How Much Does Fidelity Matter?
Recorded on January 2nd, 2017
With each passing year, as we all hurtle towards our eventual deaths, I keep coming back to this idea that it may (may) be an unwise use of one’s time to obsess over the bit-perfection of their lossless digital music library, or the neat and tidy suspended-animation state of RAW files in a Lightroom library. It seems to be a problem of math, where almost all of the factors are weighted heavily in favor of just doing what’s “good enough” to enjoy what we have for as long as we’re alive.
These are the factors I mean:
- Time to spend on maintaining these libraries. Finite and scarce. We don’t know how much time any of us has left. Cataloging FLAC files and RAW photos and their associated non-destructive metadata files is only for the nerdiest, with the most discretionary time available.
- Time to enjoy viewing or listening to the libraries. Also limited. Is in a zero-sum relationship with, and directly lessened by, #2.
- Hard drive space. Cheap and plentiful. Possibly the one thing that tilts in favor of spending too much time and attention on curating our collections.
- Usefulness to future generations. Inestimably low. No one after me will want to take care of, duplicate, back up, and tend to my digital libraries of crap, much less listen to or view them.
- Aesthetic value. I can totally hear the benefits of FLAC files. I can sometimes see the difference between a RAW file and a high-quality JPG.
- Size of collections. Growing faster every year, especially with photos. As more photos and audio files get added to the piles, the worth of each of those files — well into the tens of thousands now — decreases proportionally.
The alternatives? Living with iTunes Match as a primary library source for digital music, and dumping copies of your photos in Apple iCloud and Google Photos, since that’s where you’re probably going to look at them anyway. The beauty of this method is that you have so many tons of crap to lug around that if some small fraction of it gets corrupted, oh well — you have 98% of the rest still fine. Not a great way to go through life, but neither is feeling overly attached to digital data, spending precious hours being ruled by your computer and the file systems that house this stuff. If I knew I were going to die in six months, how much would I care about all this shit?
But who am I kidding? It’s not like I’m going to burn down my Lightroom library and my FLAC folders. I may never view or hear some of those things again ever, but I just keep adding to the piles like a fool.