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I have a large library of recorded music on my computer.  I keep it organized using iTunes, which shows that I have almost 10,000 tracks from over 700 CDs–I’ve never purchased a music download.  While no particular aspect of iTunes (rather iTunes as I use it) is particularly high-tech, it is remarkable to have random access to what could be an unlimited quantity of recordings.  I never listen to music in the background, and iTunes hasn’t changed this.  What has changed is that it is almost too easy to move from one track to another, and I find myself doing this more often that I would like.

Certainly the snappy interface and rows of colorful album art icons are enticements to skip to a different recording.  This is why I sometimes prefer to use the Front Row interface when listening–so the temptation isn’t there–or turn off the monitor altogether so that it isn’t a distraction.  There are ways to deal with the problems that iTunes poses to serious listening.

Does this mean there is still a place for the CD player? Not for me.  The advantages of using rewritable memory to store media are too great to leave any room for a CD player.  But there is a certain level of committment to a recording that comes from physically handling its media any time one wishes to access it.  This is entirely absent from computer music (meaning digitally stored recording on rewritable memory) and needs to be an element of future technology.  Cover flow, though I don’t use it, is a step in this direction.

Is it simply nostaglia that makes me believe this? Not at all.  Physical media matter. Take Amazon’s Kindle:  it is not a book.  It simulates some aspects of a book but eliminates nearly all of a book’s sensory aspects.  The reverence and expectation with which one may open a book, or even a CD jewel case, has become part of the experience of dealing with encapsulated art.  This cannot simply go away without diminishing the significance of the data (and art) they contain at some level.

What about newsprint? I do not have the same feelings about newsprint.  Ephemera were created to be ephemera, and digital screens suit them fine, probably better than paper ever did.  These feelings say nothing about the art and craft that make good journalism.  For this I have a high reverence.

Back to recorded music.  For recorded music to remain an art and not decline to a commodity, the physical element of handling a container for a recording must persist. No, iPods do not count.  It must be something unique to each recording.  Album art is also insufficient.  There must be a physical connection to the act of being ready to listen. So think before you double click; let’s wait and see what virtual reality brings.

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