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The Death of Fidelity

As I survey the landscape of digital media, I find an interesting paradox. Digital technologies have revolutionized the convenience and cost of listening to music, watching videos, and keeping in touch with people. Digital music, digital video, digital mobile devices and digital social networks have become part of the fabric of our lives. We live in a world that is immersed in iPods, iPhones, BlackBerries, Facebook , Twitter and text messages. But for every step we have taken forward in convenience, we have taken a step back in quality and fidelity of our experiences.

Consider music. We began listening to music on amplifiers that used vacuum tubes and media that were recorded on vinyl. It was a hassle, it was expensive. But the quality of sound was superb. Even today, the purists swear by LPs and valves in their search for the perfect listening experience. Then we “progressed” to CDs that compressed the music, with a loss of quality. And then there was the iPod. It offered superb convenience and a massive 10,000 songs capacity, but only if you compressed the music into a poor facsimile of its original quality.

The same story applies to video. On the one hand, we have higher and higher quality of video recording and playback devices available. And yet, much of the video we consume today is the highly compressed videos on web sites and the grainy and poorly-shot stuff that passes for video on YouTube.