A workable digital distribution model

The first mp3 I ever received was given to me by a friend that I had known for years, who lived just down the street from me. By “given” I mean:

  • downloaded for me (he had the internet at the time, whereas I would not be so lucky for another year or so),
  • put on a 3.5″ floppy disk
  • walked over to my house, and
  • handed to me.

The file — “Castaways”, by Common Rider — was then copied to my massive 1.1 GB hard drive, along with some piece of software or another that could play mp3s (which I was lacking at the time).

Fast forward ten years or so: while cleaning out assorted technological detritus at my company’s office, I came across an unopened box of 500 floppy disks destined for the trash. The combined storage capacity of the entire box is less than my 1st-gen iPod shuffle, not to mention the 100:1 floppies-to-iPod weight ratio.

Even without succumbing to pointless nostalgia (well, OK, just a little), there’s a certain appeal to the floppy as a means of digital media distribution, at least among friends:

  • Its limited size forces you to be judicious about what you share. It’s easy to hook up someone’s FireWire drive and copy hundreds of gigs of files, but there’s no discernment between the good stuff and the filler.
  • It makes you more conscious about your choice. You put more time into crafting exactly what you want to say when you sit down to write a letter than you do when you type out a quick e-mail.
  • Pandora and other robot music suggestions are great, but nothing beats a hand-picked track by a good friend.
  • CDs can be unreadable after one scratch, but a flopppy still functions after throwing it across the room or spilling Hawaiian Punch on it.
  • An unlabelled floppy has a certain mysterious intrigue to it.

But then again, I recently sent someone a telegram, so what does that tell you …

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