… and the answer to the title question is: I have no idea.
But I can explain the symptoms of the madness, if not the reason.
It began with audio.
As a kid, seemingly millions of years ago, I remember buying my first album; John Williams’ stirring soundtrack to “Star Wars.” It was a beauty, too. A jet-black cover with a white-lined font of the title on a gatefold cover; with photos from the movie inside, and a portrait of Darth Vader’s face among a dense star field on the back. It also came with a terrific poster of the Death Star battle by famed sci-fi artist John Berkey. Back then (the late 1970s), albums were pop art. I can certainly understand the impulse to frame them, as some of them are truly beautiful.
Before long, I got my own record player for my birthday (what teenager in the 1970s didn’t have one in those days?), and my record collection slowly but surely grew.
Some of my highlights included the gorgeously appointed “Out of the Blue” album from the Brit rock group ELO (how I loved “Mister Blue Sky”). I also loved comedy albums, such as Billy Crystal’s “Now” (his impressions were even more amazing when you couldn’t see his face). I had a few 45 singles too (2 songs per mini-record, one on each side). 45s were somewhat smaller, and you had to use an adapter to play them on a regular turntable. I used to have lots of fun messing with the different playback speeds, too. Nothing quite as funny in those days as switching your favorite singer’s voice from 33 to 45 rpms (or even 78).
You could make Rod Stewart sound like a munchkin with laryngitis.
Eventually, I moved out of my parent’s house, boarded with some friends of mine for a few years and then eventually got my own apartment in my mid 20s. In those days, I had a modest-sized record collection (about 60 titles). Sadly, my LPs were all ruined when my apartment’s bottom floor living area (split-level) flooded due to a burst pipe behind a wall back in early 1999. This happened a few months before I was planning to move out anyway, since I was getting married that summer. I’m not sure if the records were still playable or not, but most were visibly warped, moldy or both. It broke my heart to get rid of them. It also taught a valuable lesson about rental insurance…
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, I also was very much into audio cassette tapes. I’ve lost track of how many dual-cassette decks and boomboxes I’ve owned over the years.
In 1995, I got my first compact disc player as well (hey, I was only ten years late to the party, right?). It was actually a combination CD and laserdisc player.
My CD collection began in earnest. About a year or so later, I won a combination CD/cassette player at a raffle in an office Christmas party. So now I had two CD players. My car at the time only had a cassette player, so I would dub certain tracks from CD-to-cassette to play in my car, or for use in my portable Walkman-wannabe cassette player when I went on one of my therapeutic walks (post-motorcycle accident…long story).
These days, my CD collection is around 300 or more albums. That number is probably closer to 500 discs now, including audiobooks, and CDs that I’ve burned from my computer.
I’ve since put all of my CDs into giant 250 capacity CD wallets and yes, I’m jackass enough to lug them into my car. What can I say? I like having my tunes handy…
My wife, who is far wiser and infinitely more practical than I am, has her entire music collection stored on iTunes and can play any part of it at any time with her phone. Or on her laptop when she reads.
Yes, I also have an iTunes account, but I rarely use it. In fact, I mainly use it to buy individual songs and burn them onto a CD so I can play them in my car. Kind of a retrograde use of the technology, I know.
Oh and yes, I’m aware of the various adapters I can use to plug my iPhone into my car’s stereo (I have one, in fact), but there’s something so instant and easy about simply putting a CD into the slot. It’s a bit more elegant than fumbling with my iPhone. It’s a lot easier to skip songs that way, too. Besides, when I drive the phone stays in my pocket. Unless I’m having Siri give me directions, like some half-assed version of KITT in “Knight Rider.”
The obsession crept into video, too. A LOT.
Even worse than my audiophile history is my utterly out-of-control video collection. This tragic tale of woe began sometime in the early 1980s when my family bought a CED Videodisc Player (Capacitance Electronic Disc). CEDs were a mercifully short-lived, cheaper alternative to then-super expensive VHS & Beta video tapes. CED videodiscs fed from a cartridge directly into a player (to avoid finger smudges…so clever), delivering a picture quality that was slightly better than videotape, but the discs would sometimes ‘skip’ like a faulty or dirty LP. Sometimes there would also be ‘noise’ on the image from microscopic imperfections on the disc itself, or some other damn thing that kept you from fully enjoying/losing yourself in the movie.
When CEDs finally rolled over and died in the mid-1980s, my family bought into the “laserdisc” format. My family also bought our first VHS VCR (videocassette recorder, for the post-2000 born) around the same time, but laserdisc quality was far superior. Personally I enjoyed the virtues of both formats, just as I enjoyed having records and audiocassettes (and eventually CDs). Laserdiscs looked & sounder much better, but VHS could record programs off the air. My family also had a very short-lived flirtation with Beta, but it didn’t last more than a couple weeks or so.
