In my lifetime so much has changed. In these changes, I have lost and I have gained. Some examples:
As a teenager, I would stay for hours on the phone with my girlfriend. (When I was lucky enough to have one!) The phone wasn’t a bother and the sound was crystal clear. I could hear a pin drop. I could whisper. BUT, I had to stay in one room. I was tethered to the wall.
Now, I have a smart phone. I can check my email and instant message or text people. However, if I put the phone to my head and have a prolonged conversation, it gets hot and uncomfortable. Sound quality has also been degraded to barely audible. We have gained flexibility and features but lost quality.
As a teenager, I worked at WaldenBooks. I loved that job. I loved being surrounded by books. If you wanted a book that wasn’t there you needed to order it. I also got many books from the library. The experience of the bookstore or library used to mean interactions with other people, face-to-face.
Although Barnes & Noble is still in business, I don’t find myself going there very much. These days, I use Amazon.com. It has reviews and ships quickly to my doorstep. I can look for books in my pajamas from bed. We have traded convenience for human interaction.
When I was young music was on a vinyl record. It had to handled very delicately. The album itself was big and had all kinds of neat artwork. Opening up a new album was like examining a relic from ancient Egypt, you had reverence.
Then came tapes, a completely chincy experience in comparison. Tapes were not revered. Then CDs arrived. They were higher quality sound, but the crackle of the LP was lovable, digital purity wasn’t. Then came the MP3 and iTunes. There became no experience of an album. You bought a digital file and listened to it on your computer or iPod. Then Pandora made it so you don’t even buy music, you just listen. All of the experience was slowly stripped away. We gained convenience of listening to music at the expense of the experience of a loved album.
I just watched a documentary directed by Dave Grohl called Sound City. Wonderful movie, highly suggested. For decades the way to record music was to go to a sound studio and record artists onto tape. Then cut the tape to mix the sound. The experience of the studio is often cited as the most creative and fulfilling experience an artist can go through. The camaraderie and creativity of writing and recording new music in studio must have been awesome to behold.
One section in the movie talked about software called ProTools. They said you could take the entire studio board and replicate it on a simple home computer. This was wildly cheaper to do and put the power of music production into the hands of millions of people around the globe. Unfortunately, the studios could not compete and had to shut down. We traded focused centers of creativity for distributed access to sound engineering capability.
I wouldn’t turn back the clock in any of these circumstances. Progress marches on and I am a progressive. However, I think the elements we are eliminating were (are) good things. I want human connection, quality and memorable experiences. I want those things AND convenience, portability and flexibility. I want it all.
Progress is sometimes a lop-sided deal. Hopefully, we will regain some of what we lost…maybe with just a little more progress.