Saturday, September 26, 2015

Musical obsessions, and another high-tech dumb-down

“Who wants a car with a tape deck these days? Similarly the next generation of buyers won’t be impressed with a CD player in a car, particularly as they probably don’t own any CDs.”

Well, I don’t need a tape deck anymore, but the CD player is by no means obsolete.

Yes, I know most music is now consumed digitally. Spotify! Pandora! iTunes!

But not everyone is obsessed with music. For readers, the CD-based audiobook from the library is still a staple method of “reading on the go”.

Students of foreign languages also still rely on CDs. Publishers of language learning materials remain largely wedded to the old-fashioned audio CD.

When I bought my latest Toyota (this past April) I was disappointed to discover that the Japanese automaker’s vehicles no longer come with the 4-CD player that came standard with my 2009 Avalon. I asked the salesperson why not. He told me that I’m now supposed to sinc the car’s sound system to my iPhone. What if I have no practical need to do that? I asked him. He shrugged in response. He was only the messenger.

Yes, I know I can burn audio CDs—including those from the library—to iTunes. But why would I want to do that? I thought technology was supposed to make our lives more convenient. If I need to go through extra steps in order to be “high tech”, then what, may I ask, is the point?

I’m not picking on you music junkies. I used to listen to music a lot in my youth. So yes, I get it: the soundtrack of your emotional life, and all that. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to veg out on Taylor Swift. I vegged out on plenty of AC/DC, Def Leppard, and Van Halen back in the day. Vegging out on mindless music is a rite of passage for people of a certain age. I wouldn't want to take that away from them.

But for most of us, music consumption reaches a saturation point at around the same time that acne ceases to be a serious concern. As an adult, you can only listen to so many songs about teenage rebellion, the tempests of youthful hormones, and unrequited love that has reached a suicidal/homicidal intensity.

So I rarely listen to music nowadays. If I’m listening to audio content, I’d prefer to be learning something. The electronics industry’s obsession with pushing music uber alles has therefore mostly made my adult listening habits (audiobooks, language instruction) less convenient. 

Similarly, I grumble every time I see a new software update for my iPhone, only to discover that it’s nothing but yet another tweak to Apple Music—which I’ll never use.

Steve Jobs sold us the original iPod with the pitch that it would allow us to carry around “one thousand songs”. I would really struggle to think of one hundred songs that I’d want to carry around with me. I was a lot more impressed with the 4-CD autochanger that came standard in my Toyota six years ago.

In fact, I would be perfectly happy if the electronics industry would scrap digital audio altogether, and go back to the audiocassette. I still have a Sony Walkman somewhere in the basement.

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