My commute into work through downtown Bellevue goes through a building with a closed storefront. That itself isn’t too unusual as shopping moves to the Internet and the Puget Sound region becomes an endless sea of restaurants, bars, and pot shops, but this one always catches my eye as it’s for a rare coin shop.
While old money is cool and it’s still fun to find a pre-1940 penny in your change, the collection aspect to that has largely vanished. Like baseball cards and stamps, these were items that were valuable solely because people thought they were valuable. Everyone dreamed about finding that 1909 Honus Wagner card, not because they were big fans of The Flying Dutchman, but because it was so rare. People wanted it because it was worth money and it was worth money because they wanted it. It’s a bubble but one that somehow got into people’s brains and has lasted for generations
Even when there was no monetary gain, the collection and the rarity factor still was big in people’s heads. It was strong in the taper world. People liked to display their tape collections on the wall as a way of showing off. There also was a bit of a competition. People loved to have their collections be more impressive than others, to have lower generation tapes and a few choice ones that they could introduce others to. In the ugliest aspects of the taping scene – fortunately in parts that I never encountered myself – those who had the rarest Dead tapes wouldn’t even make copies for others unless they judged the other person’s collection as equally worthy. As much as it is sad to lose the chase when archive.org and phishtracks.com can be streamed by our phones wherever we are, that aspect is not missed.
As we move from having items that are cool by themselves – records wouldn’t be nearly as popular without the whole tactile experience of flipping through sleeves and carefully removing them and dropping the needle down – to having ones that get hidden away more to files to streaming everything and not even having a collection at all, the advantages are pretty obvious. Not having the ego invested is nice and the environmental issues are an obvious plus. However there are downsides. Agreements can expire causing a favorite album or TV show to be removed from a service. More importantly, though, the collector concept seems to be a bit of a primal urge. If we stop having stuff, how will it be satisfied?
One way we can see the sublimation of collection is Pokémon. I’ll admit to getting sucked into the game, even though the game part of it isn’t all that interesting. What was fun was the whole discovery aspect. I wanted to see what other ones I could catch. Sure there were 10,000,000 pidgeys and zubats and drowzees to deal with, but I kept walking a trail every day for a month when I found that ponyta nest. The thrill is largely gone just because I’m at the 2/3 point and finding new creatures is rarer, but as late as late week I was stoked to see the symbol on the screen showing there was a Pokémon around that I didn’t know.
While that is a very literal exchange of collection something physical to a virtual pile, there is another common approach. People have started to treat experiences as collectables. Sometimes it’s through gamification. There’s an app that lets you check in to different bars and log the beers that you’ve consumed by taking a photo of it and posting the name. That gives all of the competitive nature of the bug without having to have stuff. In the music world, there’s the urge to try to see bands in different places or different configurations. And there’s one collection urge that predates the virtualization of stuff – the need to see songs that you haven’t seen or at least ones that you haven’t seen in a while. Bust out excitement is real and it’s always come from the same place as a philatelist finally finding that Inverted Jenny. I know that it can be annoying for bands to have people want to see songs solely because they haven’t been able to check that box yet, but it’s a pretty deep seated urge. Maybe it’s leftover from needing balanced diets or something, but there will always be one urge that drives a lot of our behavior. We gotta catch them all!
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He now tweets and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page
His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.