You can tell a lot about a person from their taste in books and music. You walk into someone’s living room or study, glance at their bookshelf or collection of CDs and DVDs and you can more or less tell if they are your type. I would never have guessed that my former boss was into sci-fi—a genre I enjoy—if I hadn’t seen his collection of video cassettes. All through my life I have had interesting conversations and built lasting friendships based on a common interest in books and music.
When we travel abroad we spend a good deal of time browsing for books and music. We also buy books and CDs as gifts for friends because we know what they are interested in. Back home, browsing in bookshops is a favourite pastime on weekends. And though I still walk into a music shop, it’s been a long time since I bought a CD. I do buy music, but not a CD or an LP. I have gone online: I download music from Apple’s iTunes.
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I like music. I have it playing in the background at home every evening. On weekends the music is on the whole day: classic rock and all kinds of jazz (iTunes has links to 300 classic rock and jazz stations) and some select programmes on NPR and BBC Radio stations. If I want to listen to a track I don’t have, I go to a site called Grooveshark. I am told Daytrotter is a popular site if you are interested in Independent bands. It also lets you download music for free.
But these days I rarely play a CD. I have ripped my entire collection on to my PC and, to be on the safe side, backed it up on an external hard drive. I have only one friend who refuses to download music and always buys CDs and LPs. But he is an audiophile. I once gave him an original and he said, “Nice, but sounds a bit metallic.” I didn’t know he was into my kind of music till I walked into his den.
Quite a few of my other friends who like music have switched to downloading from iTunes. Everybody knows how to “rip” or “burn” a CD. Just a few years ago we used to exchange albums; now we share music on pen drives. In the US, although CDs still account for two-thirds of all album sales, fewer people are buying them. In comparison, paid music downloads are growing at a phenomenal rate.
Downloading has many advantages: It is usually cheaper, is almost instant (you don’t have to wait for the new CD) and you can buy just one song instead of the whole album. You also don’t have to worry about scratches.
But there’s a downside: One is the quality of sound. CDs and LPs give you better sound than a downloaded track. The other is that you miss out on album art (Sgt. Pepper’s, Sticky Fingers, Bitches Brew and Köln Concert to name some). I have often bought a CD because I liked the graphic on the sleeve. But I have never downloaded a track based on the online cover image. In fact I didn’t even notice the cover of Ca Ira by Roger Waters whereas the jacket of the other Pink Floyd album, The Dark Side of the Moon, is among my all-time favourites.
While I find it convenient to play music from my desktop, my books are still in hardback or paperback. I haven’t switched to an e-book reader—the Kindle or an iPad. One reason is that unlike the iPod or any other digital music player, the hand-held devices for books are still a bit unwieldy in terms of total reading experience.
The other reason is I am old-fashioned. Fortunately for me, so are my friends. One of the joys of life is lending and borrowing books among friends. And if they start downloading books instead of buying them, I would be very disappointed. Perhaps I would then think of joining this new online dating site, Alikewise, where you meet people based on your taste in books. I believe you can search by your favourite author or book title, and find a like-minded soul.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at firstname.lastname@example.org