As the world mourns the recent tragic passing of Apple pioneer Steve Jobs and respectfully pays tribute to his numerous seminal contributions to modern technology, having left behind an enduring legacy with such groundbreaking products as the MAC, the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod, some critics are weighing in on the cultural and social effects of the late tech titan's life-changing technological revolution.
The recurring theme at the heart of the polemics (among others) is whether Steve Jobs' iPod has changed the way we listen to music for the better.
While the debate clearly offers divergent views on the very nature of the iPod's functional merits and its impact not only on society, but also, and perhaps most importantly, on our listening experience, I feel compelled to play devil's advocate and argue in favor of those who believe otherwise. Indeed, I join the hordes of music purists who share the sentiment that the iPod has fundamentally changed the way we now experience music, sadly for the worse.
As an inveterate Generation Xer and a fervent adept of the "I Want My MTV" ideology, I'm admittedly stubbornly and very prejudicially stuck in (ancient) 80s'ness modus operandi. In my defense though, not to appear completely antiquated, my seemingly medieval ways of thinking are exclusively restricted to new music formats. And by "new" I mean anything post-vinyl era.
Now I don't pretend to be a tech whiz by any means and I am sure I know absolutely nothing about how it all works and why, but the one thing I know for certain though is that music sounds better on vinyl.
The way we now listen to music is not the same. The new music formats that have caused the demise of the wax-based cylinder have also dramatically changed the way we used to connect with the music, drastically creating an increasingly more impersonal rapport with not just the medium but the artist as well.
However, to be fair, Steve Jobs is not entirely to be blamed for the tragic absence of intimacy in our current listening habits. Before music came in the form of downloadable encoded MP3 audio files, it was, for a while, delivered on a Compact Disc.
While still a tangible medium, the introduction of the CD in our households served as the pivotal catalyst for the emergence of a new and different kind of music playing and listening experience. There's not denying the digital era has altered the way people consume and digest music.
How quickly did we all sheepishly drink the Kool Aid and, as Oprah would say, got with the program! But we're creatures of (bad) habits and it surely took very little convincing to sell us on the idea that digital is better than analog, and persuade us to substitute our entire vinyl collection with its digital "compact disc" equivalent. The result was an unnecessary non-profitable investment in the purchase of music that we already had paid for -- the operative word here being "non-profitable" as unlike vinyl records, CDs, more often than not, have no collectible value attached to them and will, at best, just become 90s memorabilia.
Even Ray Charles could have seen that the CD was doomed from the beginning. And I'm not just talking about the way it furiously (nearly) ruined the music industry facilitating the easy and rapid cloning of music by ways of CD burning hardware on computers to the detriment of artists getting royally ripped off. Clearly my main issue with the CD is the CD itself -- as in its tangible form, substance, design and presentation.
Beside the convenience of its portability, what was so irresistibly appealing about the CD? How about the torturous drill of unwrapping the freaking protective plastic seals? Or perhaps the agonizingly time-consuming ordeal of trying to remove the annoying adhesive label surrounding its edges, always likely to break into million pieces and leave sticky residues all over the jewel case not to mention your fingers? What an unnecessary workout that was, if you ask me!
Of course, one could argue that, similarly, vinyl records had their own share of problems and deficiencies: they inevitably degraded over time; they lost sound quality play after play; they scratched easily; and would suffer irreparable shape-deformation if stored in the wrong place and if/when subjected to the wrong climate conditions.
But for the audiophile purists, that certainly was a very small price to pay to get that one of a kind sense of intimacy, closeness and warmth that only phonograph records deliver. To say that the vinyl record epitomizes the adage "it's music to my ears" is to put it mildly. And to me, it wasn't just about the way music used to enter my ears, but mostly about the very unique way I personally connected with the record itself. Back in the analog days, I had made my life a monument to collecting records.
There was a certain sense of deep involvement and personal connection to the music attached to the entire process of buying and listening to a vinyl. It's the difference between operating a car with a stick shift versus one with automatic transmission.
Nothing compares to the pleasure of holding a vinyl in your hands and ever so gently placing it on a good old-fashioned turntable. Today digital music formats have taken that magic away. There's just nothing like the vintage feel of crackle and hiss of old vinyl LPs and 45s to keep you connected to the music. Vinyl records by far carried more life.
I remember when I used to rush to buy the latest album from my favorite artists. I'd walked hastily to my local record store, very much looking forward to discover what the new album looked like. There was a special bonding that immediately developed between you and the record the minute you bought it and brought it back home. It was all about meticulously looking at every detail of the cover art; reading the liner notes printed on the protective cardboard and inside sleeves; staring at the photographs of the artist; studying the lyrics of each song; adjusting your turntable to 33rpm or 45rpm, and blowing off that rasping needle before discovering the inscribed, modulated spiral grooves on both sides of the old school flat-disc.
There is such a timeless and more "alive" quality about playing a vinyl record, which you cannot get with digital tunes. This type of special relationship no longer exists with recorded "encoded" music now.
And that's just it. Music sounds better on vinyl, not because I said so, but because it simply just does!
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