Perhaps it's no surprise to any of you who endure Friday Buzzkills week after week, but I'm something of a fatalist. And as dulling and depressing as reading my apocalyptic musings must be for you, just be grateful you're not hanging around my house at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, when the combination of beer and Makers has loosened the seemingly inexhaustible well of wry cynicism inside, and my poor wife and friends are subjected to Part XX in my ongoing series entitled, "Why We're All Fucked." Such is my addiction to eagerly anticipating Armageddon that whenever the History Channel runs one of its many hyperbolic Doomsday documentaries, my wife often points them out to me, saying, "Hey, Top 10 Reasons Why Our Planet Is Screwed (And Thus Why Bother Going To Work Tomorrow?) is on…Have we already seen this one?" And I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few people whose friends have had to say to him more than once, "Yeah, yeah, the Mayan calendar! We know already!" Thankfully they all keep any wishes that a cataclysmic flood would hurry up and drown me so I'd finally shut the fuck up about it to themselves, at least while there's still booze around.

Of course, I don't want the world to end; on the contrary, I rather like it here. I just find the Apocalypse endlessly fascinating. In my youth, when I was conscripted into the Methodist church by a mother worried that a lack of exposure to weekend lock-ins and sermons based on Ziggy cartoons might lead me down the wayward path to Hell, I used to amuse myself during those interminable services by reading and rereading the Book Of Revelation. A sick little bastard at even an early age, I really loved the way Judgment Day unfolded in an orderly checklist of things getting progressively more fucked up: the waters turning to blood, the sun going "black as sackcloth," etc., with each stage announced by a pissed-off angel breaking out their trumpet and blowing a little snatch of Bitches Brew. It was all so exciting and larger-than-life, and rather than instilling pious fear it just gave me a perverse, nihilistic thrill–like the second that first seal was broken, I'd be able to toss my science homework aside and just grab a good seat, because nothing mattered anymore.

All of this is my signature, long-winded way of saying I shouldn't be as big of a pack rat as I am. While I'm by no means one of those weirdo survivalists–although, having been raised in Texas, I do have plenty of experience with guns and a family ranch to retreat to should shit actually go south–there's a strange internal dichotomy at play between the guy who knows deep down that life is incredibly fragile, and the guy who still wants to collect every Fall seven-inch and Sopranos DVD while he still can. I was reminded of this recently while reading [yuppie alert!] the current issue of GQ, and I came across Benjamin Kunkel's article, "World Without Oil, Amen." Other than giving me the impression that Kunkel and I would probably have a fine time comparing paranoid theories over cocktails some night, it got me thinking about how much planet-destroying plastic I've needlessly surrounded myself with over the years–all the CDs, DVDs, videotapes, and petroleum-rich vinyl records I've amassed in my great race to define myself through, as Nick Hornby said in High Fidelity, what I like as opposed to what I'm like.

As readers of The A.V. Club, most of you no doubt share my mania for collecting such things; many of your collections undoubtedly trump mine. Compared to my colleagues here, I already know that I'm in the shallow end especially when it comes to music. For example, I could never participate in the ever-popular Vinyl Retentive series like my esteemed, obsessive friends Kyle Ryan or Jason Heller. Most of my records are far too pedestrian to be of any interest, comprising all of the usual punk, post-punk, new wave, and classic rock selections that any self-respecting music fan already owns–that, and the usual handful of ironic thrift-store finds that I picked up because I thought the covers were funny. ("Oh, Ronnie Milsap's Keyed Up? Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down? I find their jubilant expressions and pastel-colored clothes amusing. Obviously I have a finely honed sense of humor! Please acknowledge that.") My CD collection is a teensy bit better: I used to take genuine pride in it when I was younger, not only in its quality but its sheer quantity, keeping a running tally in my head of exactly how many I owned, as though that were proof that I was a "serious" music fan–regardless of whether I actually listened to them or not.

Once I joined the ranks of the entertainment press, of course, the number of CDs and DVDs I owned tripled overnight. Even as I write this, I'm surrounded by a makeshift fort of promos too precariously arranged to actually bother listening to, and a mailbox overflowing with hundreds more. In a way it's an adolescent dream come true; in another, it's kind of a pain in the ass–especially considering that nine times out of ten, rather than pulling one of these antiquated discs out, removing the plastic (more plastic!) seal, putting the disc into my stereo, waiting for it to spin up and so on, I'll usually just try to get an already-ripped digital copy from someone else.

And I know I'm not alone: Lately the big thing among record and publicity companies is to send us "digital servicing" e-mails, with a link to download whatever album it is they're pimping. As I've told many of these people in person, I fully and vocally support this: Not only am I more likely to listen to something on a whim this way (especially when it just pops up in my iTunes), it saves me from the heartbreaking guilt of chucking all those padded envelopes, plastic wrappers, glossy photos, and Ulysses-sized press kits containing every known press clipping, meaningless playlist statistic, and testimonial from the band members' parents into the trash. (Having been doing this for a while and seen my own considerable chunk bagged and carted off each week, I'm now convinced that music journalists are responsible for at least a city-sized block of non-biodegradable landfill.)

