When I was eight years old, old was my new. Having never moved since the day they were married, my parents had accumulated a treasure trove of curiosities hidden around the house. From magazines to records to newspapers to old electronics, I adopted the mission of finding these little treasures and learning about them. I remember spending hours searching closets, dressers, under beds, in old dusty boxes, and any other place my “husky” (according to my jeans) frame would fit. After finding something new and unfamiliar, I would take my time to understand exactly why it was worth saving. In one particularly fruitful adventure, I found an original Atari-style knockoff game system that played Pong. I remember spending the better part of the next month discovering the joy of bouncing white pixels across the black background. That find was as exciting as any Christmas morning.
In light of the recent unveiling of the Xbox One features that require constant connectivity and limited access to used games, I began to think about what my kids will find under my bed or in my closets. There is little need to detail how the rise of iTunes, the Nook, Kindle, Netflix, and so on has largely rendered traditional outlets unprofitable and obsolete. The Xbox One is simply the latest device to instill online connectivity as a prerequisite for functionality. While the online options may open up a world of possibilities for the gamer, it also contains the seeds of its own irrelevancy. When Microsoft decides to pull the plug on the Xbox One (as inevitably happens with any hardware) and stop supporting the system, buyers will be left with an expensive plastic paperweight. My children will not be able to derive the same simple pleasure from discovering the Xbox One in the same way that I discovered the Atari.
All nostalgia aside, I bristle at the notion that a generation of entertainment depends on the whim and sustained profitability of a few corporations. Art, by its nature, is supposed to be a timeless commentary on something that stirs emotions deep within the artist. That is why, for example, a painting from the Renaissance or a novel from the 19th century still holds value in the 21st century. Every time we buy an e-book or acquiesce to the restrictions that accompany a device such as Xbox One, we are complicit in confining those expressions to the time and place in which they were created. While I am sure that someone will find a profitable way to preserve our eBooks, our games, and downloaded songs, preservation for the sake of profit misses the point. I do not want to have to remember to preserve something I have already purchased. Instead, I want to get tired of it and put it in a closet. Then, when my kids get bored and go on a treasure hunt on a rainy Saturday, I want them to find my Led Zeppelin CDs or my original Nintendo Entertainment System on their own and discover why I decided it was worth keeping. Making new memories out of old things is the reason for preservation. Otherwise, preservation is robbed of any personality.
Although I do not intend to bash Microsoft, I believe that the company is making a mistake in designing the Xbox One to be totally dependent on Internet support. However, the Xbox One is also a perfect example of the mistake we are making as a society by embracing the convenience of Internet distribution. When our iPods die and new technology renders current formats obsolete, we will be left with no tangible memories to gather dust under our beds. That is a shame.