The resurgence of CDs, vinyl, and DVDs speaks to our innate desires for community

Written by Adam Kline

Last Christmas my teenage daughter asked for a CD player. I was surprised and delighted to give it to her as I grew up at the height of the compact-disc era. I spent a lot of time and money in my younger years at popular Canadian music stores such as HMV, CD Warehouse and Sam the Record Man, browsing and searching for the newest or rarest find. It was also through these small franchise businesses that I expanded my knowledge and appreciation of film and television.

So, when I learned that younger generations are now turning out to retail stores in higher numbers than their parents or grandparents, and that they’re starting to turn to physical media, such as CD, vinyl, DVD, and Blu-ray, I was intrigued. I sensed it spoke to a larger need or deeper desire.

Where I live, in Belleville, Ont., we have the last standing Sam the Record Man (a once popular Canadian retail chain). When I asked Krystofer Destun, the owner and manager, about this recent trend he said that it always surprises people how many CDs they sell. Vinyl sales have been on the rise for over a decade and make up the largest margin of Destun’s revenue. “Streaming services will never satisfy those who value the experience of browsing,” he says.

There’s something to be said for the physical and sensory experience. To be able to touch and hold the things you’re interested in or passionate about. To be able to see, smell, and explore your obsessions, and be taken in unexpected directions by undiscovered titles and talent. It’s the sort of experience we fail to grasp when scrolling through streaming services.

Whether it be Netflix, Disney+, or Spotify, when we’re exploring the most recent catalogue of content, we know we’re at the mercy of the almighty algorithm. And even if our streaming service of choice has the rights to our favourite album, movie, or series, we’re no longer guaranteed to find it because, “the streaming industry is entering its flop era” (to quote The Guardian) and media conglomerates are removing swaths of content left, right, and centre for tax purposes.

Which leaves a lot of us wondering, where can we find the things we love? Where can we get access to that album, movie, or series my friends keep recommending? And increasingly so, the answer is: on someone’s shelf. Which is not only a point of pride for those of us who have always been collectors—but it also identifies our divinely-inspired need for community.

We are people of the pack, and when we find something we’re passionate about or excited for, we want to share that enthusiasm with others—we want to spread the good news! Have you heard this album? Did you know they recorded it in their parent’s basement? Did you see that film? It moved me to tears; I haven’t stopped thinking about it!

When we share something we care about, we’re sharing stories and inviting others to join us in the joy of the journey. There really is something to be said about the physical and sensory experience, what search bars and scrolling will never satisfy. As the Washington Post reported:

“The physical medium doesn’t seem to be slipping from the public consciousness anytime soon. The ability to hold, touch and permanently own music is beloved, and listeners enjoy the ritual of interacting with the art further than just hitting play.”

Which again, speaks to a larger need or deeper desire. In the same way, our faith is not just cognitive; it’s physical. Our Saviour didn’t just send us a text or tablet, He was incarnate; He came to join us in the journey and share His story with us. “The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

So, is it any surprise physical media, filled with messages and meaning, are experiencing a revival or resurgence? Despite the efficiency and ease that algorithms and even AI offer, there is still something to be said for physical locations where people meet, browse, peruse, explore, and share in meaningful stories and songs. We need these places because, whether we realize it or not, we were made for the community they help us cultivate.

Adam Kline is an intercultural engagement team lead and storyteller living in Belleville, Ont. Read more columns from “Behind the screens.”