Saturday night. A good meal and a few beers to the better. I am sat in the living room of my parents house. I suggest to my Dad that we play a few LP’s.
Looking through the album covers is like looking at works of art, and then there is the experience of pulling the record from the sleeve. Pop, crackle, the needle hits the track. Fuzz, hiss and the first chord is struck.
To all in the room, it was like discovering music for the first time. The quality of the sound oscillating from the speakers tugged at every emotion. You could feel the bass and almost witness the guitarist strumming. It was media in its purest form. The crowd cried out for more, and before the end of the night the room was dancing.
Why did it sound so good? Why did it affect us so strongly? Some clues can be found in our tolerance for quality. The innovations and social pressures of the digital age has suckered us into convenience as a replacement to quality.
Listening to that Hi-Fi on Saturday night I was reminded of what it feels like to have a band playing right there in your living room and later it made me think about what we have lost in our great march towards iPods and online players?
According to the article ‘Are You Buying Pre-Ruined Music‘, the formats adopted by popular music players is about one-eleventh the size of a full resolution CD, so the quality is invetibitably far inferior. It goes onto say that that such low-resolution tracks played through an iPod docking station that feeds into a decent hi-fidelity sound system is a disaster area.
Digital was designed for convenience, carrying your music with you when travelling or out running.
“I for one live and continue to use vinyl” Daniel Ek CEO of Spotify. According to Daniel, they believe that a lot of people will dip into music first on Spotify, and if they like it, they will buy it on vinyl or CD. Spotify is not a replacement medium. The evidence seems to confirm this claim – 86% of music sold in the UK is in physical form. While sales of singles are now almost exclusively digital, albums remain physical, with just eight per cent downloaded (1).
Presumably the tech industry will respond by improving bandwidth to rival the quality found on CD or Vinyl, but will they ever replace the tacit feeling of holding a record or the sense of ownership one receives from owning that experience. Where does the pop and crackle come from?
Perhaps technology was only ever a convenience. It was never meant to replace life, simply here to help us out a little.
I suppose there will always be two camps. Those who see the convenience of the web channel as a replacement medium and those who look to technology to simply manage the data that sits around our experiences with media, possibly capturing, sharing and documenting our experiences.
I have an inclination that the model could shift back a little. Back to high-fidelity sound, pure music, where we actually listen to instrument, voice and soul. The Internet is only an add-on that we use to collect and feed data. It is just data.
As we move further into 2012 it seems that even bigger questions are being asked of technology? According to Daniel Sieberg, technology has overwhelmed our daily lives to the point of constant distraction. Many of us can no longer focus on a single task or face-to-face conversation without wanting to reach out—or retreat—to the virtual world every few minutes. This is a real and significant problem (2).
Looking to the future of technology, John Harlow writes in The Sunday Times that after a technological advance from the iPod to Twitter, the flood of true innovation seems to have dried up – “techies are running out of ways to rock our world… Apple, Google and Microsoft are now mature refiners, concerned about their environmental footprints, not radical change, and with share prices to defend” (3).
Stronger challengers take this much further. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, passionately argues that Silicon Valley is only interested in harvesting quick profits at the expense of creating truly disruptive technologies that will solve some of the world’s biggest problems, for example, famine, cancer and new social and political systems (4).
Whilst the media and technology wars will inevitably play out for how and where we access our next media hit, I think I might take a moment to sit back, source myself a record player and start putting together the components for hi-fidelity sound. Bring on the revolution. It is the vinyl revival people.
And if the tech industry can do anything for us, can they please figure out the basics like a phone that actually keeps a signal?
1. Is this the end for your CD collection? Andy Kerr, Whathifi.com, 04-Jun-2009.
2. The Digital Diet: The 4-step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life. Daniel Sieberg, Souvenir Press Ltd, 01-Dec-2011.
3. Out with the old, in with the … arm, any ideas anyone? John Harlow. The Sunday Times, 15-Jan-2012.
4.Peter Thiel To The New Yorker: “I Don’t Consider [The iPhone] To Be A Technological Breakthrough”. Techcrunch.com. 21-Nov-2011.