The other day I was debating my friend over what it meant to have a collection in this day and age. My friend was of the opinion that a collection is something you can hold in your hand, comprised of items that you have diligently tracked down over a period time and is uniquely yours. To an extent, I agreed with him, though my own definition of a collection is somewhat broader.
While for many people, my pal included, having a stack of slowly yellowing, dog-eared twelve-inch albums is something to salivate over, this is no longer the case for the majority. The appeal of having a bookshelf stuffed full of worn-out Penguin Classics is something that I completely understand (and often fantasise about, too), but for the new generation, growing up with eBooks and MP3s, this is something that, like it or not, is becoming increasingly rare. As with many things, the definition of a collection is changing, and trying to cling on to an outdated idea of what it means is about as futile as asking JLo to stop collaborating with Pitbull.
I see no reason why a collection cannot be digital. Of course, this will not apply to all collections – for example, having a jpeg stamp collection is obviously inferior to a physical stamp collection – with a digital stamp collection you do not actually own any stamps at all. The same cannot be said, however, for things like music and books. If I were to download an eBook to my computer, I would own that book. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to hold it in my hands or give it a good sniff (as I rather like to do), but that book would be mine nonetheless. If I saved up my pennies and bought a new title every once in a while, I would have a collection. Does the fact that my collection is not cluttering up my bookshelf make it any less of a collection? I don’t think so.
Music and books have become much cheaper and easier to own. No longer do we have to spend hours flicking through dusty stacks to find that elusive Beatles single with the Japanese bonus track when we can track it down online and download it in less than a minute. For this reason, you could argue that a digital collection is worth less than a physical one because it has taken less time and effort to amass. That’s fair enough, a physical collection is often a great deal more interesting because there’s a little story behind each component, but claiming that only physical collections are valid smacks of elitism and snobbery. Those who hold that opinion are generally the ones who have the time and money to go rooting around for rarities in backstreet bookshops and indie record stores – but not everyone does.
Not very long ago, to be ‘published’ meant to be signed with a large company and have your books in all the major retailers. This has changed over the past few years thanks to the influx of independent authors that have been taking over. Just as the meaning of ‘published’ has changed, so too has the word ‘collection’. It doesn’t matter whether you have your books and music in your hand or on a digital device – they are a collection nonetheless. The only reason people weren’t doing the same twenty years ago is because they didn’t have the means to – downloading just wasn’t a thing yet. These days, even though we can make collections quickly and easily, some people choose not to do so because the thrill of having a physical entity outweighs the convenience of the digital download. That is fair enough, and no doubt most of us can sympathise with this viewpoint, but this becomes a problem when it is used to talk down to those who prefer to download.
One can appreciate good music and literature just the same whether one downloads it or buys it from a shop – and no one’s collection should be sneered at because of the format in which it exists.
What do you think? Let me know in a comment below!