Periodical 12 — Sometimes the Old Way

Convenience is the enemy of memory.

Today I connected a twenty-year-old minidisc player to my computer and used even older software that Stefano Brilli reverse-engineered and made into a web app to transfer an hour’s worth of audio files to a blank minidisc in about 15 minutes. By today’s standards, there was nothing convenient about it, but it sure was cool.

Two slabs of metal talking to one another and putting the resulting conversation on a metal disc. It’s very sci-fi.

By the standards of the time when this method was created, it’s nearly miraculous. Faster than burning a CD! No skipping! Tiny!

I bought my first minidisc player in 1999 from a classmate at RISD who had already upgraded his brand-new Panasonic SJ-MR100 to something sleeker direct from Japan. He generously sold it to me for $50 and threw in some cables and blank discs. I was initiated.

I spent many evenings copying — linearly, as in, in real time — albums I had carefully assembled from only the most high-quality 320kbs mp3 files gathered on Napster, printing out album art and hand trimming and laminating it to make a beautiful, bespoke minidisc collection.

It’s difficult to express now, two decades later, how absolutely thrilling it was to be able to roam the city with a minidisc player in my pocket. The leaps from cassette tape to CD to minidisc were rapid and profound — just four years prior, I was walking to high school listening to the same 35-minute mix tape on a knock-off “Walkman” every single day. Even now, when I hear the song Zoo Station, by U2, I expect Flesh, by KMFDM, to play next because that’s what I put next on my tape.

In 2001, just after 9/11, I decided not to fly to Detroit for the holidays as I normally would and, instead, take the train. We hit a major blizzard in Buffalo, which stopped any movement for hours and then had us inching our way to Michigan over about 30 hours. The gaps between trains were snow caves. Every bathroom broke down. The galley car ran out of food. We restocked somewhere and much celebration ensued when Amtrak fed everyone at no charge. I’d expected a comparably shorter ride, of course, and had only packed three minidiscs for entertainment. All these years later, hearing The Bends, by Radiohead, Vespertine, by Björk, or Run Come Save Me, by Roots Manuva, instantly takes me back to those two days on a frozen train. It’s a precious memory and probably the two least convenient days of my life.

Convenience is overrated. Convenience, I think, is the enemy of memory. The easier the experience, the less of it we actually experience. And I will say, definitively, that recall is part of the experience.

So here I am, doing a thing I do not have to do in this, the year Twenty-Twenty-Four, because it feels like a secret, special, private thing.

Written by Christopher Butler on January 6, 2024,   In Log

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