Digitizing history is great, but let's not rush to toss our hard copies

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30 2014 3:23 p.m. MST

A Sony Blu-Ray disc player from 2007.

Reed Saxon, AP

Enlarge photo»

Back in the olden days, when I was a child, our family had to watch TV on a rock while holding a big stick to shoo away our pet dinosaur. And instead of books, we had stone tablets.

Well, OK, it wasn’t quite that bad. Next I’ll be saying I walked to school uphill in the snow both ways.

In truth, I grew up in Los Angeles County. My elementary, junior high and high schools were all within easy, flat walking distance. And I only saw snow during a couple of vacation trips to Big Bear Lake.

We did have a real television. Just one. It was a piece of living-room furniture, a Sylvania console with a 13-inch screen that showed us black-and-white images. And books were made of bound paper.

All of which, come to think of it, probably sounds as primitive as rocks and dinosaurs and stone tablets to today’s youngsters.

The possibility of watching TV in color on a large, wide screen or reading books on a tiny handheld screen was the stuff of science fiction.

A “large” TV in those days was 21 inches, and nearly square. (I remember my parents’ wide eyes when a neighbor dipped into his savings for one of those.)

My parents upgraded to their first color television after I left home for the Army.

Of course, you can still buy books. No, really.

In those days, the idea that you might one day be able to watch a particular movie or a specific episode of a TV show at your leisure, much less have them in a box on your shelf … fuhgeddaboudit.

Now it’s all about streaming. No clutter in the closet these days. Many movies and TV shows are just a computer click away. And you can watch them on a wide TV screen as big as 105 inches or on a handheld device as small as a Hershey bar.

When I was a youngster, if someone had suggested all of this would happen in my lifetime, I’d have probably responded sarcastically: “Right, and I suppose we’ll walk on the moon someday, too.”

Yeah, that’s how long ago it was.

Yet, here we are in 2014, and the massive availability of movies and TV shows is an entertainment buff’s dream.

But there are trade-offs, things about our present-day electronic conveniences that cause me to wonder if it’s all too good to be true.

Not that it matters; there’s no going back. And computers really are great … when they work. But when they don’t, there’s nothing more frustrating.

Streaming movies and TV shows is a wonderful convenience. And like many of you, my wife and I have a computer hooked into our television, and streaming is a frequent pastime. We love it. Except when the image freezes or needs a reboot, or the show completely drops out. (Of course, this can also happen with a DVD, especially if it’s been left out of the box and finds its way to being used as a coaster.)

Aside from the complaints we all have — about cellphones and other devices glowing in darkened theaters or making “blip” noises during movies or plays or orchestra concerts, or loudly blurting out a rock-song ringtone in church (even during funerals!) — there’s also the problem of a device failing when it’s needed most: while Skyping with the boss, during a PowerPoint demonstration or public slide show, while reading an announcement over a church pulpit (something I recently witnessed).

It may seem more convenient when teaching Sunday School to use the Nook of Mormon than the Book of Mormon, but what do you do when it abruptly runs out of power? I’ve never had to recharge my leather-bound books.

There’s also something unsettling about a church instructor reading from a tablet with his face lit up in a blue glow as if he’s receiving revelation from Cecil B. DeMille.

OK, I seem to have digressed — but it’s not really all that far afield.

Before the studios destroy all those 35mm movie prints that are so costly to store in favor of digitizing, before we shut down all the libraries because everything is available online, before we discard all our personal Blu-rays, DVDs, CDs, records (VHS, Betas, 8-tracks), perhaps we should stop and ask this question:

Will we outlive all these delivery systems or will they outlive us? Will the information they contain live on for history’s sake or will it all eventually disappear in a digital poof?

Is there a backup plan?

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com

Email: hicks@deseretnews.com

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