Planning for my eventual bachelordom, I bought my own VHS VCR and laserdisc player before I moved out. Just the basics, you know… roughing it.
Laserdiscs were amazing, even though you had to flip them over every hour or so (or every half hour in the rarely-pressed “CAV” mode). An hourly flip was a small price to pay for gorgeous (though still 4:3 analog) picture quality. Later model players even had an ‘auto-flip’ feature.
The laserdisc particular format remained a favorite of mine right up till the end of the 1990s. I loved the jacket artwork, liner notes and even gatefolds on some of the ‘collectible’ titles, like my double-disc, letterbox-format “Star Wars” trilogy discs. The Star Wars trilogy was the pride of my collection, along with my $80 full-CAV mode box set of James Cameron’s “ALIENS” and my demo-quality copy of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” I still remember having ‘movie nights’ at my place with my friends (and yes, even the occasional date). That little hourly flip of the disc usually made for a nice ‘break’ to grab something to eat, drink or (best of all) to use the bathroom. The laserdiscs looked terrific on my 20” Sony Trinitron TV, too. I had that TV from 1992 until 2014. Even after I got married, it served a second lifetime as our bedroom TV until we donated it to charity (and it still worked when I got rid of it, even after 22 years!).
Ultimately I amassed a laserdisc collection of about 70-odd titles, including a few I grabbed for cheap when the format was dying (around 1998 or so). They survived the flooding of my old apartment too, as they were furthest away from that damned leaking pipe in the wall. I sold some of them on eBay when I got married (mainly all of my Star Trek discs), but I still have most of them in storage. I don’t even own a laserdisc player to play them on these days! Same with the handful of VHS cassettes that my wife and I accrued separately before we got married; now they sit like anachronistic, clunky, analog-era relics in our home office. Most of my VHS tapes I got rid of; either in garage sales, or to charity. I don’t miss them at all. But I still have the fondest memories of my old laserdiscs. They were the source of much entertainment in my bachelor days, before they were effortlessly rendered obsolete by an usurping little format in the spring of 1997…
Where we are now.
I was aware of the little upstart format called DVD (digital versatile disc, not digital video disc) when they first came out. Yes, they were smaller, you didn’t have to flip them over hourly, and they held a lot more content per disc, including bonus features. I saw many admittedly impressive demos at various department and video stores (all of which don’t even exist anymore). One of my best friends bought into DVDs, and whenever I’d visit his place, he’d put one on. The surround sound was crystal and the picture was (for 1997) utterly flawless. They didn’t even have laserdisc’s ‘crosstalk’ squiggles that would sometimes afflict laserdisc images.
But being a stubborn young coot of 30 years old at the time, I was sticking with my laserdiscs, dag mammit. Until my then wife-to-be showed me 1984’s “Dune” on her computer’s DVD drive. It looked stunning. She made a believer out of me.
Nothing like being in love for sheer persuasive power.
So we got married in 1999 and bought our first DVD deck that September. I still remember the first DVDs I bought along with the unit: 1979’s “ALIEN” and 1973’s “The Exorcist.” I already had “The Exorcist” on laserdisc, but I was blown away by the undeniably superior picture of the 25th anniversary edition DVD (which I later got autographed by Linda Blair, but that’s another story…).
In the early 2000s the DVD format exploded, and my wife and I were caught up in it. She would buy tons of anime titles (my wife’s a major anime fan) and I would load up on Star Treks, and all kinds of rare science fiction movies. I would even begin to replace some of my old laserdisc titles (a part of me felt like I was backstabbing an old friend whenever I did that). Our DVD collection really began to swell, too. Soon, I was building new shelved cabinets for them every few months, it seemed. In no time at all, our collection reached the triple digits…and rapidly rising.
Through most of that decade, wife and I would almost ritualistically do weekly “media nights” where he’d hit up our local Best Buy electronics retailer and Borders bookstore. They were in close proximity and only about 15 minutes away. Borders bookstore was one of my favorite places on the planet, so help me. They had so many rare books, magazines, hard-to-find movies on DVD (including many scarce foreign titles) and the best local iced mocha. It was truly my happy place. My wife and I would go there nearly every Tuesday or so after work and just chill together. Usually we came home with a new book and/or a couple of new movies as well. If I could bring back just one defunct retailer, Borders would be it. I loved that place. Even 7 or so years after the last one closed, I still miss them very much.
But I digress…
For at least a decade, I thought DVDs were the end of the technological road, and I was totally okay with that.