Some have decried this attitude–including my fellow A.V. Club-bers–saying that there's a loss of real connection when you take out the tactile experience of actually owning a record, feeling its heft in your hand, and taking in the cover art and liner notes as intended. The current second wave of vinyl–which must be real, because even Best Buy is in on the action–seems designed to repudiate the "digital revolution," to restore some modicum of meaning to the way we appreciate music. But lately I've been wondering whether there's really any point to having physical copies of anything. As it is, I've found I'm able to pull whatever record I've wanted from the great digital ether merely by doing some creative Googling; sure, it takes up to 30 minutes, but wading through my vast store of dust-gathering, moldering CDs would take equally as long. [Note: I am certainly not advocating file sharing, as it is illegal and wrong. Stealing music is like stealing an old lady's purse, etc. etc.] And with the advent of things like the Netflix set-top box and the growing library available through iTunes and Hulu and so on, the same goes for movies and TV shows. Owning DVDs of every single thing I've watched and enjoyed now seems more like an exercise in vanity–a visual representative of a Facebook profile, say, proclaiming, "This is what I like, and thus this is what kind of person I am."

And yet, especially when it comes to DVDs, I still have this obsessive need to add to that collection. I often find myself half-apologizing to my wife whenever some package from Amazon arrives ("Um, well, they had a half-off deal on Cronenberg movies, and it was hard to pass up"). Our bookshelves are groaning with the plastic husks of films I've ensured I will never, ever watch again, as Bill Maher once pointed out in one of his more Seinfeld-esque moments. For me, these tendencies are genetic: My grandmother–a survivor of the Oklahoma dustbowl whose life was lived in impermanence, whose childhood home was a still-standing handmade shack that lifted at one corner whenever the wind blew, whose entire school record was erased in a single tornado–was a notorious pack rat. When she died, my mother and I spent a weekend unearthing thousands of never-watched videotapes, still in their wrappers, that she'd picked up on a whim during one of her weekly trips to Wal-Mart.

Later in life, I came to understand her need to surround herself with possessions: Temping at a bankruptcy firm some summers ago, I watched as my coworkers participated in a slow, steady gorging process each and every workday, filling themselves with McDonald's breakfasts, mid-morning snacks from the vending machines, extravagant downtown lunches, late-afternoon birthday cakes and celebratory ice-cream socials, all in an attempt to add some weight to their own lives, to blot out the idea that everything they had could disappear at any moment, like the people whose case files they were handling with chocolate-stained fingers. My grandmother had these same hoarding instincts, filling her house with things that could not be blown away, and it appears as though I have inherited her affliction.

But lately I've been wondering if it's time to overcome that need to own things, to have tangible proof of its existence in my hand. Here's a question that's been bandied around music blogs for several years now: Is the age we're moving towards one where "owning" a record or film means nothing more than having those files on our computers? Or is that just asking for trouble–like investing in the faith that the Internet will always be here, and thus we'll always have access to whatever it is we want at any given moment? Does the rise of digital media make the process of actually pouring petroleum into the shape of a DVD case, imprinting it with Cameron Diaz's face, and then wrapping the whole thing in yet more plastic just so it can sit, untouched, on someone's shelf all just an incredibly wasteful exercise in futility? Can a music or film fan now get by simply relying on MP3s and AVI files–and does his lack of anything tangible to show for it somehow make him less of a fan?

It's an interesting question, but it's really one based on optimism–and as I took pains to explain way up at the beginning of this self-indulgent ramble, I'm not much of an optimist. The real question I've been troubling over, and one that's far more in keeping with my Apocalypse fetish: Is investing in physical copies of records and movies–particularly in an age of economic uncertainty, when the price of a DVD will at least get you a few gallons of gas–a misguided, very American search for insurance against the impermanence of things? Is it just a way of convincing ourselves that the ship will right itself, and that things will get better as long as we keep consuming like normal? Why am I buying this DVD box set when I know I could lose my job and home any day now? These are questions that I ask myself whenever I'm combing sale prices on my Amazon wish-list. Because if I know the world is in trouble, shouldn't I be acting like it?

So what do you guys think? Has the ease and availability of digital media made "collecting" obsolete? And more to the fatalistic point, is collecting an exercise in self-delusion when seemingly nothing about our world is stable? Even worse, is it actually contributing to that inevitable economical and ecological collapse, all this surrounding ourselves with resource-draining, petroleum-necessitating plastic? Am I alone in these visions of swimming through boiling ocean water, trying desperately to rescue my Buffy DVDs? Am I that guy you try to avoid at parties? I mean, I can talk about superficial things too….Um, how about a list of Stupid Summer Jams? Remember Lyte Funky Ones' "Summer Girls"? Man, how awful was that, am I right?

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