Monday, June 07, 2010

More Thoughts on the Anti-Device Front

The bulk of my evening hours yesterday were dedicated to the grading of a larger-than-it-probably-should-have-been backlog of students' papers (having accumulated during my Memorial Day traveling (and assisted by the additional time-sink of commenting on their short stories (in case it hasn't been stated on the blog (or there are any blog readers that don't know me-or-what-I'm-generally-up-to-these-days), I'm currently 71% of the way through teaching a summer section of Intro to Creative Writing at the university where I recently completed my MFA))). While grading these papers, I decided to listen to music, and decided, further, to listen to music from records played on the turntable handed-down to me from my folks back when I got my own bedroom in high school.

Of, course, commenting on students' reading responses requires a certain amount of non-focus (in the same way that writing this blog post right now is required by the work I'm doing at work), so I found myself considering the turntable. While home the other weekend, we spent a fair amount of time in the family talking about device culture and cultural information-loss (that's how I'd summarize it, anyway). Unsurprisingly, I'm as antiPad as I am antiPod. But, listening to records (John Hartford, Sibelius, Jimi Hendrix, in this case), I couldn't help but recognize that the lp-turntable combo is itself a device, if perhaps a device that is less convenient than the iPod.

The night before, I had been out at an art opening, then went to a show of a few rock n' roll/punk bands. Part-way through the third band's set, around midnight, I decided that I'd heard enough rock n' roll for one night and headed on home. At this time of night, the buses run only once an hour (give or take), so I opted to walk, figuring that walking 77-ish blocks in the middle of the night was preferable to waiting around for 30-40 minutes at a bus stop in the middle of the night (I was passed by the bus-I-didn't-wait-for-at-54th-Street at around 100th, so it wasn't too terrible, and then I stopped for pizza at the local late-night-pizza-dispensary, making the total commute home about 90 minutes in length (only, I'd guess, 30 minutes longer than the bus ride would've been (the bus ride would've included a long 40 minutes of standing around and two fewer slices of pizza)).). I made this walk without either becoming bored or having music to listen to on any device.

My thinking (we're back during the grading again now) was then further intrigued by the fact that I have the recording I was listening to (a young Maazel conducting Vienna doing Sibelius's 2nd Symphony) on record on CD as well. But I prefer the vinyl version. It sounds better. Looking for better adjectives, I get to "warmer," maybe? as the comparative. Which is to say, I'd like to at least claim that I chose the lp because of an aspect of its sound, rather than just some ideological I'm-a-grouch-who-listens-to-records-for-spite kind of thing. (Though, seriously, sometimes (and I don't claim to even do it all that often these days) listening to records is just more fun than listening to CDs or mp3s.)

And I wonder what I'm really getting at. Because all recordings, if I really try to make an argument in the anti-Pod vein, are device-enabled and therefore somehow pernicious. And perhaps the inevitable outcome of device culture is the ubiquity of said devices (see also, that Star Trek: TNG episode with the game that nearly takes over the Enterprise). And what you have, then, is a community which is increasingly incapable of focusing on anything. And, like, focus is a good thing (it would have helped me grade those papers faster, that's for sure).

Or, focus is a good thing for those of us that actually want to be able to focus (most humans being comfortable just being told what to do and never doing much). So, therefore, my resentment of the i- Pods & Pads has more to do with their ability to keep me from focusing. So, after listening to the A&B sides of disc one of Electric Ladyland, I instead and grabbed my (acoustic) guitar (which is currently missing both of its E strings and has its middle four strings C-tuned like a ukulele) and played around on it for a while, since musical instruments are precisely (precisely) the kind of technology that iPods are not. As the aphorism goes (which I learned, once upon a time, from a They Might Be Giants t-shirt), "Music self-played is happiness self-made."

Then I was tired, so I went to bed, still not even close to catching up on my grading. Oops!


Blogger Jack said...

Did you know the New York Times had a front-page story on this topic yesterday? I only skimmed the first part of it, but heads up.

I think that we're all already distractable, and devices help us form habits where we distract ourselves constantly. New devices enable old bad habits. I'm not sure whether you can really blame that on the devices.

LPs sound richer to me, and I think the hisses and flaws are part of that. CDs clearly have better fidelity, but LPs definitely seem to have a deeper physical presence to their sound. (What we need is a word like "mouthfeel" but for sound. But more attractive than "earfeel.") I'm curious what's actually going on acoustically.

6/08/2010 8:04 AM  

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