After taking early retirement from a longtime retail management job that I absolutely despised (from another company that no longer exists), I found myself working part-time for a nice little company (which shall remain nameless) which sold specialty DVDs (lots of hard-to-get titles) and other high-end video accessories. I worked there for a few years and it was a nice atmosphere, with some really great people. Our company made something of a name for ourselves locally until sadly, evolving technology rapidly overcame us.
Streaming (mainly via Netflix) was the new thing on the horizon, and our two stores closed (literally) overnight. I was seeing the home video paradigm shift from the inside out. Weekly, sustainable DVD sales were doomed. But during the years that I worked for this sadly defunct company, I got my hands on hundreds of rare DVDs that I couldn’t get anywhere else (short of eBay). It was small consolation for the loss of a nice retail atmosphere and working for a terrific boss who is a valued friend to this day.
After that experience, I found myself buying fewer and fewer DVDs. But I still bought them. Mainly just the popular movies, TV shows or the occasional rarer titles (via Amazon).
I still love movies… what can I say? I’m a junkie, and I need help.
Around 2012, my wife and I also got into the Blu-ray format (once again, like CDs, I was a few years late coming to that party too). We did this mainly because DVDs generally stopped carrying the bonus features that once helped to make the format so attractive in the first place. Apparently, if you liked bonus content? Blu-rays were the only place to get it. So, we bought into the format. Six years later, we’re still on our first machine (as opposed to the half-dozen or so DVD decks we went through, not counting computer disc drives or portable players). We’ve got a good sixty or so titles on Blu-ray (maybe more, I haven’t counted in a while), but that’s nothing compared to the thousands of DVDs we’ve accumulated after nearly two decades.
Which brings me to…
Well, with thousands of DVDs/blu-rays in a relatively small house (my wife and I prefer to think of it as cozy), I’ve had to find all kinds of creative ways to store my video media. I started transferring them into slim cases; cases which are about half the thickness of previously clunky DVD/blu-ray cases. I’ve also resorted to putting some of my ‘heavier’ TV collections (such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, Twilight Zone and The X-Files) into large CD wallets as well. I also have box sets in my entertainment center cabinetry, a couple of repurposed bookshelves (books…another obsession of mine). We also have our ‘grand’ DVD cabinet in our living room. It’s the one that you can’t avoid when you first walk in. It’s usually the one where friends look at before they leave and say, “Oh, you have such-and-such… can I borrow that one sometime?”
Somehow, it all fits inside of our cozy little abode, and I don’t buy nearly as many as I used to. I have to admit, Netflix, YouTube and even CBS-All Access have taken care of some of that collectible urge, but it’s still there. Especially when a really rare title comes out, and I have an Amazon birthday gift card burning a hole in my pocket…
The future (?).
Since I’ve hit my 50s, I’ve both naturally and deliberately slowed my collecting tendencies. Part of it is that, well, I’m 51 years old. I don’t know how long I’ve got left, but I’ve got enough movies and TV series (and CDs) to watch and listen to until I croak. I’m through building new storage cabinets, too. I’ve found that adding a new title into the ‘towers of media’ is becoming increasingly like a big game of Tetris. However, new titles always seems to fit somehow.
These days I look at bulky ‘collectible packaging’ (like Target’s retail edition of “The Last Jedi”) with less of a collector’s zeal and more of a sad whimper of despair.
But despite all of that, I still love my movies. It’s sad and even a bit pathetic, yes, but I don’t really know if I want a solution. Yes, streaming is great and very convenient. I can watch movies on my iPhone, iPad or computer; even when I’m exercising or cooking. However, I still watch my DVDs on my office Mac DVD drive when I’m exercising, too.
There’s room for both, I think. I hope?
There is something just so neat about buying a favorite movie or TV series. It’s the tactility of it. The sum total of a cherished memory being held right there in your hands, so neatly packaged. It’s much the same feeling I used to have when I’d drool over my big gatefold LPs and laserdiscs. Maybe it’s the closest thing we have to practical time travel…preserving and freezing little (or not so little) hard pieces of living entertainment for later perusal.
There will be generations born in this age who will (perhaps wisely) never understand that foolish impulse, and perhaps that’s evolution. When this generation of today wants to watch or listen to something they can just ask for it via iTunes, Netflix or whichever service is convenient, and watch/listen at their leisure. They can pull their entertainment out of the ether and play it on whatever device is handy, like something my generation imagined in Star Trek when we were kids.
Maybe that’s why we never saw stacks of LPs or laserdiscs in Captain Kirk’s quarters?
Speaking of Star Trek (don’t I always?), the shift in home viewing habits/technology reminds me of that quote from the Klingon chancellor “Gorkon” (played by David Warner) in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”: “If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.”
True. Very true.
But I’m trying…