The Technojungle changes music, how it is created, recorded, and listened to. Music, if you could call some of it that, can now go with you and be with you wherever you go.
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.
“Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross,”
By Mother Goose
My mother used to say this nursery rhyme when I was very young, often while bouncing me on her knee. I may only have a wedding ring, and I may not have bells on my toes, but I do have earbuds. I can have music wherever I go.
Listening to music used to be a very attentive single, even sit-down, activity. It was like having a concert at home. As with moving pictures, or movies, which some thought threatened live theater; some thought recorded music would put an end to live music. Have you heard ideas of the Technojungle bringing the demise of certain cultural activities such as music or theater?
During the years I was collecting jazz 78 RPM and LP records, I often had record playing sessions. In the company of one or more people, I would put on a recording and we would simply listen. This was not unlike the early years of records. However, I also used cassette tapes to record what I wanted to play most often, thereby saving my Technojungle records from wear. I had several cassette tape recorders and players, so could carry a small one around and have music with me to play wherever I went. Many people were using 8-track cartridge players. These could not record, so I stuck with cassettes. Then the huge Technojungle company came out with a very small portable cassette player. That’s right, it was a player without recording capabilities and it came with small headphones. Suddenly everyone was walking around with their own music. This device paved the way for the next Technojungle generation of personal music players which used Compact Discs (CDs) and later, digital MP3 files (a digital file format for storing audio). Important here is that these last two represent the leap from analog to digital. It is always interesting to watch the steps the Technojungle takes.
It was a burst of piracy. Suddenly people were downloading whatever music they wanted for free without concern for copyright from Peer to Peer Networks. An MP3 file could easily be made, usually from CDs. I watched carefully as music stored in this digital Technojungle MP3 format seemed to simply take-over the way people listened to music.
Peer-To-Peer (P2P) networks are where the computers share data and information, such as files, directly, each functioning as a server for the others. They differ from Client-Server networks in that there is no central server to which other computers function as clients.
For a time you could download more than just music form the Technojungle, but almost anything you wanted, such as expensive software, for free. Lawsuits eventually caused the demise of most Peer-To-Peer file sharing networks, although there are a few around which use the web rather than dedicated client software. Most law abiding citizens are willing to pay a nominal price for an MP3 file and realize the responsibility they have to ensure those who create the software and files deserve to be paid.
I recall these technologies propelled the development of more advanced Technojungle technology for delivering and managing music, such as tiny MP3 players, eventually merging with the cell phone to become part of smartphones. I remember an advertising campaign that depicted, through music, dance, and imagery, this MP3 technology fitting into North American Technojungle culture.
Here is an interesting point to mention about the popular digital audio format known as MP3. The files had to be small so they could be downloaded quickly over the Internet and to allow many recordings to be stored and carried on portable Technojungle devices. Information from the original recorded file had to be discarded. The music and audio quality was degraded—dumbed down. For most people listening with earbuds, inferior to high quality (also known as high fidelity, or high definition) speakers, this difference was not noticeable. As music became more portable, and as people became more accustomed to the inferior sound quality, the loss was even less noticeable.
The loss of quality is dehumanizing, but does the convenience and quantity make up for the loss? Is this possibly humanizing? We went from having high quality sound played on large equipment and technology that included a turntable to play records, an amplifier and large speakers, to invisible digital files rendering music through small devices at an inferior audio quality. In between, we had small CDs (Compact Disc) and handheld playing devices. CDs still maintained a higher quality file and sound reproduction, however it was digital and the physical album shrunk in size making album artwork and type hard to see and read.
I have often wondered if listening to inferior quality recordings does something unexpected to us humans. Then again, I did listen to a lot of recordings from the 20s, 30s and 40s, made prior to high fidelity. Those old recordings were analog rather than digital. I’m not sure if people living in the era of 78 RPM records, or low fidelity radio broadcasts suffered an ill effects.
