Ben Was Here


On Technology and the Loss of Tactile Sensation – Music

The tactile experiences associated with music are the ones I miss the most, and therefore the reason I go back to old technology the most. Opening iTunes and pressing play is just not the same as pulling a vinyl record from it’s sleeve, placing it on the turntable and dropping the stylus onto the spinning platter – or removing a cassette from its case, checking the tape to see where it was stopped last and popping it into the tape deck – or, even, putting a compact disc into a discman or the top of a boombox.

Seeing a one inch square image of an album cover on my screen is certainly not equal to seeing the contents of the windows change on Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti as you pull the inner sleeve out or opening and closing the working zipper on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. Of course, much of this interaction was already removed from the music experience with the advent of cassette tapes and CDs. But the act of opening the jewel case and paging through the inserts still provided some level of interaction. CDs also offered more opportunity for creative album artwork, such as Tool’s 10,000 Days with its stereoscopic lenses through which the artwork could be viewed, or Pink Floyd’s Pulse, which featured (in its first runs) a blinking, red led light.

Purchasing music has also changed with new technology. While shopping through iTunes definitely has its upsides (everything is always available), it lacks the experience of flipping through LPs or CDs in a real store. There is less likelihood of stumbling across something unexpected, such as a rare bootleg or first printing of special artwork. However, iTunes does add the feature of offering up recommendations based on the artist or album you are looking at (this used to be the job of the employees at record stores).

All of these sensations related to the purchase and playing of music have led to somewhat of a resurgence of LPs. Although not near the levels of yesteryear, there are people, stores and record labels that still cling to the idea of physical albums. A sign that LPs are making a bit of a comeback is evident in Best Buy’s decision to carry vinyl.


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