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April 19, 2011

Physical Media Has To Go. I'm Digital Only From Here.

Moving across town last summer was a real eye opener in terms of seeing how tied we still are to physical things. Beyond all our sundry items needed to survive, there were boxes upon boxes of nice-looking and possibly interesting books and other media - DVDs, CDs, the occasional VHS tape nobody had bothered to toss. All of them took up room, and made for heavy lifting. But there's no real good reason, beyond nostalgia, to ever get any more. I want all my music, photos, videos and books to be electronic, and I want everything else gone - even if it looks great on the bookshelf. Same goes for my kids. Once they're done with their board books, I want them to get used to eReaders. By the time they reach school, textbooks should be relics of the past anyway.

Thirteen years ago, Apple did away with floppy drives on the iMac, ushering in a world where people did well enough to email items via attachment, or in later years, burn copies to compact discs. Ten years ago, I dumped my hundreds of cassette tapes in the garbage moving from one home to another on the Peninsula. Three years ago, I donated hundreds of my CDs to a coworker who liked the same music, and emptied my bookshelf to another friend who didn't mind dog-eared Stephen King and John Grisham novels. Even DVDs are too unwieldy at this point. For software installations, one installs once and the DVD is subsequently irrelevant. Purchasing DVD movies is completely silly in a world with significant storage space, and Blu-Ray never even entered my mind.

Now practically the only physical media I bump into is when a book author wants me to do a review, or when coffee table books are passed along as questionable gifts. Even USB flash drives are starting to feel like old media to me at this point.

In a world where I am constantly connected to some gadget, be it a phone, a tablet or a laptop, it takes serious will power to unplug and dust off an old tome whose number of uses is limited. The books I've been sent to review are piled in a corner on my desk - some probably good, but I might even buy the digital version rather than lug around a heavier three-dimensional copy. The stray Netflix DVD we have around the house just causes me to nag my wife into making our subscription digital only, and everything else I just want to give away in a massive garage sale - cheap!

The long-desired paperless office remains elusive, but for much of the home, it can be obtained. My music is streamed on Spotify, with some playlists and artists saved as digital files. My movies have a short shelf life, typically the 24 hours allotted by Apple TV before they disappear. And I've been reading all my books on the NOOKColor and on the Google Books app. There was a time when people would argue it was worth paying a premium for the physical copy of an item, but now it seems they should have to pay me for the inconvenience.

Being digital only means that exceptions to the rule can fall through the cracks. Bills delivered in the physical mail don't get paid as quickly. Notifications from the DMV can get missed, and late fees occur. It's a problem that hasn't been perfectly solved, and it could just be me making an excuse. But as I see it, if there's an option to go digital, that's my choice. With bandwidth and storage space being what they are, my infrastructure isn't optimized for yesterday's media delivery.