Virginia Postrel asks:
Do you have, or have you had, a large book, record, or movie (DVD/VHS) collection? How has it changed as everything's gone digital? Advantages/disadvantages?
Yes. It has changed quite a lot. Admittedly I'm on something of a cutting edge, being an IT professional, the advantage is that I've gone through several iterations of the business of what we in the business call 'lift and shift'.
I currently possess about 25 thousand songs on close to 4000 albums in digital format. Now this is actually small relative to many folks I've met in the recording industry. It's relatively large for laypeople and only just now accomodatable for easy, secure digital use, by which I mean streaming my own music from the cloud.
I started collecting music as a DJ in 1979 and had about five milkcrates of vinyl, most of which were albums but about a crate and a half were 12 inch singles. I still have many of my old favorites like Reach For It by George Duke, and IQ6 Zang Tumb Tuum Sampler but I've replaced all of my actual favorite songs from those. I started buying CDs in the mid 80s when they first became available. I can still recall the days when you couldn't get reggae music on CD. I got up to about 800 or so and then stopped counting.
About 10 years ago I ripped all of my CDs to disk and then started selling them to Ameoba and gave several hundred to my sister. Right now I have about 500 in the house and about two milkcrates full in the garage. Now here's the odd thing. I've been buying external hard drives pretty much every year because they always fail. They were getting to fail on the regular so I had to come up with a strategy. The first strategy was to duplicate my music on multiple drives. Before cloud backup systems became widely available at reasonable prices (about 4 or 5 years ago), the safest thing to do was manual JBOD replication. I've spent $600 for a home RAID system and it blew up too. So I realized that I had to re-buy some more of my must have CDs when I couldn't recover from disk, just in case.
Then that created a new problem. Now I have 6 versions of my favorite songs. Which one did I rip at a high bit rate? Which one did I get from a friend? What song is 'Track 01'? BTW Gracenote is one of the great innovations of America. Who says metadata isn't important? So I had to invest in a deduplication software program, and once again when I switched over to Mac once and for all.
When Steve Jobs finally announced iCloud and its replication service, that was the beginning of the end. I migrated all of my deduplicated music, finally onto a single massive disk drive and let Apple do the rest. But I'm constantly pruning and clipping and gardening my music metadata, because neither Shazam, iCloud, Soundhound, MusicBrainz nor Amazon can remember all the details perfectly. Not to mention how reissues make identification even more fuzzy. Chances are that if you didn't buy the original CD or vinyl you cannot know that the metadata are correct. Even so, iCloud was good enough.
However, I knew that Google and Amazon would be getting into the business shortly. In fact, I have always purchased MP3s from Amazon and played them in iTunes once all that DRM nonsense was worked out. But no longer. While I still have all of my 500+ CDs and 25,000 songs on hard drives, I only listen to streamed music from the Amazon Music Player. I can upload unlimited amounts of new music, which I almost never do because I buy it all from Amazon. I still have an (old) CD burner in my (old) MacBookPro for MP3 disks I burn for use in my truck, but everything else is streaming digits.
I should say that music quality matters a great deal to me, but I cannot afford to be the kind of audiophile I'd like to be. So while I have a very nice set of powered studio monitors and subwoofer in my living room, my ears have dumbed down to the standard of digital fidelity.
Unlike music, most movies I like are generally unrepeatable. Once you know Keyser Soze, it's over. Furthermore I can multitask quite well with music, in fact some improves the quality of my work, but movies require focused attention. For me, movies are all about the visual experience, so I still go out to see first run special effects blockbusters. Some of them I don't mind seeing again once or twice, and of course there are a few delights from which I never tire. One of these happens to be The Fifth Element. Yeah. Action and spectacle. But I also like short films and I have collected almost all of the Pixar shorts. I miss the Spike & Mike film festivals and all of that in general and have lowered my expectations for film boosting that for literature and video games.
I 'own' streamable copies of just a dozen or so films and I possess about 120 titles on DVD. I haven't bothered with BluRay at all. I own a subscription to Netflix and have had it and Tivo since the very beginning. I used to rip Netflix disks onto my hard drive but they were susceptible to the same hardware failures as my music. Plus, even as I traveled with a very small portable hard-drive on my laptop, it finally wasn't worth it to watch my own in-flight movies. Reading was just better. All of my VHS was Disney crap for the kidlings, but they've outgrown them and we garage-sold them all. I cannot imagine that I will purchase any more than a dozen hard copy movies for the rest of my life. If I'm not in (cheap or free) streaming range, I won't ask for video.
I should make note of the point that I consume video vastly differently than I used to. That is to say I watch almost no 'primetime'. I will watch the extraordinary live sports event, Tour de France, Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup, NCAA Title Game, but other than that, everything goes to the DVR. Even for massive hit series (of which there have only been about 7 or 8 worth my while since the debut of 24) I tend to wait for the critical success to happen and then watch a couple seasons's worth in retrospect. In fact, my taste in video tends towards that serial mode. I consumed all but the last season of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones that way. The only thing I watch daily are my YouTube subscriptions.
I've never been much of a TV person since I moved away from home. I bought my first black & white 12 incher after my 30th birthday and vowed never to have one in my living room - a vow I kept until.. oh wait, the kids. When I was single I only watched Seinfeld and David Letterman to understand what people were talking about at work. Other than that it was strictly News Hour and Charlie Rose. That would be from 1982 until 1997. So basically after the end of Hill Street Blues until the Teletubbies, I'm a blank.
My father has one of the most impressive collections of black literature of the 60s that exists. I grew up building bookshelves. I still tend to be the kind of book snob who denigrates people who don't have big shelves in their living rooms, and I will check the titles I see and make character judgments. But I have definitely changed all that and only a fraction of my books are shelved in the house. I keep a small technical libary in my office about 50 books and a smattering of others. There are 100 in my big ornamental shelf downstairs and another 100 strewn throughout other nooks and crannies. There are probably another 200-300 in the garage.
I bought the Kindle within a few months of its entry into the market. According to Amazon, I have 401 books in that library. Additionally, as a subscriber to Audible, I have amassed about 120 volumes. I read about 2 or 3 books per month which is about a third of my reading. Mostly I'm online reading the hundred or so blogs and sources in my RSS. So a huge amount of my reading has shifted from books and notes taken at seminars, to online.
About a fifth of the books that I get from Audible are reference books, history mostly. And for those I find most appealing, I will also purchase the Kindle version. I often want to cite something from those books I find compelling and I enjoy swapping back from reading to listening. That said, I get most of my listening done when I drive long distances or at night before bed.
When I buy actual books, they are mostly technical texts and older rare books I remember from childhood. I just bought a farmer's encyclopedia published in 1892. Very cool. I wish there were more books in digital form. I actually don't like the prospect of inheriting that large physical library. Books are meant to be digested, not shown off, and it's always about what you're learning now isn't it? Attachment to the printed page is sentimental, a worthy sentiment to be sure, but they take up a lot of space.