So let me start by saying this: new media is basically great. I love the internet. It makes a huge world really small. It provides plenty of entertainment options and provides them instantaneously. The digital revolution has completely changed entertainment. Now we don’t have to wait for a certain show or song to come on the TV or radio.
That said, there’s also a major drawback to it.
This hasn’t hit television and movies as much as it’s hit music. After all, the pros far outweigh the cons. You can still watch with friends, and being able to marathon a series is far superior to trying to piece a story together from randomly jumping around through reruns. No, I’m thinking more about the death of radio.
I’ve been forced to rely on the radio in the past. Few of the family vehicles had CD players for the longest time, and cassette tapes went obsolete while I was fairly young. And of course, while working in the tractor, there aren’t many alternatives since the tractor’s audio systems are designed to compete with the engine’s noise pollution and headphones…aren’t.
For me (and I suspect a lot of other people), radio used to be one of the best ways to listen to music. Music CD’s can get expensive, especially if you’re only looking for a single song instead of a full album. As a boy on a budget, I’d usually just pass. The internet changed that. With the ability to
illegally download easily buy any single song, combined with the storage capacity and portability of mp3 players as opposed to the bulky, prone-to-skipping CD players, how we listened to music was turned on its head. You can listen to any song you want to at any time you want to, anywhere you want to. It’s wonderful. It’s convenient.
But the radio had a type of magic to it. Being able to choose what you listen to any time you want makes the music a little less special. You don’t get to choose what the radio plays, and if there’s some sort of programming schedule, I don’t know anyone who actually pays attention to it. Listening to the radio is kind of like gambling. Sometimes a song you absolutely hate comes on (at which point you inevitably change the station to try to find something that sucks less), but sometimes you get that song you love that you barely ever hear, and there’s such an elation that comes with it.
See, listening to music off of an mp3 list usually results in listening to a song for anywhere from ten seconds to a minute before you switch it. When a song comes on the radio, it’s there to stay. And if it’s a good song, you can’t help but sing along with it. There’s something that’s so much more exciting about you and a friend singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody or The Lion Sleeps Tonight at the top of your lungs when it’s come on the radio as opposed to specifically choosing it.
As Marshal McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” and the message of radio is taking a gamble on your music. New Media has eliminated the roulette aspect of listening to music and has consequently killed the magic. A slot machine where you always win is no fun. Without risk, there’s no reward to winning.
That’s why, whenever I’m driving, I still choose the radio over a CD or mp3. Because there’s still a chance I’ll find an old classic or a pleasant new surprise. And for my music library to stagnate? Well…that’s the worst message I could think of.