Lifechanger: My Big Fat Music Collection

According to iTunes, I have 22,880 items in my music collection. That adds up to 70.9 days worth of music, taking up 145.26 GB of hard drive space. And thank God for it.

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.


    how old are you? my first family computer had like 50mb harddrive.

      haha! 1GB HDD.. . . my first PC didnt have a HDD, I paid like $800 for a 500MB HDD :)

    And it would be so much easier, if we as a species weren't so ingrained with the idea of receiving something physical in exchange for something physically worked for.

    Because working that desk job, that telephone, that sales pitch and then buying that CD ~ you have something to show for your efforts. As mentioned before we can't yet associate the same quantification of value for digital goods as physical. Are we possibly - subconsciously perhaps - judging the product not just on the product alone, but also on the _delivery_ of it too?

    I'm almost there now with debit cards when RL CD shopping. One more step and it will be a completely digital transaction. On rare(r) occasions I'll still buy a CD. But it's more for redundancy than convenience, and it certainly isn't cheaper.

    It's not just music either. Video Games, Movies, software... I'm very surprised Microsoft hasn't put more effort behind putting ISOs of Windows 7 and Office online. Their virtual store would sell nothing more than unlock KEYS for them. That they put so much effort in RL shelf space, box design and disc presentation tells you they too understand how much humans still cling to old-world beliefs of value in physical product. Look to Steam as a perfect example of a digital store done right.

    Future generations will look at us silly when we say we would actually _go_ somewhere - to a building and buy a bit of plastic that we didn't really know what was on it or what it sounded like. The concept will boggle their minds as we recall the concept of music not being in stock or a movie not in this store but another one across town. They will grow up with a system that's not tied to RL, one that has neither of these problems (although it may have other problems that RL shopping doesn't). How they measure their level of value of a product will be no different to us, but they won't be distracted by how the product was delivered to them.

    There is more to be said on the fragility of digital goods. I would argue that your digital belongings are actually LESS safe than physical ones. Both can be stolen just as easily. A modern thief would still break in via your window but instead of going for the CDs, he goes for your hard drive, and - if it's a portable one - makes his job even easier. In addition, while your CD does have a chance to break, your hard drives are at this point in history more likely to break. Net based storage is one solution, but considering most ISPs reluctance to bring out an all-you-can-eat approach, not likely to take off any time soon.

    Then you have DRM concerns. Playstation lets you backup all your save games onto a portable Hard Drive or Memory Stick, but XBox doesn't let you. And it's impossible on a DS. These shortcomings are often overlooked in a person's digital footprint. How can you say your entire digital world is covered if some of the items can't be covered or won't be covered at all?

    How old am I? Computers were basically Sci-Fi when I was a teenager, calculators didn't make an appearance until I was in my mid-teens!

    Vinyl and Cassette tapes were the preferred err only storage media available and my mates and I had enough between us to fill several large houses.

    I'm in complete agreement with you about memories and now I'm retired I'm scratching around in "certain places" on the net looking for rare tracks impossible to get anywhere nowadays unless one has an an inexhaustible amount of money and/or friends who've managed to hold onto theirs despite relationship break-ups and moving around for years!

    You are correct Adam, music equals memories and when you get into your middle age like me, you will be very glad you held onto yours.

    As for "Painkiller", just be thankful its well into the future for you, but hold onto those precious tunes, they are a road-map of your life.

    I like this article, I too am a massive OCD, and I have managed to get my mp3 collection down to 80GB, I delete the albums that I have tried to listen to but never got into.

    Also I have my CD collection chronologically sorted by date of purchase, - Its a great way to see how your taste has evolved.

    Can't agree with you more Adam. Most major moments in our lives have some song that makes us reminisce(?) about what we were doing, where we were, what we were wearing, who we were with... etc. I still feel a little prickly necked everytime I listen to Blink-182's Dammit, it was the first MP3 I ever got, back at school, at 96kbps sample rate and took me 2-3 1.44mb floppy's in spanned Zip file to get them home (and that wasn't even a guarantee with floppy's that it would make it home). Most time's I am listening to a new album (or even an old one) and I think to myself "This reminds me of the time...". Well done with the 145GB of music.

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