Sunday, July 11, 2004

A thought about downloading music

Downloading music, especially for free, eventually acculterates one to the idea that everything one consumes must be entirely and completely new -- the idea of listening to records more than a couple of times, even to get one's money's worth, no longer need apply. Possession of the music supplants literal enjoyment of it, as with high spped connections, you can acquire more music much faster than you can listen to it, and often its rare and strange things you'd never have thought to look for. You don't have to settle for something familiar; you can always be hearing something new for the first time, and grant yourself the opportunity to make a snap judgment. The music is a pretext for our getting to have an opinion, maybe, or simply to consume something new, and feel that momentum of absorbing something new as a reason for living, even though the song hardly sticks with us a moment after we've heard it. Living with some songs, having a chance for them to intertwine with other experiences of yours that they accompany, letting them come to be the soundtrack for certain periods of your life -- that no longer happens as organically as it might once have. It's not hard to imagine a time when no one will hear anything more than once, that our music, and by extention, our own experiences will be purely disposable, utterly unmemorable, and we'll like it that way. Free from the burden of nostalgia, every day will feel like the first (or last) day, every experience a brand new oporrtunity to feel something, for a moment, and move on. All feelings are equally fresh, and equally impermanent.
Of course, only living with songs, with cultural objects, with those artifacts of congealed longing, as Judith Williamson describes contemporary commodities, give them any resonance, allow them to be invested with any authentic lived feeling. As Williamson has it, all the feeling goes into wanting to possess the thing, which, once owned, no longer fires our imagination and all owes to dream, to act, to work to get something. So getting the thing gives us all our feeling that had gone into the pursuit back to us in a lifeless capsule, totally wasted. Downloading music free doesn't even afford the opportunity to work up that kind of longing; our ability to desire gets whittled down to whims. We see something's out there, and we take it not because of any strong lust, but because we can, and then we hear it once, form some quick opinion, and file it away. This may be a microcosm of our whole attitude toward life, our whole orientation toward experience.
A related point. The way pop music comes to mean anything real to us, other than the power to possess a piece of the zeitgeist, and to possibly feel like we belong to the "now" moment by owning a piece of it, is through a long habituation to it, is through threading our life experiences through it. So pop music has no intrinsic value, no matter what music critics happen to say. Pop music attains value through ubiquity and tangibility -- it's ability to be there and to glom on the experiences we want to remember we've had. Pop music is meant to recall past moments. Downloading music is to make it signify the void, the disappearance of desire into a momentless moment, when wanting having and consuming all take place instanteously and thus meaninglessly.

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