“At what point in the geological record will future geologists be able to look back and say ‘Oh my god, something big happened here, the whole character of the rock record has changed’?”
“Scientists have proposed 1945 as that marker. It ties to the atomic bomb and atomic tests which left signatures in the sediments and this marks the beginning of what scientists are calling the ‘great acceleration’ where you see this boom in the use of fossil fuels and fertilisers and other materials which are leaving a mark in the sediments and in the ice”* – Flora Lichtman in Future Fossils, an episode of The Adaptors podcast (I’m eagerly awaiting season 2).
* * *
It’s 2008 and I’m studying for my HSC. Underneath my loft bed, I’m hunched over my desk. This is my space, this is my time. 4-unit maths? Let’s do it. I scribble furiously, slowing chipping away at a year’s worth of work. There’s no laptop beside me, no smartphone; just books, a radio and my dad’s old speakers. I’m listening to FBi 94.5 Sydney community radio, writing down names of bands and songs to look up later.
At the top there was Vintage Books by a little band called Cloud Control who hail from the Blue Mountains.
That’s why they sounded so familiar… That’s the band from Episode 7 of the FBi Beforecast! This has been such a good night. I’m demolishing conics and, it’s so cool, I’m beginning to recognise the bands they play on The Bridge!
Oh my god, yes! You know it, I have a notebook open, I’m getting all of this down.
And just then, I played you Brown Paper Bag by Bridezilla from their debut self-titled EP which was released in November…
* * *
Back then, the internet already existed but it was still maturing. Vinyl had long gone (or not yet revived, depending on how you look at it), CD’s were still dominant, and MP3’s were moving in. Expanding your music library still required genuine hustle. I obsessively kept tabs on FBi’s program playlists. I trawled through all sorts of websites and file-sharing programs such as Hype Machine, Elbo.ws†, Filestube†, Limewire, Pitchfork, Last.fm, and Bandcamp for new or rare MP3’s. I plundered MySpace and YouTube, too, using sneaky browser plug-ins. Red Eye Records and JB Hi-Fi were my favourite shops. I bought and traded CD’s with friends, meticulously curated playlists and loaded up 256MB USB’s, and then I got into BitTorrenting. With all that work, I absolutely prided myself on my collection of digipaks and catalogue of live covers on my prized possession: my iPod Classic.
Music streaming has changed the game. Nowadays, you don’t have to think; you can always find a playlist to work out to, dance to, cry to, make love to. If you like a song while you’re out, you can shazam it and let the app push it to Spotify for later. And we’ve been doing this for long enough now that we can start examining the consequences. Namely, bands have become increasingly expendable – at least it feels that way. There’s less need to cherish them, less time to explore their stories, less reason to obsess over them.
Alicia Eler and Eve Peyser argue in their article ‘Tinderization of Feeling’ for The New Inquiry that we are living in an age of abundance and our coping mechanism is to minimise the number of decisions we have to make. Tinder, for example, is symptomatic of this:
“Tinder is more than a dating app — it is a metaphor for speeding up and mechanizing decision-making, turning us into binary creatures who can bypass underlying questions and emotions and instead go with whatever feels really good in the moment.” – Eler & Peyser
Spotify might not have the same yes/no interface as Tinder but convenience is definitely front and centre. Every Monday, it analyses your listening habits and hooks you up with “new discoveries and deep cuts chosen just for you”. But, of course, following the trail of candy only leads you to realise that hundreds of other ‘individuals’ got the same tip-off as you. And, in my opinion, there’s nothing personalised or profound about passively consuming whatever feels good.
I know that every generation thinks it’s special, and this essay won’t be the last to muse about what we lose when technology advances. Indeed, the histories of the vinyl record, the cassette tape, the CD and even the iPod are testament to this. However, the fact that the internet allows us to measure and track change makes this conversation appealing to me. We can analyse not only album sales but the listening habits of each individual ‘consumer’.
According to my Last.fm account, I listened to between 19 to 27 songs per unique artist from 2009 to 2014. The next layers of digital sediment show a sudden change: In 2015, I enjoyed roughly 8.4 songs per artist before moving on. And, it’s still early days, but I’ve averaged only 7.5 songs per artist so far this year.
There are some caveats to these data sets. For example, they don’t take into consideration songs listened to on CD, though this only artificially deflates numbers of songs per artist from 2009-2012. In addition, Spotify data only scrobbles to Last.fm when I’m connected to wifi. Third, it’s probably fair to say that my listening habits have shifted over the years as I’ve discovered podcasts, travelled, gone into relationships and full-time work. In any case, the statistics still demonstrate a fundamental shift in my listening habits, which correlates with my adoption of Spotify Premium in January 2015. Anecdotally, I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Pre-music streaming, I would get into a new artist a lot more slowly. I heard “Always Love” by Nada Surf for the first time late at night on Rage. For some reason, they really captured my imagination – what else do they have in their locker? – and I wanted to hear more. But I knew I’d have to save up my money first or find someone who had their album. The suspense helped me build them up in my mind and appreciate their album more when I finally got my hands on it. I was more willing to give slow burners the chance to shine back then. Nowadays, I can listen to every new release immediately. I can discard whatever doesn’t stick without a second thought.
There are many former favourites whom I’ve now shunned because their new releases didn’t tickle my fancy on first listen: Seekae, Toro y Moi, Memory Tapes. There are obvious reasons for this: Seekae’s change of style, Toro’s poor live performance at the Standard, and Memory Tapes’s music is just no longer novel or exciting. However, I swear I would have given their new albums at least one more chance if moving on wasn’t so easy. After all, if I remember correctly, I bought the CD for Yeasayer’s much-anticipated sophomore album Odd Blood blind. That is, without hearing it in its entirety beforehand. Besides a few hit songs, I can say now that I really don’t rate it, but I gave that album every chance to prove itself!
Should we call this effect the ‘Spotification of Soundtracks’? The ‘Pandorafication of House Parties’? To paraphrase Eler and Peyser: Spotify facilitates the rapid discovery of new bands and the bottomless availability of music, but falling in love with a band still takes as long as it ever did.
* * *
“Tinder doesn’t have to lead to Tinderization. Tinder can serve as a way to verify a connection rather than to create it from scratch. Matching with someone you already know of, for whom you already have some context, can confirm and enrich the overlap of social circles and inject complications. In that case, Tinder is simply facilitating your first date. You have a different sort of emotional accountability. This sort of coincidence has more to do with Tenderizing Something than Tinderizing Everything. A flame transformed into a beautiful slow burn.”
Eler and Peyser end by pleading with the reader to use technology constructively. As a millennial and a heavy internet-user myself, I feel almost obliged to agree. After all, Spotify can enrich real life experiences: it’s never been easier to share new music with friends leading up to a big concert, or dig up old songs we loved when we were kids. Second, how we use music streaming is a choice – music apps just help us plant the seeds quicker and we can still reap the harvest, right?
But, here, I ask you: Does any of this matter to you? Do you have the time and self control when the shuffle feels so good?
This has been another edition of Nostalgia Dorks. You can find part one here and the companion Tumblr blog here. You can find more topics including language learning tips in the menus in the right-hand column. Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or @TimSpricht, or subscribe in the top-right corner to get me delivered to your inbox. Thanks for reading!
*“The human imprint on carbon dioxide is unmistakable… [According to] ice-core records, the present concentration has been reached at a rate at least 10 and possibly 100 times faster than carbon dioxide increases at any other time during the previous 420,000 years. Thus, in this case human-driven changes are well outside the range of natural variability exhibited by the Earth system for the last half-million years at least. ” – International Geosphere-Biosphere Program
†Denotes no longer exists