PING! I remember the day I fell out of love with the compact disc. The recording would have been a beloved vinyl classic, revived anew to me in this format (mostly likely Stevie Wonder or John Coltrane or The Blue Nile).

Going from gatefold sleeve to ­beermat-sized was bathetic. But for the sake of ­playing it on my CD walkman, which was beatifying my dull pedestrian life, I could bear the reduction. The original LP cover was on a wee booklet of lyrics and notes, miniaturised behind the plastic screen.

And then: Ping! In my enthusiasm, I’d prised open the lid too quickly – and both the hinges on the ­“jewel case” (so enticingly, so inappropriately named) cracked, snapped and flew into domestic oblivion.

Outraged at the poor design (this hadn’t been the first time), I stood with the fractured parts in each of my hands, feeling completely unloved as a ­consumer. I’d been hearing about this cyberspace service called Napster. Your favourite songs, one mouse click away… now, wouldn’t that be a joy …

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This week, Sainsbury’s decided to stop stocking supplies of CDs (as well as DVDs), responding to the general shift towards streamed content on the internet. To me, this felt less than momentous. We have been on a thunderous journey with the digitalisation of all media, since my mid-90s hair-tearing (when I had some left to tear) at these crappy CDs.

It started with my first iPod in the early 2000s, and for the last two decades I’ve fallen on the extreme, pro-digital side of music collection. That you could scrunch those pestilential CDs on to a device that literally clipped to your lapel, or purchase all those tracks from an online store, was an amazing thing.

But when Spotify slowly became the ­universal ­jukebox, and then an app on your ever-smarter phone, my disdain for the CD (or nearly any physical manifestation of recorded music) became near ­complete. Encased in my headcans, magic portal in hand, I can now movie-soundtrack my entire ­waking (never mind walking) life, with whatever Stevie, ­Coltrane or Paul Buchanan croon – or anything else –suits the moment.

I know there are plenty of objections to this ­computer-driven fantasyland. These devices and ­services can easily get you lost in music history, which can mean lost in your own personal history. This triggers much sonic wallowing in regret and yearning (rather than, say, seeking out the new, the hybrid and the optimistic).

I’m guilty as charged (and it’s a bit of a ­paradox: shouldn’t such futuristic machines give you an ­appetite for the future, not your tear-soaked past?). Indeed, the charge sheet against full musical ­digitalisation is pretty long, for a range of reasons both trivial and systemic.

But I had an arresting moment the other week. Knocking around my brother Greg’s studio on some Hue And Cry business, I happened upon an actual 1991 LP package. This year is the 30th anniversary of our third album, Stars Crash Down. In my hands – which were gingerly remembering old tactile skills – was this remarkable and beautiful object.

It occupied 30cms square of space before me: a proper artwork. The cover photo was detailed enough to tumble into. I had forgotten that the lyrics on the inner sleeve had been set out with such delicacy and care. And then inside of all that, this absurd black disc. Flattened from a biscuit of polyvinyl chloride, its shimmer of grooves demanded the most careful handling, reverence even.

So after years of mild contempt for vinyl junkies – oh your fetish for the past, your turntable etiquette, your absurd claims to sonic ­excellence! Geez peace! – the penny is ­finally ­dropping with me. The CD is not to be lamented. It was a shrunken version of what came before, and only a clunky halfway house to the teeming universe of the digital.

But the LP is to be lamented. It was a graphic spectacle, a physical challenge, a mechanical intricacy, even a domestic furnishing. I’m a poor broken cyborg at the best of times, lost in the swoosh and surge of my feeds and torrents. However, I can now see how vinyl is a ­commitment to music. You’re buying this object (which may well displace other objects, since there are only so many shelves in an average house).

You’re unplugging from the Matrix, which algorithmically responds to your every whim. And who knows – thus ­unplugged, you might take to the streets and visit that bricks-and-mortar ­arrangement they call a record shop, along with other face-masked vinylheads. There, you might expend effort (and ­expense) finding something you didn’t know you needed. Or sell them ­something you know you don’t need anymore.

In any case, here are choices, limits, fragility. An activity mostly conducted in real social space, not cyberspace. Music not as an infinite spiral of bytes tailored for “dividuals”, but as stuff. Made by ­people, with people, for people. After a year of weird isolation, honestly I get it. I understand.

BUT let’s be honest. The deepest reason why it’s been such a weird year, and why our coming decades are likely to continuing being stranger and more demanding, is exactly because of the profusion of stuff in our lives. Along with the neural jack into the back of my head (I speak metaphorically, though I wonder sometimes), in recent years I’ve also been prioritising digital music for what I thought were good ecological reasons (turns out, it’s more complicated than that).

I come back to the maddening, tragic snap of a jewel-case hinge. What appalling, unrepairable design! The nadir of “single-use plastic”. I note that our own Hue And Cry CD packages are now made from embossed and reinforced card. They feel more like prayerbooks than the brittle harshness of old.

Indeed, that’s been our own ­pragmatic business response to the digitalisation and downloadability of everything: make the music object beautiful, rare and ­treasurable. We raise costs (and ­prices), and surround the CD with extras, ­artefacts, unique objects. For our last ­album, Pocketful of Stones, we went to a few Scottish beaches, and gathered 1000 stones to place in each crammed box.

However, that’s still more “stuff” in the world (or maybe we’re just redistributing ancient parts of it). The thing that environmental economists want us to pay much more attention to, as the temperatures rise and the fires rage, is what they call “material throughput”. The more products that are made for consumer markets, the more carbon is emitted by production and distribution processes, and the more that dangerous warming happens.

