Spotify and the Problem of Endless Musical Choice

From The New Yorker:

I’m trying to describe an intricate process, crucial to forming a lasting, meaningful relationship with a piece of art. Because if I was going to buy a CD, back when I bought them, I had to eke out some time, and even pray for a little luck, as I could spend hours in a dimly lit store, and leave with nothing. So I had to make a conscious decision that I was going to take my chances. And once that was decided, there was still the journey to the shop, and the browsing, and, depending on the outcome, either the very long, or very giddy, return home. And even then, of course, there was still the possibility that the album would suck.

We seem to have created an environment in which wonderful music, newly discovered, is difficult to treasure. For treasures, as the fugitive salesman in the flea market was implying, are hard to come by—you have to work to find them. And the function of fugitive salesmen is to slow the endless deluge, drawing our attention to one album at a time, creating demand not for what we need to survive but for what we yearn for. Because how else can you form a relationship with a record when you’re cursed with the knowledge that, just an easy click away, there might be something better, something crucial and cataclysmic? The tyranny of selection is the opposite of freedom. And the more you click, the more you enhance the disposability of your endeavor.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, over the last half decade, very few new albums have stuck with me—I just don’t spend the time with them anymore. Sure, I’ve enjoyed lots of stuff, but I lose interest after a couple listens, bowing to my waning attention span, my anxiety that there’s too much to listen to, and not enough time to take it all in. It’s like going to a large foreign country for a week, and, instead of getting the feel for one glorious city, trying to hit all the sites so you can prove you saw them. And this is, I think, one downer of the digital revolution: the Internet frees up cultural treasures while simultaneously eroding the mechanisms that endow them with value. But hey man, “Whatever you prefer.”

Continue reading the rest of the story on The New Yorker