! have to confess to being somewhat of a technophobe. My year at school, born between 1969 & 1970, was the last not to have IT as part of the curriculum. I learned to touch-type rather than word-process and when I began work as a journalist you phoned in your copy (usually from a callbox) there was no email.
The truth is I am behind the technological curve, both nervous and a little resentful. So news from last week’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that digital technology is set to become even more visual, what with Google Glass, curved screen TVs and wrist-top tablets, did nothing to make me, as a blind person, feel less disenfranchised. And don’t get me started on touch-screen technology…
It will come as no surprise then to hear about my extensive collection of vinyl records. It’s a passion that began early when, aged 5 I dragged my mum into Woolies determined to blow my pocket money on a copy of ‘Shang-a-lang’ by The Bay City Rollers. Over the years it’s taken in all branches of rock, dance, trance and even a bit of Dolly Parton!
My hobby became an obsession when I learned I was losing my sight. As anyone who has listened to the Top 40 knows, 8 out of 10 songs tell of heartbreak and loss. I took shelter behind a wall of sound. Found sympathy and solace in weepie ballads and hard-rock defiance.
Seeking aural compensation for my loss I plundered music’s family tree – from its deepest blues roots to its most far-out psychedelic tips. Gathering entire discographies to make up for my own sense of incompleteness.
My twenties coincided with Britpop and the Indie explosion – an era to rival the Sixties. I averaged two or three gigs a week and lost myself in the blissed-out crowds where it didn’t matter who could or couldn’t see, and bumping against people was all part of the vibe…man.
And all the time I continued buying the records, except now they were compact discs. Their sound was less rich and the sleeve notes too small for me to read but the flipside was that they were far less likely to get terminally scratched when I went to listen to them.
I missed the hiss and crackle of the needle on the record but not the lottery of whether it would drop into the groove or not. In my heart I remained a purist, and kept the vinyl to prove it. Besides there was too much to replace it all on CD.
And then MP3s came along. I fought for years against buying into their topped and tailed sound, and argued that without the tactile ritual of actually ‘putting an album on’ much of the sacrament was lost. But as my eyesight faded so did my ability to distinguish between those albums. So, slowly and reluctantly I fed the discs into my computer and onto an iPod.
There everything is backlit, always in alphabetical order, never gets scratched, misplaced, stolen by my kids or used as a plaything by the cat. I can locate and listen to my music at will again.
I needed to be realistic. My vinyl collection had languished unplayed in a cupboard for over a decade. Still it was with a heavy heart that, last weekend, I exchanged this platter of childhood memories and teenage kicks for a fistful of tenners.
The two buyers had travelled down to London from Norfolk and were keen to know whether I’d also consider selling some of my CDs. I had to apply the same rationale: the MP3 player is now my default music source. My fellow collectors decimated the 1200 discs – I had to ask my wife to conclude the deal.
How could I have surrendered my keepsakes so easily? Like the albums of photos I can no longer linger over they were nevertheless records of my past – items it had always felt important to hold onto.
But a few days on, sorrow has turned to relief. A weighty albatross that reminded me of the lost ability to do something I once took for granted has been removed. In is place is the appreciation that I live in an era when, be it a vinyl record or a Polaroid snap, I can have access to it again via digital media. It may be less vibrant than the original but it’s good to know that not even the cutting edge is perfect.
Technology, though designed predominantly for the visually unimpaired, does have its benefits. So bring on the driverless car, just make sure it’s got a dock for my iPod!