 from IMDB and rated well on hipsterartflicks.net but what if there’s something better out there, I mean a 7.2 is good but it’s not a 9. Once I find the 9 on IMDB my anxiety takes a different tack: Ok good it got a nine but maybe that’s a bad thing? I mean the unwashed masses usually have pretty poor taste, look at bands like Creed. This nine could actually mean the movie is mindless drivel with intermittent explosions and gunfire. I better read some more comments and then head over and check arthousefilms.blog and hipsterartflicks.net for a second opinion. Many times I’ll download a backup, a backup backup, and a back up back up backup, in case I don’t like the film, often changing films in the first ten minutes if it seems boring or I feel apprehension that the film might be about to turn droll.
It reminds me of the time my brother and I saved up our allowance and bought The Game Genie for Nintendo. Now that I think of it I made him save up his allowance to buy it while I spent mine on candy and ammunition for my bb gun. The Game Genie attached onto the end of Nintendo game cartridges allowed you unlimited powers and weapons in games. As we neared the last installment of his allowance we’d need to purchase the Game Genie our excitement was almost uncontainable and we cycled through all of the rumors we’d already talked about fifty times. “Yeah I heard there is a special mythril sword for Legend of Zelda and you can go to a secret underground stage that’s like a whole second game.” “Oh yeah well I heard for super Mario three there’s a pizza suit that lets you spray Gumbas with hot cheese and flaming pepperoni balls.”
The Game Genie was fun for a brief period before the horrible realization swept over us; It was no fun to be able to fly over all of the levels in Super Mario 3 or to be invincible and have every weapon in Legend of Zelda. Our disillusionment solidified when we found out there was no pizza suit. The Game Genie ruined gaming for me. Not only was there no challenge any longer, but after beating all of the games in my collection I was empty handed, left with not even a vague feeling of satisfaction. At least before the Game Genie I could throw around some braggadocio or at least join the semi elite group of neighborhood guys who’d beaten Mike Tyson’s Punchout. I used to lust after new cartridges and later came to realize it wasn’t just the gameplay I was lusting after it was the whole experience.
I’m left with a similar disappointed hollow feeling with today’s digital media. Like the Game Genie iTunes, e-books, and online movie downloads were great at first but as time goes on I feel I’m losing part the experience. Buying a book off of amazon and having it beamed to my Kindle isn’t the same as spending a few hours in the stacks at a bookstore or library. I don’t get that book buzz on Amazon like I do at the book store; the smell of books, the giddiness that comes with seeing rows upon rows of freshly printed books and knowing I’ve got nowhere I’ve got to be, and planning out what I’ll buy on my next visit. The same holds true for iTunes and online movie sites like Netflix. A few years ago I remember making fun of a few of my hipster friends for their record collection and hi-fi record player set up. I thought it was an affectation but I get it now; they were enjoying not only the music but the process of obtaining and listening to the music. Ok let me take that back I think for them it was an affectation because they sold their records and record player and have been through a string of self promoting affectations the latest of which is amateur botany and taxidermy. I do get the whole record thing now though. It’s the same reason why my hardcore book friends loath the idea of the Kindle.
If the Singularity does come about in 2045 I kind of hope it somehow skips over me because it’s going to make life super unexciting. So we have instant and unlimited access to every scrap of information in the Universe? What happens then? Will we all be instantly creating media with our minds to then have other post modernist cyborgs instantly critique and tear it down? It sounds like a futuristic version of hipsterdom that I don’t want any part of. Maybe if there is a God that’s why she hides herself from us, more for our own protection. “No! No, dudes it not what you think you don’t want to be like me it’s boring as hell.” As for me I think I’m going to buy a record player, delete my iTunes, and start going to the theater more often.
Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.