Saturday, January 03, 2009

Afraid of the Intangible Gift

The Freakonomics Blog describes another kind of Christmas inefficiency:
Last week I did something that felt very 1990’s: I purchased a compact disc. The CD wasn’t for me; it was a Christmas present.

As I wrapped the CD, I pondered the silliness of the whole enterprise. After all, the recipient — like most of us these days — listens almost exclusively to MP3 files. In fact, I’m not even sure if he has a CD player beyond his laptop, which he will use to convert his disc-shaped gift into a more useful set of MP3 files.

But somehow it felt more “real” to give a physical compact disc, rather than to transfer the property rights to a more ephemeral MP3 file. The same thing can be said for books. I now read mostly on my Kindle. You might think that this would lead my family to give me books in the appropriate electronic format; after all, they are cheaper, easier to travel with, and more useful.
This happened to me too. My wife wanted Season 2 of Survivor: The Australian Outback (where Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View got her start). But I knew Traci would not want to watch the season twice, so instead I got her a Netflix subscription, which was more useful and cheaper. However, on Christmas day, it felt like a cop out. Why is this?


  1. I feel the same dilemma. The whole CD thing isn't helped by the amount of MP3s and such I downloaded during my college years. I hope the RIAA isn't reading your blog. I've joyfully taken a few steps backwards recently, though - I'll have no computer when I move to TN and my new car has no CD player, so I just found about 50 cassettes for free on Craigslist that I'll enjoy listening to. Just think, no track skipping!

  2. I love my iPod and my music collection - and have yet to buy an mp3 on iTunes (though I have used Amazon mp3, but only recently). The difference is quality. An mp3 is by nature compressed, and one day I hope to have a stereo which will be nice enough for me to appreciate still having my uncompressed (though admittedly sampled) music handy. Also, most mp3 stores sell songs for 99 cents a pop. I can get a used CD on with 15 tracks for 8 bucks or less. Plus it comes with liner notes and there's none of that nasty DRM to worry about.

    I am in love with music and technology, but I still asked for and received lots of CD's this Christmas. It's a dying medium, but it's not dead yet.

  3. Huh, I didn't realize the quality was different. Thanks Justin.

  4. Ha ha, it seems both tapes and CDs are cheaper than downloaded music. Thanks Matt.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.