The other day I was hiking with a very good friend of mine. An industrial designer by training and someone who’s fascinated by new technology and its implications, I was keen to understand what he now used to listen to music – another passion of his.
His answer was brusque and bordering on defensive – CDs. And he still buys them. I told him that I hadn’t bought a CD for years and was right into Spotify. “I can understand that”, he said, “but I’m still doing the CD thing.”
Why would anyone still be buying CDs? The same could be said for DVDs in some segments of society and perhaps even books?
There are a number of subtle reasons why some are not embracing the likes of Spotify and Netflix:
Curation: Let’s get that one out of the way to start with. It’s a word I know a lot of people don’t like but it still makes sense. I had a girlfriend years ago whose brother had a huge record collection in a separate room of the house. He was the coolest guy on the planet as far as I was concerned. He’d built that up over the years, perhaps even stolen a few of the records and certainly gone without other things in his life. And there it was – a physical manifestation – a collection defined, earned and realized by him.
I probably have access to all of that music via my Spotify account, right? Millions of others do too. I earned that right with a small monthly subscription. There’s nothing of me in it – no stories, no effort, no sacrifice and nothing defining me in my vast collection.
Ceremony: When I lived with a friend back in the UK we used to listen to music in the evening – listen to vinyl records. And, like many others, we used to cue music up. This was done by someone sitting on the floor next to the line of albums that were stacked on their ends on the floor and going through them one by one until we collectively identified another track on we wanted to listen to. This album was then lifted up and left poking above the rest as we continued looking for the next track.
What was going on with activity? Well it was a shared experience – a specific ceremony around choosing and listening to music. Although not quite the same with CDs, something similar exists and you can point your dinner guest over to the CD rack, for example, and ask them to choose some music to put on.
Status: Closely related to the above but perhaps more specifically about books is the idea of our displaying our tastes – something that was (and still is) manifested in our reading books in public typically on public transport. I know several people who happily admit that they miss this aspect of the behavior when holding up a faceless and ‘coverless’ kindle or phone.
In ‘digitizing’ services and media distribution we’d do well to not lose track of some of the emotional drivers and peripheral activities that give and have given so much meaning and to people.
Doing digital must not simply be about efficiency of distribution and availability and giving everything to everyone.
It must also be about struggle, about self and about it somehow being a manifestation of ourselves for others to see. There’s something too easy about having access to everything on Spotify – the effort to build something – the struggle – is missing.