Some have scratched their heads at the recent vinyl record resurgence. Why would all these “kids” want to spend $20-30 for a record when they can just get it free or cheap online? Isn’t it the same music? Add to this a rediscovery of cassette tapes as a cheap, effective way to release music. Yes, people are buying cassettes again. Even VHS has some diehard fans. Millions of DVDs and CDs are still being made and purchased. Essentially taking digital files and putting them in a box and upping the price. Why not just download the files? There isn’t a real difference in terms of the viewing experience. Why bother with buying the “thing”? Aren’t we trying to de-clutter and get rid of all our stuff?
Here’s the thing, the medium matters. The medium can change the experience, it can make something more “real”. Sure, sometimes the medium is a nostalgic one, it can take you back–listening to cassettes on your Walkman while lying in bed as a teenager. But it isn’t just a nostalgic experience. It is a visceral one. It deepens and expands the experience. I know from years of experience that listening to a vinyl record is altogether a different experience from streaming digital files. Sure, if you blindfolded me I might not be able to tell the difference half the time but that misses the point. My eyes aren’t closed when I listen to a record, I am looking at the jacket or browsing other records to find what’s next. Listening to a record is a tactile, sensory experience. There is no separating the two.
Physical objects can act as bridges, companions and bookmarks. They can bridge our past and present, they can connect our senses, they can bring together people, they travel with us. An effective object demands presence and focus. It whispers in our ears “take care of me and I’ll take care of you.” It is a constant companion as we navigate all the changes in our lives. The object externalizes and bookmarks our journey. Our brains are wired for recognition and struggle with recall. Every object we own has the power to trigger memories that might disappear otherwise.
Humans have always been fascinated by the flickering of a fire or the song of a bird. We spent millennium finding ways to capture and reproduce those experiences. It wasn’t just to play the experience on repeat but to own it, to touch and feel it. The power of a vinyl record is as much the visual of seeing the sound in those grooves and marveling at how the tiniest diamond in the world could so wonderfully bring a sound back to life! The magic of “motion pictures” wasn’t just on the screen, it was the film we could hold in our hand, looking at the individual frames, marveling at how they could somehow turn back into motion. We weren’t just looking to capture sound and vision to reproduce it. We had to hold and touch it. We needed to feel it. The medium matters, almost as much as the content it holds.