Is This Thing On? While my computer gently weeps

Greetings again! It is my last column of the semester, and I wanted to bring things full circle. I opened by introducing this as a commentary on popular music in the context of college and beyond. This is the music I will look back on with both fond memories and embarrassment and perhaps have difficulty explaining to my kids.

Therefore, in order to get my children as excited about Ariana Grande as I was, I’m going to have to sort something out. Were I writing this same column a few decades ago, I would have framed that idea more like: How am I going to show my children my Ariana Grande record collection? Or more recently: How am I going to show my children my Ariana Grande CDs? Or in ten years: How am I going to show my children my Ariana Grande holograms? The point is, the way in which we listen to and collect “our” music has evolved rapidly.

Think back to the first iPod released 15 years ago. It was chunky and monochromatic, yet still seemed years beyond its time. Today, we laugh at it. However, the iPod’s significance lies in the transition from analog to digital music collection. 10 years ago, I would peruse the same record (later CD) stores my mom used to love as a kid, which have since gone out of business. There was something about being able to flip through the squares of plastic, even just to inspect the album artwork and track listings on the back. Music was something you could hold in your hands and call a piece of your own. Sometimes you could discover the artist’s secrets inside. Did you know that Taylor Swift’s jewel cases contain hidden, sappy love messages in the lyrics with capitalized or lowercase letters? It’s a type of artistry that’s lost in standardized online delivery.

Back to the idea of ownership, I still held on to some sense of cohesiveness when I graduated to my own first iPod in 2005. As years passed, I ran into issues such as maximizing the number of authorized computers connected to my iPod and was locked out of my songs if they had been downloaded to too many devices. Slowly, I lost access to my carefully curated collection. 

When I opened Spotify today, I was greeted with a banner: “Hello. We’ve got a new version of Spotify ready for you. Restart now to make it yours.” Except Spotify was neither made ready for me nor is it mine. Am I going to have my account until I’m 80? Will Spotify even survive until 2025, or will some hot new application chew it out? Further, all of my favorite songs and playlists could be deleted from my profile in three minutes, at most!

So, I’ll offer a Beatles lyric from “In My Life” (1965) as a parting thought: “And these memories lose their meanings / When I think of love as something new / Though I know I’ll never lose affection / For people and things that went before.”