the resurgence of physical media in the digital age


Tangible media was once the only way to consume art that was at our disposal. Before touchscreens, streaming services and smartphones, we had CDs, VHS tapes and digital cameras in our lives. With the introduction of new technology, these pieces of physical media began to disappear – at least until recently when we have seen a resurgence in collecting media. 


What has made some of us return to collecting media? Is it being able to appreciate a physical item by one of your favorite artists or directors? Or maybe it is because of the quality of sound or visuals. Everyone has their own reasons for returning to tangible media and why they collect it.


From Instagram photo dumps filled with photos taken by digital cameras to rooms with bins full of vinyl records, we are seeing a return to what once was. 


Angelena Acierno is an environmental science major at Kent State University who collects vinyl records and turntables. They started collecting records at 12 or 13 years old and they were most inspired by their dad to begin collecting.


“My dad always plays music around the house and began collecting records and turntables again, which inspired me as well,” Acierno said. “It also brings me closer to my dad and it gives us a shared hobby and connection. We talk about our findings and we share music with each other all the time, which I think is a truly special way to connect with someone.”


Being able to connect with loved ones through shared interests is a major appeal in regards to physical media. Whether someone has been collecting for decades or just a few months, you can always find a common ground, maybe it’s just sharing a bond of collecting records, or maybe you have an interest in similar genres and artists. 


According to Rolling Stone, “vinyl sold more units than CDs in the U.S. last year.” Vinyl makes up almost 70% of all tangible media sales – which could be linked to many causes. Maybe it’s the collectible nature of albums and the artwork that comes along with it, or maybe it’s being able to physically own something from your favorite artist. 


Vinyls often come with extra pieces of merchandise as well, such as lyric books and posters. I know I’m always excited to find a surprise poster I can hang up in my room when I open up a new vinyl.


Despite so much being at our disposal through social media and streaming services, many of us still yearn for a physical connection with our interests. People spend hundreds of dollars to see their favorite artists play live for a similar reason – it really doesn’t compare to anything else. While purchasing a record or a CD isn’t the same experience as live music, it brings you one step closer to being able to pick up a physical copy of something you love.


Ben Coates, a musician in Northeast Ohio, collects everything related to music and movies: vinyl records, CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs, BluRays and VHS tapes. Coates has been drawn to tangible media since before he could speak. 


“I have a lot of memories as a kid of borrowing them from the library more than I did books,” Coates said. “I loved putting CDs on, watching them spin through a portable Walkman player, and looking through the booklets and admiring the art/reading the lyrics and credits.”


Similar to Acierno, Coates was initially inspired by his dad, who had a sizable collection of DVDs, CDs and records. Although his dad collected records, the house didn’t have a turntable until Coates bought one during his freshman year of high school. 


Movies and BluRays are a more recent interest for Coates, but he has similar reasons for liking them: the physical act of putting in the movie and the pictures behind it. 


“I love being able to hold/own/display something that is technically an intangible experience,” Coates said.


Being able to look at a disc that transports you to another non-existent world or experience is a unique concept in itself. When viewing a movie on a streaming service, you never truly leave the screen, whereas physically inserting a DVD requires you to acknowledge its place in the world. 


Collecting such a variety of media has allowed for Coates to bond with a variety of people, whether they be his friends or strangers next to him at the record store.


“I love talking to others about their own collections, and if our collections intersect, that opens up an infinite amount of doors in conversation,” Coates said. “The communal aspect of going to a record/movie store and standing in the same aisle as a stranger and miraculously being able to start a full fledged dialogue about some obscure thing I only ever figured I would sit at home and read books about…it’s so fun, and it makes me feel deeply connected to people where sometimes these days that’s sort of difficult to do.”


Beyond collecting tangible items like CDs and vinyl comes photography, which can be considered a completely different experience. You are able to create something yourself utilizing a form of media.


Ohio University photography major Sophia DiCuri finds herself in that niche, collecting film cameras and developing her own film. When she was 11, a friend of hers was moving and had a digital camera she wasn’t using and offered it to DiCuri. 


“It was the first camera in my collection. It was what sparked an interest,” DiCuri said. 


This trend of being given cameras in a range of conditions would continue, although she also finds herself shopping at antique stores and on Facebook Marketplace. 


“The ones given to me are more special because I feel like they hold more memories to the people close to me,” DiCuri said.


A major appeal of tangible media is the memories that are associated with them. It can be more sentimental than just having a friend or family member send you a picture via text message or social media. 


“I am constantly trying to learn more about the inner workings of both film and digital cameras,” DiCuri said. “I think the older they are, the more interesting, technology has changed so much over the years and it is still such a new media.”


Most of the media we’re now collecting hasn’t been around for more than a century, but still has a feeling of being before our time. Tangible media also has a nostalgic factor to it, as some Gen-Z members remember CDs and VHS tapes from childhood. Seeing something from our more carefree, younger days will always be a potential selling point. It’ll always remind us of those specific memories every time we look at it. 


When it comes to collecting vinyl records, not all of us have that same nostalgic connection, so what draws us to that? Acierno weighed in: “I think the special care and attention of physical media, especially vinyl, allows us the opportunity to appreciate and hear an album deliberately and with purpose.”


No one in my family collected vinyl while I was growing up, yet I still find myself interested, whereas with CDs, I remember my parents listening to them in the car or the five disc CD player in the living room. 


Even if the general public isn’t completely on track with tangible media, the people around us have far more influence on our interests. This also ranges in complexity of the media – film cameras take a very specific skill and niche, whereas collecting CDs can be done by anyone who has a car with a CD player. 


The digital age is always changing and growing, but we may be slowly returning to what we once knew best as a form of solace and comfort. 

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Hi! I’m Catie Pusateri, A Magazine’s editor-in-chief. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty and culture. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.