There should be little argument that today’s technology has helped create an instant-gratification mentality across our society. (And I think that is bad.) Granted, technology cannot be held solely responsible for this development, but it certainly enables it, facilitates it, and encourages it. There are a multitude of examples of this I-want-it-now mentality, but the one that popped into my head recently was around music. So, let’s talk music.
Think about how we consume and enjoy music today. So many of us listen to music using our phones and a set of headphones. During our commute, while working, at the gym or exercising, you name it. After that, I’d say the most common scenarios are in a vehicle or in our home. Driving around, there is satellite radio or Bluetooth from our phones. In our homes, odds are we are listening to a music service like Pandora or Spotify over the Internet on some sort of connected device or speaker (mad shout out to Sonos). Admittedly, these are rather sweeping generalizations, but my sense is that the population of folks listening to CDs and AM/FM radio is quickly dwindling.
CDs and terrestrial radio aside, the majority of music we listen to comes from the Internet, our phone, or a satellite radio service. It’s digital, it’s on demand, and it can accommodate even the most-fickle listener. Don’t like this particular Nicki Minaj track, hit » , and you’re on to a new song. Need to hear that insane Van Halen guitar solo again, just move that slider bar back to 3:21. Prefer the live version of Free Bird over the studio cut, click|scroll|click|click, and you’re listening to the One More from the Road album, and the track you want. Plus, with technologies like Alexa and Google Home, heck, you don’t even need to exercise you finger muscles; just tell Alexa/Google what to play. Want to hear the new County song, Spotify and Pandora can handle that. The fact that most all of the music we listen to is digital, and so readily accessible, enables us to listen to practically anything we want, in whatever order we want, and at the instant we want it. That’s only the beginning. Today’s music is also dynamic – your friend needs to hear the latest Atreyu song you just downloaded (yes, you heard there was a pre-release offer on their upcoming album, and in a few clicks, you now own it), and with a click|click|click, you’ve sent it to her phone. She likes it so much, she makes it her ringtone. You also text her that you are at a cool bar downtown and whatever song is playing is totally sick, she’d love it. She texts back: just Shazam dummy! Duh, how did you not think of that? You fire up the Shazam app on your phone, and a few seconds later, you know the name of the song and the artist (Five Finger Death Punch, Fake).
Contrast today with music about 3 or 4 decade ago. Digital music was not a thing (the first CD came out in 1982). At the time, the state-of-the-art in music storage was the cassette tape, an analog reel-to-reel magnetic tape format that enabled audio recording and playback with capacities up to 120 minutes. Tapes were played on tape decks, a component of a home audio system. Or, for those who wanted more mobility while listening to tunes, there was the portable cassette player, exemplified by the Sony Walkman. And most cars had a cassette deck, so you could bring your music on the road.
For fun, let’s run through the scenarios above, as if it were 1983. I’m rocking out to Madonna and don’t like the current song, so I press Stop , then Fast Forward to advance the tape, mechanically. About 5 seconds go by, and I press Stop, then Play – nope, still in the same song I dislike. So, I press Stop, then Fast Forward again. Wait 2 seconds. Stop. Play. Crap, too far – I missed the start of the next track. Stop, then Rewind to back up. One second. Stop. Play, eh, close enough, and I resume listening. (Alternatively, you just suck it up and listen to the song you dislike.) Even worse is when you want a song on the other side of the tape! Stop. Eject. Spend a minute or two finding the song you want. A similar hunt-and-peck operation is needed to find the spot on the tape where the Van Halen guitar solo sits. To switch from the studio version of Free Bird that just started and listen to the live version, you Stop the tape and press Eject. Remove the tape and put it back in its cassette holder. Them, you search around your room to find the live album cassette. That takes much longer than expected since it was in between the couch cushions. Once in hand, you put the tape in the deck, and proceed through the hunt-and peck sequence to find the last song on side A. Good times.
What about music-on-demand in the early 80s? Well, while you’re generally a metal head, you do get a kick out of that Elvira song that’s been on the radio lately and would love to have it. You’re not going to buy the Oak Ridge Boys album, you just want that one song. In this case, you have one option, record it off the radio. Most folks had integrated tuner/cassette player/[maybe turntable] units, so it was possible to run the radio signal to the tape deck for recording. That part was “convenient.” The trick was hearing the song to record it. You’d listen for hours, sometimes, to wait for a song you wanted to get played, and when it did, you damn well had better been all cued up to press Record in time! (The worst was when a DJ, as a way to show off their timing chops, would ramble on and on into the intro of the song, right up to the first lyric and ruin your recording. Back to waiting for it to come on again.)
And that’s as far as we can take this reenactment. There was no downloading of music (heck, there was no Internet), no such thing as a smart phone … you get the idea. We had clunky tapes and the radio, and while the technology was ridiculously primitive by today’s standards, it excelled at something other than providing us with music – it instilled patience. It taught us how to wait. It taught us how some things are worth waiting for. It made us value what we had, and what we worked to get. These are the kinds of values and lessons that I feel are disappearing with the advances in technology we see today. There is no need to wait. No need to endure a situation you dislike, even if short-lived. No concept of having to work for, or struggle, to get something you really want. And no pride in having done it.
The music scenario is only one example of where technology is transforming society. Patience, by itself, is not necessarily a big deal, but in a more holistic sense, it touches on so many facets of what has enabled the the human race to endure and to achieve. Without patience, we are set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment. And it becomes a slippery slope: we are developing more and more technologies to eliminate any amount of waiting or expended effort. Consider the Alexa example from before. <sarcasm> Tapping your phone a few times is an unbearable hardship. That is far too much to ask of my fingers. If only I could just tell someone (or something) what to play. </sarcasm> Who knows, in a few years, expending the breaths to vocalize our wishes may become just as devastating, and we’ll devise a way to just think what we want played, and it happens.