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Cranky old man says you kids don't know what you're missing.

Steve Almond:

As a kid, it was LPs, black vinyl discs the size of dinner plates that I handled with elaborate caution. Then came the miracle of cassettes - an album you could fit in your pocket! I amassed 500 of those, before compact discs took over. I figured CDs would be the end of the line, technologically. Which just shows what a rube I am. Within a decade, the wonders of digital music had rendered them hopelessly outdated. CDs? Those were, like, so 1999.

The problem, of course, is that I had devoted most of my 20s and 30s to collecting discs. I had worked as a music critic and haunted used record shops and scavenged from yard sales and college radio stations.

The result was an "archive'' of 4,500 CDs, which filled most of the shelves and closet space in my apartment. Full disclosure: a significant portion of this archive resided in the trunk of my car.

I am not about to argue for the psychological health of my conduct. I realize I'm a nut. But we're all nuts when it comes to our obsessions. We all go overboard. That's what makes us human, as far as I'm concerned.

The problem - again - is technology. Five years ago, I bought an Apple computer and fell under the spell of iTunes, which offered me the chance to transfer my entire collection onto my hard drive.

That's certainly what my wife hoped would happen.

But every time I head downstairs to the basement room that now houses the Almond archive the same thing happens: I start browsing the discs, and inevitably find one I haven't heard in years and slip it onto the crappy boom-box I keep down there and pretty soon the record has transported me back to the exact time and place where I first fell in love with it. The physical object, in other words, becomes a time machine. And who in their right mind would throw away a time machine?

The younger generation has no romantic attachments to records as physical objects. To them, music exists as a kind of omnipresent atmospheric resource.

And it's not that I begrudge them their online treasure troves or bite-size iPods. But I still miss the way it used to be, in the old days, when fans had to invest serious time and money to track down the album or song they wanted.

What I'm getting at here is a deeper irony: technology has made the pursuit of our pleasures much easier. But in so doing, I often wonder if it has made them less sacred. My children will grow up in a world that makes every song they might desire instantly available to them. And yet I sort of pity them that they will never know the kind of yearning I did.

I'd get rid my my CDs in a second if the task of putting them up for sale on Amazon marketplace or whatever wasn't so daunting. But i get what he's saying, even if it's a bit sappy and pretentious.

By fnord12 | November 24, 2009, 9:03 AM | Music