Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant with a friend and one of his friends, Kevin, whom I’d just met. We were talking about music. Specifically, we were talking about music collections. Kevin talked about how his collection was all CDs, which he had organized in a particular way: By artist, then by release date. Some people will recognize the seriousness that it takes for that organization. As close as I get is to organize them by artist, and even then I find that there are discs that haven’t found their way into any semblance of order beyond randomness.
Kevin went on to explain that by in large, the physical discs had given way to the digital collection that he’d amassed through iTunes. Which then led to a discussion of the iPhone 4S which had been unveiled the previous afternoon. Kevin already had his on order, and went on to explain why it (1) should have been expected and the iPhone 5 shouldn’t have and (2) why its features, Siri in particular, combined with GPS, is so crucial.
And then we wound our way back to music, and talked about why music is now primarily digital, not on vinyl or aluminum-coated polycarbonate.
Which brings me to Steve Jobs.
iTunes has massively changed the way we listen. It has massively changed the way we get music. It has massively changed expectations. Although the big-box stores pretty much put the lid on the coffin of small record stores, iTunes nailed it shut. Yes, you can find the random record store here and there. Just as you can find the occasional bookstore.
When record stores existed, chances were good that you could find like-minded people either going through the stacks or behind the counter who you’d engage with, who you’d learn things from, who you might end up spending some time with.
Now, what, Facebook?
Sure, there’s community. There’s a community here. Yet that community isn’t the physical, tangible interaction that was once a part of the music-buying experience.
Now you tell Siri to remind you to buy the new whatever whenever it comes out.
So as the paeans to Steve Jobs—many of which are truly deserved—continue, I’ve just got to wonder whether the whole digital musical phenomenon is an good in an unalloyed sense—hell, even that metaphor based on material no longer holds.