Is Print a Preference or a Habit?

Over on the O’Reilly Radar blog, Dale Dougherty posted on students increasingly prefering the sound of MP3 over higher quality music:

[Jonathan Berger] has them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer “sizzle sounds” that MP3s bring to music. It is a sound they are familiar with.

I remember wondering what audiophiles were up to, buying extremely expensive home audio systems to play old vinyl records. They put turntables in sand-filled enclosures with elaborate cabling schemes. I wondered what they heard in that music that I didn’t. Someone explained to me that audiophiles liked the sound artifacts of vinyl records — the crackles of that format. It was familiar and comfortable to them, and maybe those affects became a fetish. Is it now becoming the same with iPod lovers?

It sounds a lot like the complaints leveled against digital books, which often turn into litanies of the sensate qualities of print: touch, feel, smell, sound. I hear those comments all the time, unsurprisingly from people for whom printed books have been their primary means of reading for most of their lives. But in about 30 years, no one who’s not eligible for AARP membership will remember a world without the Web. Print will always have a place, but by then I doubt it will be a primary format for many, many readers.

What do you think?

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