When I was 12 or 13 years old, we had a family computer that everyone shared. It had a 1GB hard drive. I downloaded single MP3s off of various websites and Hotline servers constantly. But the HDD was so small it was permanently full, so every single time I downloaded an MP3, I had to delete another of equal or greater size. It was a ludicrous balancing act.
Later on, when I got my very own computer, I upgraded to a larger hard drive, maybe 20GB, letting me start collecting full albums. I still bought CDs, but when I was at my computer I listened mostly to MP3s. I discovered some early, FTP-based private file sharing sites, and that really opened the flood gates.
When I was younger, I was a collector of things. If I was into a band, I wanted every t-shirt and poster that band released. And you can bet your arse I wanted every obscure track they’d ever recorded. Back then, rarities were still rare and I was still constantly tempted by import singles with new b-sides and overpriced concert bootleg CDs featuring unreleased songs. Downloading MP3s let me check out obscure curiosities without having to spend $US18 for a three-track single from Japan.
Today, I’ve managed to temper my OCD collector qualities for everything but music. Those t-shirts and posters are packed up somewhere at my parents house, but my music collection has since migrated to a 500GB HDD in my laptop (backed up to a 1TB RAID array, of course).
Sure, you could argue that there’s no possible way I could listen to most of my music collection on any type of regular basis, and you’d be right. But that’s not the point. Even though my normal rotation of music that I listen to is probably 30 per cent of my collection, I have the ability to listen to any of it at any time. Suddenly reminded of that party we threw sophomore year of college? I still have the playlist saved. What about the songs I listened to while driving to high school my senior year? Yep, still have all of those. And unlike CDs, it takes about three seconds to start playing any of it.
It just takes putting on an old Luke Vibert album to be transported back to my friend Ian’s house up in NH, excitedly scheming some project or prank instead of doing our homework. And putting on Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West immediately brings me back to my freshman year dorm room on the first warm days of spring, hanging out with my roommate Matt with the window open and the breeze blowing in, feeling like my whole life was in front of me and overwhelmingly full of possibility.
If all that music from my past had been on CDs, you can bet that A) I would never have had so much of it and B) I would have sold back stuff I got bored with to used record shops to get new music. But the fact that it’s been mostly free and takes up merely room on my hard drive allows me to hoard without the normal downsides of hoarding things, like being a freaky shut-in with a house that smells like mould and wet newspapers.
There are few things that evoke memories like music. I don’t take a lot of photos, so listening to something that was a big part of an important time in my life is often the only tangible link I have to those memories. To some people, smell is the sense most connected to memory, but for me it’s definitely music. And being able to store it all easily and have it at the tips of my fingers whenever I want is something I wouldn’t give up in a million years. To me, music is memory, and being able to store it all and supplement my imperfect brain is one of the biggest benefits to living in this digital age.
Memory [Forever] is our week-long consideration of what it really means when our memories, encoded in bits, flow in a million directions and might truly live forever.
Image is CC licensed from Flickr user Mosesxan.