Friday, March 25, 2011

"Just remember that the wrong things aren't supposed to last."

The Song: "This is Love," Mary Chapin Carpenter. Words & music by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Track 13 of Stones in the Road, 1994.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1994.
Listen/watch here.

The talk at last week's Virginia Festival of the Book, and online this week, is the move to exclusive e-publishing by some pretty major names in genre fiction. The handsome, witty and delightful Lee Goldberg and I had a long conversation about this last Thursday night, and his blog is one of the best sources for thoughtful commentary on this topic.

Yesterday, however, I got an email that helped crystallize my thoughts on the subject, and it wasn't about books at all. My friend Anna, in a frenzy of spring cleaning, found a VHS tape of my 1999 appearance on "Jeopardy!" Did I want it? she asked.

I have not owned a VCR in ten years or more, but have a box of VHS tapes that has made two cross-country moves with me. Why? I have no idea. I'll never own a VCR again. I'll never watch these tapes again. I need to get rid of them, but it pains me to throw them in a landfill, so there they sit, in that box in my spare room.

And yes, I told Anna that I would like my "Jeopardy!" tape, because I don't own any recording of that appearance, and Chris and Claire might like to see it sometime. How I will show it to them, I don't know. I'll have to find some place that transfers VHS to DVD, and hope the copyright laws don't prohibit that.

The moral of this story, though, is that state-of-the-art data storage has become inaccessible to the casual user in just over a decade. It's not just video; I have a box of unreadable floppy disks, too.

As I see more and more authors move exclusively to electronic publishing, what I see is the acknowledgment that their work is ephemeral. Pulp fiction always was, of course; only the very best of it has survived, and even then the original books crumble to the touch. It makes sense to publish Harlequin romances and men's adventure fiction in e-format, because those books were always meant to be read once, passed on, forgotten. (They'll no longer be left in hospital waiting rooms or on trains, though, and I feel a certain sentimental regret about that.)

My shelves hold books that are almost 100 years old, books I've owned since childhood, books that belonged to my parents and in a couple of cases to their parents. I have books I expect to leave to my heirs, inscribed by friends with messages that I hope will mystify and intrigue my great-grandchildren.

No one will inherit my first-generation Kindle.


Thomas at My Porch said...

I would love to see that Jeopardy video. I saw an article a few years ago about how data storage has become consistently and increasingly less stable over the years. Not only in terms of obsolete technology but in the data storage material itself. And then of course the e-Readers come along...makes me glad I have Luddite tendencies. BTW, just in case you need it, I give you permission to throw away those floppies.

Rachel Allshiny said...

I have to agree. I have tried to imagine a future where they find all our iPads and Kindles and Blackberries, and wondered if there will be anything retrievable from any of our devices. What I don't get is: Who thought the book was flawed as a delivery device? Sure, it takes some time, money, and resources to create. It takes up space. But I love all those things about it. =) I don't feel accomplished, looking at how much memory is left on my eReader, the way I do when I try to find new spots for books on my shelves.

Ingrid said...

If you have a local college that teaches media arts, they will have the equipment to convert VHS to DVD (or MP4 files, or WMV etc).

I've found many a paperback mystery on trains over the years. You can't package that kind of random surprise into a marketing campaign.

Richard said...

I put a bunch of my old VHS tapes into the plastics recycling bin in Hallowell. Most of the plastic should be recyclable.

I have a spare VCR you can borrow- a product of someone elses discarding

Anonymous said...

Scott can convert that video for you. He has spent many hours managing data for us. All our videos are now on a hard drive AND backed up offsite AND we will keep the tapes too. Even with all this we worry that somehow it might still get lost.

JIM LAMB said...

I have a copy of that tape too but no VCR. If Scott can put it on a DVD or other disc, I'd love to have it. I do not have a copy of your daughters appearance and i wish i could get a copy of that too.