Opinion

E-xperience?


E-xperience or experience – what’s your preference?
There are times when I wonder if I’m from the wrong generation (hell, I’m only 28…). I covet vinyl, have never downloaded an album (but will browse in a record store for hours), and prefer the tactility of a book over any screen reader that you can to show me.

I’m not against change – don’t get me wrong. I love change. I love the fact that I’ve got the world at my fingertips via my phone. I drool over new pieces of technology (no doubt when the first android tablets capable of rivalling the iPad arrive on the market, I’ll be mortgaging a kidney). I get geekily overexcited by Thunderbird updates and add-ons, even if I still can’t quite work out how to make SeaMonkey do everything that I can get Firefox and Thunderbird to do.

I also like things that make my life that little bit easier, that remove certain tasks to allow me to get on doing what I really enjoy doing (how we ever lived before dishwashers I don’t know).

So I should have a Kindle or something similar. I know it makes sense. I know that it’s probably easier than hefting around a book in my bag (getting tatty and dog-eared in the process). I know it’s probably easier to find exactly what I want and download it than hunting for hours either on my own bookshelves or in the book store to find something that fits the bill almost as well. Although I don’t commute by train at the moment, I figure that such a device is probably more practical than paper and glue – especially when sardined into a carriage with someone else’s elbow up my left nostril.

But, I have a problem. I love sensory things. In downloading an album, where’s the excitement of opening a gatefold sleeve (or triple fold in the case of some of my vinyl collection)? Where’s the reverence of cleaning the disc just-so before placing it on the turntable and trying not to let the needle slip and judder across the tracks? Where’s the faint crackle of imperfect signal transmission? (For the record, I also have hundreds of CD albums burnt onto my PC for ease of digital listening – all very well and good but I have a different relationship to them than I do to my few remaining discs, and a different relationship between those and my vinyl collection).

In turning the ‘pages’ on an e-reader, where’s the tactile sense of the paper beneath my fingers? Where’s the auditory rustle as the page flips? Where’s the faint scent of ageing paper and cracking glue?

Sticking with the books theme for a moment, quite a few of mine tell a story. There’s the one that I took to Sardinia with me and managed to stand on as I came back from the sea (crinkled pages, slightly ingrained sand and still a mild salt-tang). Another that I’ve read over-and-over to the point where the glue has pretty much given up the ghost and the pages are held in place by nothing more than willpower alone. And a third where I’ve made pencil marks in the margins to remind me to look up other things later on.

I can tell you pretty much where I was the moment I bought most of my 350+ strong vinyl collection. Which second hand store, which market, even what the weather was doing.

These things are part of my history, my unique story, the things that remind me of where I’ve been and what it was that I was doing there in the first place. The things, in other words, that go some way to making me, well, me.

I wonder – with the rise of download-everything, how will this change our relationship to our own stories, to our own histories?

To look at this with a more commercial leaning, how will this change our relationship to product? As you lessen the sensory input, will you ultimately lessen the overall experience and appreciation? Will music become just music, rather than the experience of going to the store, thumbing through the racks, buying it, taking it home, putting it on and sitting back in appreciation? Could a book just become a collection of words?

OK you can’t download perfume. Or shoes. Or hats. Or lawn mowers. But you can’t try them over the internet either (at the moment anyway). So there are some sectors that this argument won’t apply to.

But for the others, where experience has always been part of the joy, how will they fare in the future – and how will their marketing have to adapt to help consumers fill the sensory vacuums that used to be so much a part of the product?

Maybe I just like being difficult. Last year we wanted a picture of a car made out of sand being destroyed. My graphic designer, genius that she is, could have knocked something up in a couple of hours that would have looked as good (if not better) than the photos we took on the beach, in the rain, with me running up and down throwing sea water (I refused, point blank, to use anything but, just in case it foamed differently) at sand compacted into shape by a cake tin from Ebay.

It was the experience of this semi-ridiculous scenario that made the difference in that campaign. It felt more authentic because we’d put parts of our heart and soul into actually making the cars – and our customers seemed to pick up on that. Would they have done the same if we’d have created it all in a warm dry office on a 21-inch Mac screen? Would it have felt the same to us?

So, e-xperience or experience: please share your thoughts below.

(Yes, I am aware of the irony here – that I’m asking you to comment in a virtual environment rather than suggesting that you give me a ring…)

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