I have a new iMac and I am happy. There are few experiences in this world more exciting than unpacking a brand new Mac. Pulling that silver slab out of the pleasingly sloped trapezium box, it's just so satisfying. A new thing, all mine.
And it's not just that magical heft of aluminium, it's all the other little things that have to be unpacked too: the expanse of protective film begging for that one-time-only peel; the little treasure chest stuffed with keyboard and trackpad and cloth; the pair of Apple stickers that nobody really knows what to do with. It'll never be this fresh again. My fleshy, grimy fingers will spoil all of this, so I just have to make the most of the gleam while I still can.
And … what's this? That's odd, I don't remember going for this option when I placed/agonised over my order. It looks like … oh no. Not this. I've read about this before. I knew it would come sooner or later, but I’m not ready – how was I supposed to be ready?
My lovely new iMac has come packaged with a Format Death Knell.
You know, an FDK. Every now and then, Apple will decide that enough is enough, the future isn't getting here fast enough, let's call time on a particular format even though everyone is still kind of okay with using it. In the past they've unceremoniously dumped floppy disks, Firewire, Flash – they really have a problem with F-words it would seem. And they remove the slot or hole or whatever that the format fits into from their new machines and never speak of it again. Soon enough, the rest of the industry takes notice and starts applying Tipp-Ex to works in progress.
This time, it's a biggie. This time, Apple have sounded the FDK for the ubiquitous Compact Disc.
You see, there is no slot in the side of the iMac. Heck, there is no side to the iMac – seen from a certain angle, it barely exists within the traditional three dimensions that computers have traditionally adhered to for a good few decades. It's a sheet of technology slicing through the fabric of office space. And it hasn't got time for you and your namby-pamby little plastic albums.
For the last few years, my Mac has been my only CD player. Well, I say player, really what I mean is that it was my only CD-data-transference-receptacle. But still, I no longer have anything to stick an album into for listening or ripping purposes. After twenty years of relying on the format to fuel my musical youth, I have to accept that the end is nigh. I have bought my last CD.
This realisation leads to another: as well as not buying new ones, do I still need the old ones? Probably not. They've long since had the musical juice ripped from their plastic shells and poured into iTunes. They are of little use to anyone any more. So I dig them all out, give them one last peruse.
From my first Iron Maiden in 1993 to my last David Bowie in 2013, hundreds of CDs, all stashed away in an inconvenient cupboard. Even though they're cheap physical artefacts, memories cling to them like limpets. Looking at the cases reminds me of soundtracks to adventures, rainy days, angst, joy, burning things in the kitchen. Weirdly though, the most vivid memories they elicit aren't about music at all, rather the acquisition of it.
I remember when I bought this one, an after school impulse purchase made with that month’s dregs of money earned shepherding shopping trolleys. I remember queuing for this one on the day of release, a must-have album of surprising mediocrity concealed by a fog of hyperbole. I remember lusting after this one for months, an epic pre-iTunes, pre-Amazon quest around the record stores of Kent. Little experiences, encounters, accidents. Each one came into my life in a slightly different way, from the bargain bins of Woolworths to the afternoon-long lecture from an opinionated record store clerk.
I remember nothing of my recent purchases. I want an album, I open iTunes, I buy the album. Where is the desire, the chase? Our new world of wifi convenience has done away with the joys of obtaining stuff. It's all that we wished for, everything on tap – why didn't we realise it would be this boring after the sci-fi novelty wore off? It's all one big blancmange of homogenised instant experience. Music, books, films, cakes – these units of popular culture meant so much more when you had to go and find them, whether it was by design or accident. Looking at this box now, these obsolete CDs, these cracked cases, I finally appreciate that each of them is a hunting trophy.
Still, there is no slot for them here in this narrow-edged world of anti-matter. They're doing nothing but taking up space. Mementos of dust. Away they go, sold to music recycler Music Magpie for a pocketful of pittances.
This final act brings with it some small joys. Each album's barcode is scanned with – of course – a handy little app. With each scan, it's a chance to say goodbye. The case and the booklet within are inspected, a blend of due diligence and sentimental dithering. A task that should take no more than half an hour ends up filling a whole evening. It's satisfying that some of the more treasured CDs are worth a few pennies more, a final vindication of those original quests.
But it is just pennies. These Apple-endorsed death knells certainly are brutal and cheap. I shall ease the pain by getting lost in iTunes – the memories are still in there somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered, re-reminisced. All the music of my life, rip it up and start again
Written for MacUser