Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Is all my stuff obsolete?

In my lifetime, which seems to be getting longer all the time, I have amassed a lot of stuff. In the bottom of my wardrobe there are stacks of old magazines. There's a lot of them. About fifteen years worth of a games magazine that I was subscribed to. There is no good reason for me to still have them. The magazine was eventually closed down, like all magazines will be, because who wants to own a pile of paper when you can get everything on the internet? And that pretty much goes for a lot of my other stuff. There didn't used to be a problem with it. Now somebody could easily call it clutter. Why have all this physical media when it could be transferred to a computer?

Are racks of CDs now plastic irrelevancies when they can be contained invisibly in a silver box? In fact, CDs are easy to get rid of. The discs are only a storage medium for data files. It's the music that counts, and that can be stored on a computer. Transfer them over. Get rid of them. Yes. But what if I don't want an album on iTunes, but would still like to keep it? Okay, I'll keep a few. Not many, though, right? After all, some new computers don't even come with optical drives, because why would you even need one, like some loser stuck in 2005? Technology is marching forward, determined to leave physical media in the past, and if I'm not on board then I'm just not doing it right. The last few years have been a tipping point. Some people have ruthlessly cleared their shelves, and some, like me, haven't really bothered.

I might be changing my mind. For instance, I've been slowly going off the idea of owning films. It might seem like a good idea, but in reality I'll watch a DVD once then put it on a shelf forever and never touch it again. And what's the point in that? I used to watch all the commentaries and little extras. They just seem like a novelty now. So I should get rid of the DVDs. Well, maybe. Mostly. Everyone needs a few favourites to watch sometimes, and I'm not convinced there's a proper digital alternative. A streaming service like Netflix will only ever have some things, and I like the idea of owning a collection. It's possible to download films to iTunes and connect them to a television, but who really does that? And when it comes to books, I still choose to be stubborn, even though I could make the same arguments: paper is just a material for displaying words, words that could be on a screen, and I only ever read these things once. The difference, though, is that unlike data on a disc, books are real objects. They are nice to own. They are nice to have. The only time I see the point in e-books is when I'm trying to clear out old books, which isn't that often anyway. Maybe I would read more without wondering where I was going to fit each new book onto a shelf. Maybe I wouldn't.

There's a brutal and kind of appealing way to approach all this. I've read articles that say we should throw everything we're not using away and live in rooms of pared down minimalistic beauty. Just clear everything out, the articles say, get rid of anything that is clogging up your air space and keep the essential things. I imagine, though, that this is more fun to think about than it is to actually do. Tidy is good. I like tidy. Actually, that's not true. I like tidying. That's the satisfying part. A tidy room is boring. There's nothing to tidy. Even writing about tidying is fun. Not going to watch that film again? Throw it out the window. Why do I have these old books? Get rid of them. Make space. Start fresh. Sounds good. Sweeping away all these physical objects might be fun, like I was lessening some imagined burden, but I suspect there isn't much difference between an almost empty room and the lair of a psychopath. Because what would I have if I threw everything out, dumped all my films, pushed all my books onto some little device? A lot of empty shelves is what I would have.

Using books as decoration seems like a hollow argument, but the media we surround ourselves with is part of our identity. Lining a shelf with certain books is saying 'this is what I like, these are my favourites'. There are some objects that relate to my history. Like my vast collection of Nintendo games that I could never part with, even though they take up all that space. And the stacks of magazines that I believe have some connection to the time I read them. I will never really look at them again, I know that, but I do need to keep some stuff from the past. This is where I disagree with the constantly evolving idea of newness, with all the yearly updates of slim computers to more efficiently hide and organise our things. Yes, CDs and DVDs are on their way out, but we need to keep some real objects from the past, not virtual versions of them. Tidy is good, in moderation. Prune the DVD collection. Donate old books. Clear CD racks. The rest can stay. Some of my stuff is obsolete, but I'll keep it anyway.