True, that is a good thing in some ways, I merely have to think of a thing I want, and I can google it, compare prices and then get it from amazon/ebay/hedgehog molester.com no worries. If I hear a band I like, I can quickly look through the web, discover their entire back catalogue, and download it to listen to the same day. Or order it all on CD so I can read the liner notes and do it old school, I can even get it on vinyl if it exists like that, not a problem. This is the sort of system that the 14 year old me would have loved.
However, the 14 year old me was just as skint as this here 34 year old me, and mostly taped stuff he liked from his mates. Not entirely legal, and I spent the rest of my meagre income in second hand record shops, buying albums with pretty covers, and thus discovering bands like the Residents, the Incredible String Band, Atomic Rooster, etc. etc. Which I would never have googled up (though I'm sure amazon might have recommended them to me at some point, the law of averages says they have to get one right eventually).
So where's my problem? The problem is, that I still have no money, but now rather than only being able to buy what I can find in second hand record shops/book shops etc, I merely have to think of a thing, and I can buy it. Decision making is hard. Should I get that one Velvet Underground album that I don't have to complete my collection? Or should I go for that Cloud Control album I heard on the radio the other day and really, really liked? This is why 20 years after I bought my first Zappa album, my collection is still an ongoing project. Other records get in the way, they never did if there was a Zappa album I didn't have in the shop.
Same with books, I remember discovering the Discworld series back in about 1995, and slowly building up the full collection from what I could find in the local shops (not much, I grew up in Devon) it took me years, and when I had finally caught up I felt some kind of sense of achievement (misplaced perhaps, but there you go, I was the same when I finally got Live at last and completed my original Sabbath line-up collection).
If I had got into these things now, I could have had the whole lot, just like that, and the years of patient collecting would have not been needed.
I don't know if I would have been happier with instant gratification or not, I still need a copy of Cat Stevens' Numbers on vinyl to complete that set, but am resolutely refusing to get it off ebay, and waiting to see it at a car boot sale or charity shop, does this make me some kind of dinosaur? I'm not sure anymore. I only know that the anticipation of going into a new record shop in search of some sublime album I've been after for ages is slightly tempered by the knowledge that I could go home, fire up the computer and order the damn thing if I wanted. I have walked past records that i have wanted for years in shops, safe in the knowledge that yes, I will see it again, and probably cheaper. Whereas in the past I would have sold a kidney to get that first pressing copy of Trout Mask Replica, now I can safely hear it by streaming it online anyway, so what does it matter? Incidentally, Trout Mask was one of the first albums I ordered off the internet back when I first got online, it seemed to be the best thing in the world then.
Recently I started reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Saga, I have only read the first book, as I am trying to do it old school and only buy what I can find in real life. I have books 3-9 sitting on my to read pile, as I got them at the car boot sale. Still no sign of book 2 though, and my resolve is weakening, I may have to go to Amazon (like I have done with countless Zappa and Grateful Dead albums). It's a good experiment, because every time I see one, I get that old familiar glow of must-buy-that-now-I'll-never-see-it-again that I used to get when I saw a Rory Gallagher record/cd.
Has the joy of collecting actually now disappeared forever? Or is instant gratification good? I am stuck in two minds about the whole thing, the world-wide-web is a double edged sword in so many ways, I will have to explore some of these later, as I am aware I may be waffling now.