i-55e7bb00080986d6617865d1031cdf52-physical media sprawl.jpg
Lately, I have declared my own personal war on clutter in my life. That means all the paper littering my home office had to go. Those outdated hats from Burning Mans past also were out, as were old loose photos of places I don’t remember. But for whatever reason, in each clean sweep I do of my stuff, I can never part with my collections of books, CDs, VHS and DVD movies (not to mention vinyl records and audiocassettes).

What is wrong with me? I blame it all on technology. The computer revolution was supposed to spark the paperless office, right? Wrong. The e-book revolution was supposed to replace all printed books, right? Wrong. The digital music and movie revolution was supposed to replace all CDs and DVDs, right? Wrong. Instead, having access to so much more music and movies online just makes us want to burn, baby, burn more media to discs.

A friend of mine who has quite a large collection of bootleg movies and DVDs from the Net now has a whole shelf in his apartment dedicated to movies he’s burned to DVD. He’s created such authentic-looking artwork and packaging for them that they would be the envy of the pirated movie hawkers in the Mission district of San Francisco.

What’s wrong with him? After all these years of technological innovation, we still have a desire to touch and feel our media, to show off our stuff to friends. But the result is the ugly mess of “physical media sprawl,” which for me includes a bursting-at-its-seams CD shelf in my home office that is about seven feet high and poses an imminent danger in case of earthquake.

The solution is in technology as well. My various hard drives could hold all the music that I own in the physical media sprawl. But how do I organize all that and how do I make sure I don’t lose it all in a tech meltdown? What happens to all the cover art for CDs and DVDs? And with books, obviously I could trade many of them in at a used book store or give them to friends. Rather than purchase new ones, I could try audiobooks downloaded to my iPod.

My goal is to eliminate just half of my physical media sprawl, which currently stands at the following estimate of crap:

  • 1200 music CDs.
  • 400 books.
  • 20 to 30 DVDs.
  • 100 videotapes.

Here’s where the open source reporting comes in. I’d like to hear your own stories of eliminating physical media sprawl. Did you rip your CDs and sell them? Did you scan the artwork? How far along are you in eliminating physical media sprawl, and what tips can you share with me and others to help us remove the media clutter in our lives?

Or perhaps you are a media sprawl developer, a proponent of the old and the dusty, someone who likes to touch and feel your media. Tell me why you stand by your media and pay rent for the media that is your constant yet quiet roommates. I will return to the subject with your thoughts and stories, if enough people join in the fun. And perhaps in the not-so-distant future, I can declare victory over the physical media sprawl in my life.

[Photo of physical media sprawl by Frederik Vandaele.]