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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.

Our mobile phones are the same. We can take them anywhere and we can talk to anyone around the world. But give me a corded phone on a landline any day over the lousy sound quality and dropped calls that we take for granted with a mobile phone.

And so it goes for friendships. In the old days (“BF” – Before FaceBook – pre-2004), we had a few friends who we talked with, met face to face, had coffee with and hung out with. These were “high-fidelity” friendships – inconvenient and time-consuming, but rich and deep. And now, friends are like philately – we collect them as if they are stamps! My kids boast that they have hundreds of friends on FaceBook, and that they are in touch with many of them all the time, often many at a time. But I have to wonder about the depth and the quality of these connections. Do 100 text messages a day equal an hour of face-to-face conversation with a friend?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m far from a luddite. I welcome the advances of digital technology and the convenience it brings to our lives. But a part of me is saddened by the loss of fidelity that the march of technology has caused in our lives.

Now excuse me as I squint and try to read the Wall Street Journal on my tiny BlackBerry screen!

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