What cultural shifts and norms have you noticed arising from the ability for people to carry their very own music with them everywhere? I saw that people were suddenly able to wear almost invisible earbuds everywhere to tune-out the world and that this somehow became acceptable. How might the ability to use earbuds for music and to tune-out the surrounding world be considered dehumanizing? I have often tried to say something to one of my kids, only to find them in their own little world of music and thus not able to hear me or pay attention to me. It is a way of tuning-out the world and other people. Should we also be concerned about the somewhat mesmerizing digital music that many young people listen to as they tune-out the world?
I confess that I too use wireless earbuds. Age has brought Tinnitus and Hyperacusis. The Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, results from exposure to loud noises and from ingesting anything that is ototoxic (damaging to hearing), such as medications and other toxic substances. The Hyperacusis has probably been with me slightly for most of my life and has become worse. It is a sensitivity to particular sounds and to sudden spikes of loud noises. Certain members of my family have louder projecting and excitable voices. I now use ear plugs or wireless earbuds to reduce the spike in noise level. I would presume that these two conditions of mine have become more common in the Technojungle.
Now comes the really interesting part. Here is something I see as an example of cultural push-back against technology and the Technojungle. Much was lost in audio reproduction with MP3s and digital technologies. Most notably, the human aspect. Vinyl LP records were played on a turntable. A diamond needle, called a stylus, was mounted on an arm that pivoted so the needle could track and vibrate in the grooves on the record. There were obvious imperfections. These imperfections included hum, hiss, clicks and pops due to scratches. Although there were some portable options which were still large and awkward compared with digital devices, a good quality system worked best when installed in a manner that made it sound good in a particular room. An avid listener, often called and audiophile, would sit in a certain location in the room and listen with care to the music. Perhaps they would read the record jacked. It was an analog Technojungle experience.
Despite the drawbacks, there was a noticeable warmth to the played back music, probably because it was analog. Also, the record jackets (cardboard sleeve) were large, easy to read, and could be works of art in themselves. The LP (Long Playing) Hi-Fi (Hi-fidelity) experiences have been missed by many listeners. Someone might explain this as nostalgic, however, I’m not sure the popularity can be due only to those who lived in the era of the LP record. Perhaps many have been boomers who could recall the days of large LP record albums. The albums had a theme created by the choice of songs included on the record. These may be some of the reasons why there has been a return of interest in the LP record. I know of stores, not necessarily specialty stores, but ordinary department stores that suddenly gained more racks of LPs than CDs. It is a curious cultural phenomenon and definitely a humanizing one of changing involvement with the Technojungle backwards from digital to analog.
Let’s take an even closer look at this phenomenon of how changing music into various formats changed culture. Originally, mass produced recorded music was a single performance on a disk with grooves that could reproduce the sound. Actually, when Edison invented the phonograph, recordings were made on cylinders that only had one side—obviously the outside of the cylinder. Soon, a record made on a flat disk could have a recording on both sides allowing for complimentary or contrasting music to be coupled together. Early records were recorded and played back without the use of any electrical process. The quality was very poor, but it was new and fascinating.
Fast forward to the age of the LP record. With the ability to couple multiple songs together in an album, a record could take on a cultural theme, such as all romantic music. The next step was to produce a digital version of the album called a CD. The organization of the music, and therefore the theme, remained the same. When music began to be distributed in MP3 format, the files could be sold individually or rearranged. This caused the disruption of the album’s theme. Many artists complained.
The next leap of recorded music came in streaming. With streaming you don’t own a copy of the recording. You listen online through a paid subscription service. The music can be streamed wirelessly and the user can create their own Playlists. A number of other issues come into play with algorithms employed by these services. This is discussed in more detail later.
How do you listen to music? Do you like music to be playing in the background, or do you prefer to have music played when you can pay attention to it? What Technojungle technologies do you use when listening to music? How do the technologies influence the music and the ways you listen to music? Is music becoming more cultural specific or more general? Is music becoming more or less humanizing? Music is important for being better human beings and living in this world of technology—the Technojungle.
The art form of recorded music has become mobil and has deeply influenced our culture. Our musical culture, as with everything that touches the Technojungle, is constantly changing. Sometimes it seems that the only thing in our world and our lives that doesn’t change is that everything changes.
Your reflections on music and technology are alive.
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