I once fell in love with a girl because of her record collection. Those of her records and CDs that I knew were all great. The ones I didn’t know were either ones where reviews or references had made me interested, or had really great covers (which, for a brief time in the mid 90ies, was strongly correlated with the quality of the music). Leafing through the collection was an experience of surprise, amazement, intrigue and delight.
Today, with vinyl a niche collectors thing, and MP3s replacing CDs, the tactile, visual, sensual browsing of somebody’s music collection has become a thing of the past. While record collections were always obviously on display, and something that it was OK to look through when at somebody’s place, browsing MP3s loses not only that tactile experience, but may not even be possible. Browsing a MP3 player may be OK, but somebody’s computer can already be encroaching on their private territory. Phones are generally completely off-limits. I do not hand my phone to anybody, ever.
This means that we can no longer comfortably and quickly assess new acquaintances according to their musical tastes. Neither can we determine their degree of interest, dedication or obsession with music, which was at least strongly related to the size of their collection, and the presence of relatively obscure, hard to get items in it.
But then the entire concept of music being hard to get has mostly disappeared. The sense of anticipation, wonder and delight that I felt when discovering albums that I’d longed to listen to would not be there anymore. Back then, when browsing through that girl’s music collection, it was the first time I had any access at all to some of these albums. Access was a scarcity and a privilege. Today access is easy in most cases, and time is the scarcity. If I now really want to listen to something, I can find a way to listen to it.
I wonder what has replaced this way of getting to know other people. Social networks allow some broadcasting of listened music, and may have some browsing features, but they’re not then and there as a physical collection is, and your networks may not even overlap. Maybe music no longer is as important as a part of the younger generations’ identity, and this is a non-issue? Anybody out there who can explain if there’s anything that has replaced the quick browse of the record collection today?
PS: Concerning the girl I fell in love with? She turned out to be as interesting as her record collection – even though it turned out that she collected music solely based on covers. And while nothing became of it, I’m grateful to this day every time I listen to Mouse on Mars’ “Iaora Tahiti”, which she introduced me to. My musical tastes today would be quite different without this discovery.