Psychology, Tech

An Object Choice

NYC - MoMA: Philip Johnson Architecture and De...

NYC – MoMA: Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries – Digital Compact Disc (Photo credit: wallyg)

I have always generally stuck to buying CDs for music except for some recent digital download-only EPs and singles but the other day I was made to wonder why.

I’d been looking at an album that was available as a normal version and a deluxe version.  The deluxe had just three more songs but cost £17 as opposed to the normal version that had dropped to £5.  I thought I’d just go without the extra tracks and bought the £5 one.  All fine except that I’d noticed that there was a link to “download the MP3 version for £4.99” on the deluxe edition yet I’d still bought the physical CD of the normal version for 1p more.  At first I was fine with this but then began to feel confused, I felt a bit daft for buying the CD when by downloading I could have had more for the same money – was the plastic and paper really worth it?

I could have cancelled the CD, downloaded the MP3 but I still didn’t.  I’m still at the stage where I only feel that I have a copy of the music (or book) that I can keep forever if I have a physical copy – for me it’s not even about the cover artwork or the booklet as I hardly ever look at these.  But this experience, the doubt, showed me that even I’m accepting that the future of media is becoming more digital, increasingly virtual, that with digital booklets having the actual CD is less important than the music itself.

In many ways it’s better this way, content you effectively license can be accessed anywhere you can log into your account, a copy can be downloaded to your computer if necessary and even burned onto an old-fashioned disk.  Should the worst happen you don’t lose your collection.  It’s also more convenient to buy and store.

I’m still not so sold on ebooks though, I still like a paper book I can safely read in the bath but I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the waterproof Kindle Touch.

And as for my MP3 quandary, it turned out that the download wasn’t even the deluxe version after all so the decision was entirely virtual, ironically.

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Meta, Science, Society, Tech

Format This

English: 8-inch, 5,25-inch, and 3,5-inch flopp...

English: 8-inch, 5,25-inch, and 3,5-inch floppy disks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people reading this may have at some point wondered why the hard drive in their computer is the C: drive, not A or B, not the first but third.  The answer of course is obsolescence, not planned but natural as technology has progressed.

I remember computers at school where the whole front of what would today be considered a desktop computer was just a pair of floppy disk drives, 5 1/4″ drives they were at the time, flat black plastic flexible squares that needed to be handled with care and would probably today just about hold a single grainy picture from a basic cameraphone.  I also remember the rise of 3 1/2″ floppy disks, the 1.44Mb disks which were the HD of their day – High Density that was.  These were the contents of the now abandoned A: and B: drives.   The problems of getting Windows 3.0 to read a new-fangled CD-ROM drive is a story for another time.

The thing is that today if I wanted to read something from one of these 5 1/4″ disks it would be difficult, if not impossible.  You can still buy external drives to read 3 1/2″ disks but how long before they’re gone too?  Admittedly much of the information I still have on these old disks is past its prime and most of the really important stuff I still have on my laptop today but some of it would be as good as gone forever if I didn’t transfer it to today’s media.  Even today’s storage has a finite life; hard drives die, home-burned CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs don’t last forever although new developments are on the horizon that claim to make disks that last for 1,000 years – we’ll see, or rather we won’t, but someone on a future edition of Time Team will and they’ll laugh at our clothes and feeble social networks and search engines.

Or will they?  The other problem with that old data on floppy disks is whether we have something to read it with.  Years ago we had a plethora of different wordprocessor file formats, spreadsheet formats, image formats and some of them, like JustWrite are as illegible to Microsoft Word today as Spanish is to me.  Qué?   Unless someone bothers to devise a universal convertor to rescue all these obscure file formats then the data is doomed.

I still have the ability to install the old software and manually copy over the text to LibreOffice which I use because it uses what has to be the future of our data – standardised formats and structures.  Many software packages still use proprietary formats for the raw data but can output a sharable and standard format – like JPEG images or MP4 video, whilst many office packages are moving to open standards like the Open Document Format which should extend the amount of time our letters and journals, notes and novels remain readable.  Then there’s the cloud again, services like Google Docs, Flickr, Facebook or Evernote storing data for you without needing to worry about file formats.  As long as the host is still there and the internet is still there your data could exist indefinitely if your account is passed down with the inheritance when you leave for the cloud yourself.

Which is a sobering thought, better get the to do list finished or it could become a puzzling historical artefact.

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