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I kinda miss finding random CD-Rs in the gutter

How and why did so many discs end up in the road?

I don't find many CD-Rs in the gutter anymore. Time was, the streets would glitter with home-burned CDs and DVDs that were either lost or thrown away. With the rise of broadband and fall of physical media, now everything's up in a cloud. It is good that we've largely ended one form of litter. But I kinda miss them. For a while, I'd fish these CD-Rs and DVD-Rs out the gutter to see what they held. It wasn't all porn.

I'm not sure when I started checking out gutter CDs, but old photos show I was in full swing in 2014. I remember even then being surprised by how many CD-Rs and DVD-Rs I was still finding years after the introduction of USB drives, downloads, and smartphones.

"Alice, don't be so PC-centric," you say. You have a supposition. "Surely these are all music CDs people have burned to play while driving, and they accidentally fall out their car doors." Sounds plausible but no, my scientific study of gutter discs discovered: 20% music, 5% software, 5% data, and 70% pornography.

A photograph of a DVD-R with the half-scratched-off label "Naughty Neighbours XXX" written in pen.
I think this is the noughties/tensies equivalent of 'porn in the woods'.

I puzzled over why so much pornography was ending up in the roadside. The weirder thing: most of the porn I found was at roundabouts. Does the fun motion of going round a roundabout inspire you to fling porn out your car window? Or is someone making a dramatic point? I'll not share many of their names because goodness gracious me, but I did enjoy finding a DVD-R with the charmingly quaint label "Naughty Neighbours XX[X?]" on the roundabout outside a dinosaur-themed crazy golf course with blood-red waterfalls of 'lava'.

Honestly, many of the finds weren't interesting. Just stuff. And I never looked at a single personal file, because I'm not a monster. I was just curious about how and why all these discs ended up thrown away in the street. The best case of this was a CD labelled "Redemption Songs".

A photograph of a CD-R with the handwritten label 'Redemption Songs'.
Note the monstrous disc-ruining gouge behind the first E.

I found Redemption Songs in the gutter outside an ice cream warehouse in Portland, Oregon. I had to know everything. I was 4913 miles from my DVD drive, so I flew home with it, wondering how I'd explain it if airport security felt vindictively curious. The gutter was not kind to the disc, with scratches and one gouge which outright removed a chunk of the foil. I spent ages trying to get clean snippets long enough for lyrics I could Google, or with enough unskipping music for SoundHound to recognise. I got most of them, songs including Beautiful War by Kings Of Leon and The Perfect Space from The Avett Brothers. But I couldn't manage to uncover three, and it still haunts me. Without them, I couldn't understand Redemption Songs. Was someone telling themself they deserve redemption? Or was it a mixtape made by someone pleading for redemption, and the fact that I found it in the gutter suggested the appeal was loudly and publicly rejected? I bet those three mystery songs would explain it all.

As CDs and DVDs fell further out of favour, I would sometimes see USB thumbsticks in the gutter. I'll admit I've been curious, but they feel too personal. And one should never use unknown USB devices, given they can hide hacks triggered just by plugging in. Looking back, it was a weird habit. And a filthy one. Probably good I got into a wholly unweird form of people-watching, reading readme files.

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Associate Editor

Alice has been playing video games since SkiFree and writing about them since 2009, with nine years at RPS. She enjoys immersive sims, roguelikelikes, chunky revolvers, weird little spooky indies, mods, walking simulators, and finding joy in details. Alice lives, swims, and cycles in Scotland.