in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Monday, February 12, 2007

Unzipping Access (Me and my Lack)

I spent half of Saturday last week assembling my Träby, my Billy, and my Lack. Yes, after nearly two years in a wilderness of cardboard boxes and tippy piles, I finally sorted the lion's share of my records into beautiful, modular, Scandinavian order. It was a triumph – but it took its toll.

Because having all these ‘things’, to have and to hold, to schlep and to stack, to load into cars and drag out of bars, is a heavy reminder that having possessions also means being possessed. You end up being a slave to your favourite thing. Watch ‘owners’ pick up after their dogs and ask yourself: who’s the bitch?

It’s something I’m still working through. I'm deeply attached to my heavy objects. I also still like the idea of owning things. I like the idea, but I’m totally willing to concede that it’s a folly, and a redundant one at that. In fact, I’m here to offer you some advice, something I wish I’d gotten through my head before I embarked on this cumbersome adventure. The question is this: if you can access the experience, why own the object?

Last year, a good friend of mine stopped buying music, more or less. He just listens to the radio. Given that he’s into classical music, it’s not like he’s gonna miss the flood of ‘new releases’ anyway. But without spending a cent, he manages to have a near continuous stream of music. He’s got a pocket radio, a car radio, a kitchen radio – he’s even got one next to his laptop, tuned to 3MBS. Provided you’ve got access to a radio and AA batteries and you don’t someone else calling the tunes, no problem. You’ve overcome your need for objects. Hurray for you.

But say you’re a control freak, like me. The kind of guy who can’t abide letting another person choose what’s coming next. Until recently, radio just wasn’t an option.

But all that’s been exploded. Fact is, between podcasting, online radio streaming, illegal downloading and filesharing sites like yousendit and sendspace, I’m able to obtain access to almost anything – let’s say 90% of the new releases I want to listen to. Not bad, eh?

Sure, you don’t get to have a cool looking Ikea storage unit full of records, you lose some sound quality, and we really don't know how long our files will last before being corrupted – ask yourself, how many ten year old hard drives still work? How many of your 5.25” floppies still do the do? But, on the flip, you don’t have to buy, transport or store anything, which is better for the environment, easier on your back, and a dream when you need to move anywhere. It means you’re free, right? No vinyl, no CD, no Billy, and no Lack.

Wrong. Just because you don’t have ‘things’ to worry about looking after anymore, doesn’t mean you’re no-one’s bitch. In fact, my recent house-moving debacle was not just a reminder of how heavy records are, but also how dependent I’ve become on having my precious ‘access’. Four weeks without a high-speed internet connection has been like being barred from the world of work, friendship AND new music, all in one disconnected swoop. No access? No experience. At least you only have to buy an object once, then it’s yours. Unlike ownership, your access can be revoked at any time. Think about it – in this century, something as mindless as a phone company’s inefficiency can be the gatekeeper that comes between you and every experience you’re trying to access. Broadband is the contemporary equivalent of the VIP room in a club, the business lounge in an airport, or the tea room in a colonial gentleman’s club (no dogs or Chinese, thank you).

So this is where we’re at, folks. No sooner was I gloating to myself about having escaped the dismal cycle of acquisition, accumulation and storage than I realised I’ve already become dependent on something far dodgier. Those few weeks on the phone to the telephone customer service people, begging, waiting, cycling to the library or mum and dad’s to get my downloading fix were the grim foretaste of a world where everything depends on having constant, uninterrupted access. After a day without it, I felt the panic and frustration of a ‘VIP’ who’s lost their laminate, or a regular whose face has been suddenly, catastrophically forgotten by the mega Maori who stands between him and his favourite nite spot. It’s enough to make you wanna run home and stroke your faithful object. So I did. I went home, pulled a record out of my Träby, selected a book from my Billy, and stared at my comforting Lack.

This rant was originally published in Inpress, February '07
© Peter Chambers 2007

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