The Environmental Issue With Digital Media

Steven Hyden has a fascinating article on grantland.com today about how digital downloads of music are quickly becoming a thing of the past as they are replaced by services such as Spotify. He notes that, while record aficionados will continue to buy physical objects (and one could also make this argument for those of us who prefer real books to their bastardized e-book cousins), no one will be nostalgic about downloading songs because no physical object changes hands. As Hyden writes, “[p]eople continue to buy vinyl records because they enjoy the process of buying and playing vinyl records;” there is no equivalent of this experience with digital files. Or, to put it in Marxist terms, buying a record (or a book!) is one of the most prominent examples of a commodity fetish.

Hyden’s explanation of the changing way we consume recorded music makes sense, but what his article (and similarly, all of the articles extolling the virtues of e-readers) fails to discuss are the consequences of having all of one’s music in digital form when we run out of fossil fuels in twenty or thirty years. All of that data becomes meaningless if there is no electricity (or so little that it is needed for more basic tasks such as cooking or heating the home) to run the computer or charge the iPod. I suppose this might also be a problem when trying to run a CD player (though it won’t when trying to read a real book as long as there is a window nearby!). But my point is that, while the Digital Age is an exciting one, we do not talk nearly enough about its environmental impact and how we will adjust when the energy that powers it is no longer as available as it is now. This is why physical libraries/archives are so important.

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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