The Communion of Tangible Media

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My parents had just finished dancing to “I Wish.” They collapsed on the sofa laughing. “Knocks Me Off My Feet” started to play, which meant my parents would start kissing. If they started playing romantic Stevie, I was getting put out of the living room early. I grabbed Innervisions, excitedly waved it at my parents, and asked to play “Living for the City” – safe from smooching and my favorite. Of course, this meant someone would have to change the record, and my parents weren’t about to move.

My father lazily asked, “You think you’re a big enough girl to change the record by yourself Star Face?”

Of course I was. I was seven and I’d been asking to change the record on my own for at least a year. I’d already changed a diaper by that time. Technically, that’s more dangerous than changing a record. (I’m calling my sister tonight to tell her that her infant self was worth just a little less than Tapestry.) The first time my father almost allowed me to change a record, I ran into our speaker then bumped our towering sound system in my excitement. Needless to say, there was no record changing for me that day. This time around, I played it cool.

“Sure, daddy. I can do it.”

“Okay. Let me see.”

I wedged Innervisions between my parents marking my spot so there could be no funny business. Walk to the turntable. Don’t run. Don’t bump into anything. Don’t touch the grooves. I held my breath to perform the most fearsome task in record ownership – move the needle. Deftly, I lifted the needle and moved it to the holder. I turned off the turntable, carefully put my middle fingers on each edge, and lifted the record. Balancing the label on my finger, I slid the album in to the sheet, and then slid the sheet into the jacket. I sat between my parents and repeated the same motions in reverse. Remove sheet from jacket. Remove album from sheet. Don’t touch the grooves. Place the record on the turntable. Our turntable operated by touch sensor. If you dragged your feet across the carpet, static electricity would do the trick, just by pointing, so I did a little dance in my socks to get the turntable in motion. I eyeballed the needle like a great dragon’s head. I must have taken too long.

“You’re doing good. Do you need me to do that part?”

“No, thank you. I can do it daddy.”

I placed the needle shortly before the groove and  voilà! Music. I patiently endured the first two songs, waiting for my jam. And then, I came to life.

A boy is born…in Hard Times, Mississippi…

I sang and I shimmied. I shook and I bounced. I sang “his hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty,” with all the growling black angst my 61 pound frame could muster. And when the song was over, I wedged myself between my parents again. My father squeezed my hand and said, “Pretty steady there, huh Star Face?”

This is how memories were made in my analog childhood. I came of age during a time of communion. The silent, bonding connections formed in these moments remained with us. Remember the ceremony of loaning a treasured book? The loaner’s intense gaze let you know that this transaction was serious business. The recipient’s returned gaze would promise it was safe to entrust your treasure with them. I learned to cherish and appreciate tangible things through unscratched records, unbitten pencils, and books with seamless spines.

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Me the first time my Grams pulled back the protective plastic in the photo album so I could get a closer look.

As I grew, so did my universe. I still remember how the cool air hit my face the first time I walked into a record store alone, bringing with it the subtle smell of incense. The first time I walked into a bookstore, I was so transfixed, I was pushed out of the doorway. I remember sealing the envelope to have my first roll of film developed. The faces of the people who helped me stay with me. They were always smiling; bringing me into the fold, helping me navigate their world of music, written word, and pictures. As I became a regular, our bonds became almost a sacred conspiracy. “I put this on the side for you. I thought you’d like it.” I would always grin. Who doesn’t want to leap over the precipice of being a treasured customer into the gulf of friendship?

These places and the people inside became essential parts of my tangible universe. That’s something that I miss as I, like millions of people, make greater use of digital shopping and media. Of course, there are benefits to the availability of digital media. Outside of the convenience for those of us who simply don’t have time, it’s a great tool for people with physical disabilities and social anxiety disorders.

However for me, I find myself missing the ceremony. I’m slightly weirded out by what feels like an aversion to touch. I still take time to visit bookstores, but I haven’t touched a physical picture in ages and haven’t been inside of a music store since Nelly was hot. I miss the need to cherish those things. There was no backup or cloud. If you lost or broke something, it was gone. I can’t help but wonder what removing that part of reality has done to us as a society and how we appreciate art. We glut our clouds with things we may never consume. Tons of us cast indicting looks at our unread Kindle library and shake our heads, because we’re never going to read that crap. The combination of being abundant and out of sight makes much of what we consume digitally, ultimately forgettable.

My selective dinosaur tendencies are funny. I refuse to buy a watch, because my cell phone has the time, but the first draft of virtually everything I write is in longhand on a steno pad. I live and die by Grub Hub, but I refuse to own a microwave, because food needs fire. And tonight – after I finish podcasting, but before I drift off into a Neflix-induced haze – I’m going to huddle under my blanket and gleefully turn the pages of a book, because I still like to touch things.

 

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