Consumption Patterns

The internet has had a huge impact on how we consume information and media. I wonder what the long-term cultural outcome of that will be. How does it change how we experience music? And how will that change our culture? When I was growing up, radio was the dominant mode, and listening to music was often a communal experience. Everyone had a common cultural vocabulary. Nowadays, with iPods and the internet, it seems more of a personal thing, and I wonder if that common vocabulary will become lost. On the other hand, almost everything is easily available to anyone. It used to take effort and investment to explore music that wasn’t currently popular. Now every obscure song is just a google search away.

William Gibson, the author who coined the term “cyberspace” in the 80s, wrote something in one of his more recent books about how bands’ popularity had become uncoupled from time. Something can become a hit long after its release, after it’s been forgotten, because it can be rediscovered and shared.

That “everything easily available” phenomenon happens with other media – movies and books – as well. Chris Anderson wrote about this many years ago in The Long Tail. Now there’s an audience for everything that used to be unpopular, unprofitable and out of print. The web opens up such a large marketplace that people can make money selling to any niche audience.

So I guess it’s fragmenting culture in a way. We don’t listen to the same things, we don’t watch the same things, we don’t have to watch things according to some network schedule. But maybe it also promotes a certain kind of tribalism, because we can find like-minded communities online. It’s hard to tell when we’re in the middle of it.

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