Bishwanath Ghosh has a fabulous post on the pain of letting go of one’s audio cassette collection. For anyone who had lived through the era of cassette tapes, a sense of nostalgia is inescapable. Ghosh ends his post with a Parthian shot:
“Music, in short, was sweat and blood: you had to earn it and work hard to preserve it. But technology intervened one fine morning. Today, even an 8GB pen drive or iPod can hold more music than you would ever want to listen to in your lifetime. But what do you do with the collection of cassettes you’ve painstakingly built over the years? Give them away? Doesn’t that amount to giving away a chunk of your childhood or youth?“
Too often, discussions on the topic tend to focus rather narrowly on the benefits of technology or how people tend to idealize their not-so-ideal past. I do not deny either of those themes. But it seems to me that this newfound abundance has made us poor and insensitive to the finer aspects of life. As Bishwanath points out, the “sweat and blood” are taken out of the equation, and I fear the “soul” follows suit.
When I was a kid, we used to get songs recorded on tape from a neighborhood music shop. This process was a project in its own right. We had a notebook in the household that we could enter song names into. Once the list reached 12 songs, a shiny new Sony audio cassette was unpacked, and was rushed off along with the list to the audio shop. But not before a friendly debate over the order of songs. The order was very important. Songs that were household favorites were recorded at the beginning of sides A and B. Songs which were quite as good, but had just failed to make the cut were recorded as the last songs on each side. (The logic was simple. To bring up a favorite, one would hit “Rewind” or “Fast Forward” and not worry about stopping to check in between. And after favorite song on side A had been played, the auto-reverse button would quickly bring up the last song on side B.) The audio shop had some leeway around songs in the middle, but the favorites were not to be tampered with.
The recorded audio tape was welcomed home like a new pet. It joined its brethren on the shelf, and could assert its pride for the next few weeks, until another sibling arrived. The audio cassettes were more than just for listening and appreciating music, for which there was no dearth. They were also properly cared for. A cassette tape had to go into its designated box; it only took one wrongly boxed tape to upset the entire collection.
Oh the joy!
Today however, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube have conditioned our ability — inability rather — to appreciate the “sweat and blood” work that is the acquisition of content. When we watch a clip or a song on Youtube, we instantly tend to look at the “Related Videos” section. We do similarly on Facebook, where our actions are really just a never-ending cycle of watching and liking. Our reaction to anything is the press of the Like button, be it a cat jumping through hoops or a monkey grabbing food from a child or Herbert von Karajan conducting the Fifth Symphony.
The front matter of Oscar Williams’ anthology, “Immortal Poems of the English Language” contains a page that has these words:
is to seek poetry.
Technology is slowly taking away our ability to think (read Nick Carr), to “suffer” and to love. Which is maybe why we don’t have much poetry in our lives.
This is not a critique, just a lament. And I don’t claim exception to this either. Perhaps this is not even wrong. This is probably how we have become… trading away our souls for terabytes of music we will never listen to.
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