Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

You don’t own anything in the digital age

Last Friday, while experiencing an intense wave of boredom, I made the courageous effort to ask one of my friends to hang out. Expecting to watch some random movie on Hulu or Max, we actually ended up sitting down on the couch and listening to some songs on my friend’s record player. She had a vinyl copy of Pearl Jam’s “Ten,” both a band and album that I cherish very deeply. Though I’ve listened to the entirety of the album many times before, listening to the physical version filled me with elation. Watching the record spin as the needle traversed its way through the record’s grooves was a much more intimate experience than putting on my pair of headphones and pressing the play button on Spotify.

And then a curious thought entered my mind: I don’t own any of the music I listen to. All of the artists, albums and songs I consider to be an integral piece of who I am—all of the music that ignites the fire within me—none of it is my own. I can’t pick up a copy of Porter Robinson’s “Nurture,” an album I passionately adore for its themes about becoming “a better version of yourself,” as Robinson himself stated. I can’t rock out to the hard-hitting guitars of any of Pearl Jam’s grunge albums. Every song is instead neatly packaged into personally curated playlists on my Spotify account.

This realization bothered me. If Spotify shuts down its services or removes songs from its platform, there is nothing I can do. I can’t access or save those playlists anywhere else. That digital footprint left on the beach will be washed away, and I won’t be able to enjoy that music as easily.

The internet culture surrounding streaming doesn’t just affect the music industry; everything from movies and TV shows to video games are slowly falling into the clutches of media giants. Music streaming overtook digital music sales—which itself overtook physical sales—for the first time in 2016. And 78% of American households subscribe to streaming services. The content we consume on a daily basis is rapidly only becoming accessible through monthly subscriptions. Thus, we don’t actually own that content, but rather we own the privilege to access it on each service—and that privilege can be taken away at any moment.

Having a physical copy of something you love is special. Flipping through the pages of your favorite novel, for example, is a tactile feeling that you can’t get from e-books. And studies show that reading from digital books leads to greater levels of distraction and lower comprehension of the text compared to reading from physical books. That’s why I’ve always preferred physical books over their electronic counterparts: I can hold them in my hands, feel the paper against my fingers and write notes in them with ease.

In addition, physical books are objects that you can pass to future generations. If you’ve built up a collection, your children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren can inherit your copies. They can become a family keepsake, and a part of you can live on through future years. E-books, or all digital media for that matter, do not have that special quality.

Streaming services do offer a sense of convenience that physical consumption simply cannot match. Anyone can just turn on their TV and click on Netflix, or open their phone and tap on the Spotify app, without much thought or effort. There is no need to look around for the specific book you want to read or take out a full-size vinyl record and carefully place it on the record player. We can get anything we want whenever we want.

But in the process, we lose the connection we have with the things we love. If we can get anything we want, there is no longer a need to deeply feel that connection. We might as well just move on to the next recommended show or song that the algorithm picked exclusively for us. Physical objects require care and even maintenance to keep them in good condition. Digital “possessions” won’t degrade with time; they’ll always stay in the same condition. As a result, we don’t need to pay nearly as much attention to enjoy what we love.

The record player in the digital age is an antiquated technology, a relic of the past. But contained within its mechanics is a nostalgia for a time when people owned music, and that nostalgia is only going to grow stronger the more streaming displaces its bygone ancestor. In an age when everything is available online, take some time to consider what you have in front of you. Maybe, like I did sitting on the couch with my friend as we listened to Pearl Jam’s album front and back, you’ll discover something about yourself you didn’t know before.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Beau Bilinovich
Beau Bilinovich, Opinion Editor

Beau Bilinovich (he/him) is a fourth-year student majoring in aerospace engineering. When not struggling to turn in his homework at the last minute, he enjoys playing video games with his friends on Discord, listening to Porter Robinson’s “Nurture” on an endless loop, adoring his black and white cat, Bob and learning guitar. One day, he hopes to work for NASA and send more people into space, and accomplish his dream of publishing a book.

Comments (0)

In an effort to promote dialogue and the sharing of ideas, The Observer encourages members of the university community to respectfully voice their comments below. Comments that fail to meet the standards of respect and mutual tolerance will be removed as necessary.
All The Observer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *