Physical Objects As Tokens For Digital Media

Over at Quartz there's an interesting story about Ozenge's Qleek system:

Not so long ago, every act of consumption began with a ritual. We pulled records from sleeves and perched them on turntables, slid books from shelves, watched as VHS tapes were ingested with a soft ca-chunk. Qleek, from Paris-based startup Ozenge, aims to return our digital media to a state in which they can be collected, stored, handled, played and shared in the same way that physical media were, once. The makers of Qleek want you to pick up a wooden hexagon printed with, for example, the artwork for an album or mix, place it on a reader, and hear the corresponding tracks play on your device of choice.

I'm rather ambivalent about this notion. On the one hand I'm of the generation that grew up collecting physical LPs, cassettes, and CDs, and who thought we'd never quite adapt to a world in which music wasn't attached to a physical format. On the other hand, when iTunes made the whole process of ripping my discs slick and easy–and when the iTunes Store made finding and buying new stuff just as easy– I adapted just fine.

So I'm unconvinced that, long term, there's any basic human requirement for something as ephemeral as music to be embodied in a physical, fileable and collectible, format. I'm tempted to suggest that our fetishisation of a physical form for music is in fact merely that: a fetish, and one that's been encouraged and manipulated by commercial interests in order to profit from something that's otherwise notoriously difficult to control and sell. That the de-materialisation of music has stripped away profits and control from the companies which invented the physical forms should surprise no-one, and shouldn't worry us at all.

Of course, as a designer of sorts, I adore what's possible in terms of music packaging, and I have no doubt that as long as there are designers who treasure music there'll be ways and means of collecting, cataloguing, experiencing and showing off the music that adds meaning to our lives. I just don't think it's a pre-requisite that it needs to be in a form that mimics pre-digital artefacts.