Illustration by Kenneth Srivijittakar.
Illustration by Kenneth Srivijittakar.

It was the turn of the millennia, the first decade of the 21st century. No one knew what to expect or what was coming. And just like that, as quickly as the Y2K scares began, the decade is coming to a close with 2010 right around the corner. But before we welcome in the new year, the past decade deserves a quick overview.

In the past 10 years, Steve Jobs has changed the way we hear and buy music with the birth of the iPod and the iTunes store in 2001 and 2003. Mark Zuckerberg gave the world a revolution in social networking with Facebook in 2004. In 2006, Jack Dorsey gave us live updates by the second with Twitter. Amazon ignited the e-book industry with the Kindle in 2007.

However, in the midst of all the pokes, tweets and white earbuds, we, as a people, lack a certain something — an element that seems to have disappeared altogether in this past decade: substance.

Today, all you have to do is click, scroll and type to buy a song, watch a movie, read a book, write a paper or a letter or view a photo. The means of instant accessibility that digital formats bring are, more often than not, blindly pegged as an extraordinary advantage. But people are missing the point. There is something that you cannot find in downloaded music, e-books or text files.

That something is personality. In every book, CD and vinyl album, every letter written with pen and paper and in every printed photograph exists a certain unique identity. There is a story behind each and every one of them, ranging from the damaged spines of a book to its folded pages, from the scratches and fingerprints on a CD to the yellowing of old paper, from the fade of old photographs to the ink smudges on a handwritten thank you note.

Where is the unique story behind an MP3, m4p, txt or doc file? To us they are just one in a million created files, sorted and stored by the date modified, the extension type and the number of bytes required to support it.

Digital formats lack substance — the personality and timelessness of a dusty Mark Twain novel sitting on a bookshelf or a vintage Sugarhill Gang album resting in a record crate are all too often lost in this digital age.

With the press of a certain key on the keyboard or a right click on the mouse, one can delete a file in a matter of seconds, never to see it ever again. And it is in this way, in this ability to erase — or create — something in an instant, that we threaten the intimacy we share with such personal items. We disconnect from them on a personal level and, consequently, they lose their value.

Take the traditional written letter for example. Gone are the days when a carefully written letter was seen as a work of art. Penmanship used to be a mastered skill. Nowadays we butcher the English language with acronyms and vowel-less vernacular digitally scrawled into e-mails and text messages.

We rip, burn, share, download, stream and torrent files, tossing them around like they have no importance and no value. We may value the one-hundred-and-sixty gigs of songs on our iPod, but that amounts to nothing compared to the way books and CDs and vinyl records used to be treated as personal treasures.

And once we lose our value for such items, our connection with each other is equally lost. The digital era is causing us to disconnect from our fellow humans. There is no intimacy in today’s digital trends. Our relationships with others are no longer tied together with tangible items like handwritten letters, printed photographs and music albums. And with the advent of all of this technology, the intimacy we share on a person-to-person level has become virtually nonexistent.

Some will call it the decade that changed the world. To others, it will be the decade that made all things digital. It will be known as the iPod decade. The decade of social networking.

And though we have made great technological strides in this past decade, and as we welcome in the new year, we mustn’t completely shun progression, but instead remember the importance of preserving these non-digital items, whether it be in the form of paperback, hardcover or the classic album. If we don’t, then our world will dive headfirst into the very future that a certain 2008 Pixar movie portrayed — one where technology dominates a very one-sided lifestyle.