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Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

The tyranny of endless musical choice

Mike Spies wrote a wonderful ode to the lost art of CD buying in Spotify and the Problem of Endless Musical Choice:

We seem to have created an environment in which wonderful music, newly discovered, is difficult to treasure. For treasures, as the fugitive salesman in the flea market was implying, are hard to come by—you have to work to find them. And the function of fugitive salesmen is to slow the endless deluge, drawing our attention to one album at a time, creating demand not for what we need to survive but for what we yearn for. Because how else can you form a relationship with a record when you’re cursed with the knowledge that, just an easy click away, there might be something better, something crucial and cataclysmic? The tyranny of selection is the opposite of freedom. And the more you click, the more you enhance the disposability of your endeavor.

I’m sure we all have stories like this, but I have such fond memories of my early music buying experiences. The endless hours spent in music stores, listening to 10, 20, sometimes 30 different albums before finally making a choice what to spend my very limited cash on. Then the relief of the decision, immediately followed by anxiousness during the drive home — the fear that maybe this isn’t the right choice, that maybe you’re going to hate it after one or two listens. And finally, the joy of discovery as you put the CD on repeat and immerse yourself in every little detail of the liner notes.

I miss the almost obsessive nature of that first few days with a new album, when you’re unable to focus on any conversation because your mind is filled to the brim with lyrics and melodies. It’s too easy (and too cheap) to get music these days. There is so much music at our fingertips that we grab a new album, devour it, and then move on quickly like the digital gluttons we’ve become. I try to keep up my vinyl habit, and I still love the experience of hunting for records, but it’s becoming a very small part of my life.

I don’t think digital music is a bad thing. But I think that as abundance increases, our ability to treasure what we have decreases. And that’s not good.

(link via Rob Boone)