Why Digital Downloads Are Evil

You digging that download bro? You dig it man? Girl? Baby? Well you’ve got a shock cummin’ at ya. You paid for it, right? Oh you nicked it? Well, if you had paid for it, you actually wouldn’t own it. I know!

And that is where our trouble begins. That Kindle eBook you loved, you don’t own it. That streamed music you downloaded to your phone. It’ll be gone the second you stop subscribing. That iTunes file that only works on iTunes unless you bugger about for hours. You don’t own it. You have, in the jargon, licensed the material for a finite period of time. Which runs out when you do. Once you die, you lose the files. And that’s a best case scenario.

What about this?

Are you a tea drinker? Oh you’re not. You prefer coffee. Even better. I bet you stopped drinking that instant shit a thousand years ago. So who makes it now? Either you do, in a $5,000 bean to cup wallet fuck. Or you head on down the shop where they make it for you and take about $10 for a thing that really is worth 50 cents.

I prefer tea. When I’m really, really in trouble, I throw a bag in a cup, stir it all up, milk too, chuck the bag out the window and I’m leaving the house. It tastes of shit but boy is it quick to make, and cheap. On the weekend, it’s all change. Out comes the loose leaf. Out comes the silver strainer that is 200 years old and was touched by a Queen. Out comes the tray. Out come the cakes, those little French things that are pink or yellow and come in paper. The whole thing takes half an hour to make, and half an hour to drink. This is absolutely what made Britain great. It distinguishes us from the bag brigade, and is best taken on a veranda in front of 13 men dressed in white knocking a ball about with twigs of willow.

Have you noticed a connection, between the tea bag and the MP3 download? If you really value your music, or your tea, you need rituals around it. These rituals waste time, of course, but they enhance the experience. This is why food and drink always tastes better in a  bar or restaurant than at home. For one thing, you haven’t slaved over it for hours on end until you totally lost your appetite.

Consider this. Put your phone down, I need you to listen. Headphones out.

For about $150 you can have an all-in-one vinyl player with built-in speakers. True, the discs are a bit steep now at maybe $30. But I am not suggesting you forget the tea bags. I am suggesting that your most favoured music should be upgraded. I have a copy of Rumours on the wall signed by all five members of Fleetwood Mac. Try that with a digital download, buster.

Next Sunday, you will be able to spend 10 minutes sliding the plastic out of the paper sleeve, glance at the amazing artwork on the cover as you casually toss it on the sideboard. You get out a duster and wipe it carefully, in circular motion to preserve the integrity of the grooves. You shoot it with an anti-static gun. Then, finally, you fire up the turntable, and watch it spin. If you’re lucky, and it’s old or cheap, it may squeak a little bit. Then, you carefully raise up the arm that decodes the music. You plop the disc onto the spindle in the middle, and allow the arm to drop, very gently now, onto the plastic disc. You crank the volume up to 11. It crackles a little, raising the tension in the room. Is it scratched? Only one way to find out and it’ll take twenty minutes before it requires turning over. And you settle into that favoured chair with a cup of first-class black leaf tea, fresh from the silver pot.

And now tell me you prefer a fucking iPod.

This article first appeared in The Z Review in New York.

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