Endless Musical Choice and the Endless Web

November 19th, 2012

Mike Spies:

Because how else can you form a relationship with a record when you’re cursed with the knowledge that, just an easy click away, there might be something better, something crucial and cataclysmic? The tyranny of selection is the opposite of freedom. And the more you click, the more you enhance the disposability of your endeavor.

I don’t think this is a made-up problem or some kind of misplaced nostalgia for a past where new albums cost no less than $16, required you to drive to a retail store to purchase, and we had very little idea how good they were until we bought them and listened to them.

This issue isn’t unique to music. The web brings an endless abundance of information to read and reference, and of new content, always something better behind a click or tap. When that’s the case, there’s no time to focus on what’s in front of you, to absorb everything in it, to understand what it is or what it’s saying, and to think about what it means or how it relates to other things. There’s always a better album, a better article, a new breaking story, so we’re always moving on toward greener pastures.

It’s easy to dismiss this kind of criticism as luddite nostalgia for a world that never really existed, or as “first-world problems”—in other words, the substance-free complaining of people who should be happy with what they have and should shut their mouths because they’re lucky to have it. But that dismissive retort, one used all-too-often in the technology community, ignores what I think is one of the great challenges for the technology community: to make the age of the web not just one of unlimited access to unlimited information, but one that empowers people as humans.