I'm still not ready to throw out my CDs

My CDs are a catalogue of memories: the first time I heard that song, where I was, who I was with. Picture: Shutterstock
My CDs are a catalogue of memories: the first time I heard that song, where I was, who I was with. Picture: Shutterstock

I've written before about my unreasonable attachment to my vast - and excellent - CD collection. They're all lined up on custom-built shelves in our living room, lonely and unplayed because I no longer own a single device on which to "give them a spin". Last time I wondered on the page about what to do with them, I was in a liminal space between technologies. I had not yet fully adopted online music.

But the new me now subscribes to a streaming service that allows me to play any song, anywhere and at any time, for a mere $12-ish a month.

It's a concept I once couldn't get my head around. My approach to music had always been inextricably tied to hearing something for the first time - at a party, or a friend's house, or a bar, or someone else's car - bonding with someone over a band, saving my hard-earned dollars to buy a new album, admiring the artwork, cultivating my collection - and thus my sense of self.

But look now - this gosh-darned streaming service has worked out what I like, and then curates a playlist every week based on things it thinks I might also like. It also suggests other bands and artists that are similar to something I'm listening to. I might like that too, if I give it a go? The service is, infuriatingly, almost always correct. My virtual library is now a carefully curated mix of old and new, mainstream and alternative (to use the 90s terms), and approximately 10 times larger than my poor, dusty and - let's be real about this - once very expensive but now entirely worthless CD collection at home.

It only recently occurred to me how amazing it is to have watched an entire technological innovation come ... and then disappear. Of course I know that this is part and parcel of growing older, but I really do remember quite vividly the days before the Internet and mobile phones, when CDs were brand new, and I was still listening to cassette tapes on my Walkman. I remember making mix tapes on a double player, where you had to hit record and stop between songs, and swap the tape over. I remember writing letters, and completely losing touch with people. ( I still do that last thing, but it's actually quite hard to do, and often requires an element of deliberation.) I remember taking photographs and taking the film rolls to be developed at a special shop.

But when it comes to the CDs, my children just about get it. I can't even begin to explain cassette tapes to them, but CDs they recognise, because of DVDs. We still have some of those floating around, from when they were really little and Netflix hadn't arrived with full force. We now subscribe to at least five different platforms, and quite often rent movies online. My children have absolutely no concept of patience, or limited choice, or delayed gratification.


But I can hardly talk. A devoted book lover, I also regularly download e-books. And before you get all "but what about the physical feeling of a book and the smell of the paper" yadda yadda, consider this: you might one day find yourself living for 12 months in a developing country where books are scarce but internet is not. There, with an iPad, you can download any book at any time, and have it appear almost instantaneously in your virtual library. I can't tell you how deeply comforting I still find this fact, when I come down with a sudden craving for, say, an early PD James classic, one of Elizabeth Strout's first books, or London Fields by Martin Amis which, for whatever reason, I still haven't read. The library doesn't have an available copy (why would it??) and I'd have to order it from my local bookshop. It would take days, and by then, the craving may well have passed. This is how I know I'm, deep down, a reader even more than a book lover.

And yet. And yet. I still buy my children books - physical books - every birthday and Christmas. I still get a thrill opening the many packages I receive all week long at the office, knowing they contain books. I still balk at the newfangled notion of the 'online readers' my youngest child's teacher wants her to read so that she can monitor, remotely, her reading progress.

I still keep those CDs, because they are a physical manifestation of my internal memory-scape. But I am aware of their quaintness, and that they are unnecessary. Listening to music in the car is one of life's great joys that no longer requires any more effort than flicking a touchscreen.

But then, with all these thoughts of technology receding and being replaced, a new and slightly disturbing thought surfaces: will my children even need to learn how to drive? Will I, in 10 years time, be writing a column about the good old days behind the wheel?

I think I'll drown out that thought with some music.

This story I'm still not ready to throw out my CDs first appeared on The Canberra Times.