What we don’t often realise is the ­cultural and economic revolution that fixing this implies. To be blunt: we have to stop purchasing cheap material items on a whim.

Environmental circumstances will compel an end to planned obsolescence. This means stuff that functions in our lives but can’t be repaired when it fails – and is only replaceable by something that’s gone through another emissions-creating production cycle. But look up and down your high street or retail park. How much of our economy depends on exactly this wasteful consumer model?

So there’s big issues, and big trouble, coming for every sector. Is it possible that the music business is ahead of the pack here? As the cranky Texan futurist Bruce Sterling often says, “in the end, ­everything that happens to musicians first, ­eventually happens to everyone else”.

What seems to be happening to ­musicians is that they (and their ­industry) are already thinking in subtle ways about how their music impacts on the biosphere. And counter to my assumptions, it’s not simply “digital equals planet-friendly, ­analogue equals the opposite”.

A 2019 piece in The Conversation UK by two Keele University academics carefully lays out “the environmental impact of music”, in terms of digital, records and CDs. It turns out that if you’re listening to tracks for only a few times, online streaming is the most energy efficient.

But the academics note that the more times you stream a track, the more energy you expend: each listen gets those super-cooled servers, sitting in their Icelandic vaults, spinning once again. “Streaming an album over the internet more than 27 times will likely use more energy than it takes to produce and manufacture the same CD,” they report.

So if you really, really love that record, keep it on vinyl (or even the dreaded CD disc, whose polycarbons are – my contempt deepens – unrecyclable). The academics even have stats for this. If you listen to Spotify or Apple Music through your sound system, you use “107 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, costing about £15.00 to run. A CD player uses 34.7 kilowatt hours a year and costs £5 to run.”

They conclude: “It seems that, ­whatever the format, owning copies of our favourite and most treasured music, and playing them over and over again, might just be the best option for our environment.”

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As a freewheeling digital soul, I’m getting twitchy here. But Keele University’s Sharon George and Deirdre McKay have a solution even for me. “For online music, local storage on phones, computers or ­local network drives keeps the data closer to the user,” they say. “It will reduce the need for streaming over distance from remote servers, across a power-hungry network.”

Directly put: download the track, don’t just “access it from the cloud” over 4G or wifi.

SO what seems to be “happening to musicians (and music consumers) first”, to paraphrase Sterling, is a careful measurement of the impact of stuff in our eco-sensitive lives. And an even more sensitive assessment of how it emotionally feels to make these decisions. We love our music so much that we are probably most acutely susceptible to appeals from others to do the right thing, planet-wise, in the ways we listen to it and make it.

The greatest expert I know on these questions is Vinay Gupta, Scots-born CEO of the blockchain consultancy ­Mattereum, and a life-long climate and human rights activist. His short book The Future of Stuff makes many ­brilliant, clarifying points. Like “there is no ­fundamental reason why I should not be able to use a machine to find the least socially and environmentally ­damaging clothes, phone or laptop”, and much more like that.

But I wanted to know direct from ­Vinay what he thought of the “future of stuff” in music appreciation. For him it’s about the balance between ­“universal utility and personal mythology”. We don’t get sentimental about the design of a light switch – but we do seem to about vinyl. “The purpose of vinyl records, the ritual of putting on a record, is like the purpose of the tea cups in the Japanese Tea Ceremony,” notes Vinay.

He settles on a core question: “How much of the performance of life does ­ecological efficiency have to cost us?” Cleverly, he asks us to think about the tech we need, to enable joy and fun in our lives, as if they were props taken down from a theatre attic.

Will we desirous mammals ever need “the crackling nimbus of a dress, that DSLR camera instead of our iPhone, the booming party sound system”? Of course we will. If so, then “these things should be shared and rented rather than owned and stockpiled when not in use”, suggests Gupta. “We can still perform the play of our lives, but if all the world’s a stage, why do the actors have houses crammed with the props for parts they haven’t played in years?”

What Vinay is evoking here is more than a way to reconcile our aesthetic pleasures with our befouling ­consumerism (based on a “sharing economy” that’s not quite arrived yet). He’s actually pointing to the kind of convivial, conscious, collectively joyful life that we’ll need to shift towards.

We must detox ourselves from our whim-driven, environmentally-heedless purchasing of products and ­services. ­Gupta suggests we should think in ­advance about building ­positive ­alternatives – not find ourselves ­fulminating over eco-­austerity, pining over what we now can’t have.

The National:

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AGAIN, what happens to musicians first… I’m reminded of the listening parties that mushroomed over the last five years (and under lockdown, moved on to the internet). In real life, folks congregated around a hi-fi shop or audiophile’s front room; devoted themselves to listening to a classic album (usually vinyl); then shared their responses and life memories in the hours afterwards. Online, it’s been happening using the usual livestreams (the Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, above, is a most notable host of these).

It turns out that music lovers ­(musicians or fans) are good at these ­ad-hoc, ­improvised social structures. They use what’s at hand to form ­community. And they’re driven by a primary passion for the sounds and songs coming through the air. The build their togetherness in ­appreciation for artistry, or those striving to excel.

This “music and gossip around the fire” is, to say the least, a very old human activity. And it doesn’t sound like a bad social alternative to the mall – if a planet on fire means that mall has to reduce and transform into something completely different.

So here’s the news: you should hang on to, and take care of, your crunky, jumpy, hinge-busted CDs. What do I (or ­Sainsbury’s) know?