Strange Fascination

The Tower of Power….

Friends Grant and JoAnn were recent houseguests of ours.

They came visiting from England, and spent a week here in New York, staying with us.

Like any good houseguests, they gave us a small gift on their departure.

In this case, it was a LaCie drive. To be precise, it was a 2 TB drive. But what made the gift especially interesting was what was on the drive.

Grant was for many years a Disc Jockey in the UK. And the drive? It held more than 24,000 songs.

When I was a kid, we used to hang out at Tower Records. We could spend hours pouring through the bins of LPs and new releases. Album after album. And, if you had really saved your money, and thought about it a great deal, you might… you might buy one. You would take it home and gingerly remove the plastic wrapping and place the record with great care on the turntable and enjoy the latest from The Who or Gensis or perhaps The Grateful Dead. (Yeah, I am old).

Now, suddenly, on demand, (and for virtually no cost) I have all of the albums from The Grateful Dead or The Who or even Squeeze and about 100 British bands I have never even heard of (plus, and God only knows why), 22 albums of Greatest World Cup Hits.

Grant had effectively dropped an entire Tower Records store in my living room, and one which was the size of a paperback novel.

The world has clearly changed, and it is little wonder that Tower Records went out of business.

Yesterday, The Chicago Tribune announced that they were laying off 17% of their editorial staff. This was broadcast last night on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, as a story entitled “The End of Newspapers”.

I was reminded, of all things, of the famous poem by Pastor Martin Nielmoller, ‘First they came….”

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

The impact of both The Digital Revolution and The Web are almost hard to fathom. Tower Records, which had been an institution not so long ago is reduced to a small box on my shelf. The stores are no more. And what digital can do to music, it can also do to newspapers, television shows, movies, books, art, video games – just about any intellectual content that can be reduced to 0s and 1s. It is only a matter of time before NBC and their giant building at 30 Rock are sitting next to my Tower Records store, in another LaCie Terrabyte drive.

The worlds moves faster and faster – but at least I have the consolation of cranking up Bowie’s “Changes” at the touch of a button.

Strange fascination, indeed.


5 responses to “Strange Fascination

  1. Hey, you don’t need to be old to appreciate the Dead.

  2. On the topic of change, and keeping with the theme of music, let’s not forget Dylan whose words ring as true now as ever before…

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’

  3. What happens when the great price of digitizing and distributing all of that material that’s essentially been paid for in the past, when you were a kid, catches up with the furture?

    I’m all for virtually free music, but at what cost?

    And music may well be the first to take the biggest hit from the digital revolution…and the big hit is yet to come if people continue to think music is free.

    (BTW….I’m not saying the music you received wasn’t properly paid for at some point, but you’ve given a good example of how a bunch of business models could be collapsed.)

    Somehow, someway, people have to get paid.

    I mean, what if someone recorded and/or transcribed your entire VJ training method and put it out on the web for the world to see…for virtually no cost?

  4. NBC will probably require a petabyte drive.

    But Chris has a great point. Business models for all sorts of things are collapsing because of the internet. I was just thinking of advertising the other day. In the past ad execs made scads of money and produced campaigns and spots that were intended to look great and deliver a message in 30 seconds via all sorts of media (radio, TV, print, etc.). The scads of money they made were based at least in part on the cost of preparing the ads and the cost for the media on which they were displayed. Now Google has reduced effective advertising to the visual equivalent of a classified ad. Not much brainstorming required there. Many of the media that hosted the big ads are fading and the advertising dollars are fleeing them at a rapid pace. But they are fleeing to a media where the cost for placing ads is a fraction of what it once was. And their effectiveness is determined almost entirely by measurable audience response. What’s more, you don’t need high-paid artists and big thinkers to craft an effective ad or campaign. Just like video, almost anyone can do it. So, while we in the newspaper (or whatever) business sit around waiting for advertising to somehow save our bacon, the people in ad agencies are waiting around for what to save theirs?

  5. Grant also bombed my Mac. He did this last Christmas. I’m still editing his contribution!

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