Scarcity in music consumption and more

2020-07-05 @Lifestyle

I power on the radio receiver. An unfamiliar string quartet draws my attention. It doesn’t sound immediately pleasing but for the moment, I’m engaged. Engaged as if present at the live recital.

For that brief instant I forget any previous occupation. Drawn to the mono speaker, the cheap plastic casing, the few control knobs, the analog radio dial, the signal strength LED, the retracted aluminum antenna, I appreciate the mechanical framework dedicated to the sole purpose of transforming that radio signal into the audio acoustics I now contemplate.

It is that analog primitivism along with the scarce supply that heightens the pleasure factor. I wasn’t expecting that string quartet. I wasn’t expecting any particular performance. Nor can I predict the next such opportunity.

The jockey announces the performance specifics after. I note the details, though without any serious intent. In seeking a digital copy, the experience would not be the like.

I could opt for the nearly inexhaustible music library on my computer. There I’ve already collected much of every opus of every composer that’s held my interest. I could download evermore and further spoil the insatiable appetite.

I could acquire all the Bach organ works, the chorale arrangements, the chamber music, the harpsichord concertos. And have. I could choose from one of multiple performances to further confound my senses.

Alas, on the computer it sounds different. Superficial? Saturated? When stripped of the scarcity, with enough abuse, a point I inevitably reach, my senses give way to numbness if not plain suffocation.

On the computer I could likewise stream the radio station. But it’s never the same. For I’ve access to all that other perverse amount of options; options I could exercise at a mere stroke of a button or two. That awareness depresses my excitement.

No, scarcity must be introduced or simulated by whatever artifice to fool the cognition, lest the music serve the mere function of background distraction. And sometimes that’s all we seek.

But if we desire music for the sake of music, embrace scarcity. The task is not awfully challenging.

My radio unit does the deed. The vinyl player (with an ample choice of records), which I’m fortunate to have hereabouts, does it even better.

And be you an avid collector with thousands of records at your disposal, there is a certain singular engagement with the playing of each record, incomparable to the digital or even analog paradigms.

Once more, we simulate scarcity. Lest your vinyl equipment deteriorate, we observe a particular ceremony around the playing of records:

With such physical involvement, I’m far more appreciative of not only the music but the medium. The sensation hardly compares to the computer.

As for the other listening media?

Compact disks I can somewhat relate to in terms of scarcity, the selection limited to just the CD library. But the interaction wanes: none of the ceremonies nor the pleasantries akin to the vinyl mechanics. The prospect of the digital sound also bears a discouraging semblance to the computer.

In retrospect, I rank the largely forgotten cassette tapes higher than the compact disks, irrespective of the inferior sound. There’s the analog component for one. The tape mechanics feel more organic and vulnerable (and indeed are). Lastly, the sequential access engages us to an even greater extent than vinyl in the course of audio track navigation.

Regretfully, cassette tape equipment seems to wear out quicker than all the forms so far contrasted.

Let’s expand into the realm of paper reading. Here the scarcity paradigm plays as crucial of a role. More generally, I claim the following of physical books:

  1. A narrower selection
  2. The organic and artistic byproduct
  3. The increased cognitive benefit

Some might find the last property questionable. Personally, from years of reading both ways, I’m inclined to corroborate, although suspect the cognitive element also a function of your reading approach.

Returning to scarcity. I for one draw greater pleasure in reading solid matter from a limited supply. In contrast to a quick digital download, the greater effort involved in augmenting the library strengthens my attachment.

In hindsight, scarcity pays dividends all over. Contrast a cup of coffee prepared from manual grindings and boiled on the stove in a one-serving container, to one manifested by way of a magic button press.

Or take any dish that you personally prepare, ingredients measured, mechanics controlled, motions diligently executed, compared to one that you procure or is served.

Take even the eating schedule. I fast during most of the day, which, beyond all benefit, simulates a similar effect. The restricted 6-8 hour eating window renders the food tastier.

The principle applies equally to honours bestowed, commendations, experiences and diverse forms of entertainment. Abundance diminishes appreciation. Scarcity strengthens.

Questions, comments? Connect.