New At Music Think Tank: Savor Your Music
I. More Is Less
Thus far, we have explored the paradoxes of choice overload in culture through the analytic lenses of the record store and web, coming to the conclusion that “paradise of music” that we had initially envisioned—may not exist.
As counterintuitive as it may be, the findings in my previous two essays point to the idea that more music is less. That as the number of cultural options goes up, the amount of satisfaction that a fan derives out of any given choice will be lessened as a result; it may even cause them to opt out of the decision making process all together. We also found that, in culture, the effect of overwhelming choice has the potential to cause fans to opt for the same old songs as a way to avoid facing unlimited options, to rely on filters like Pandora rather than on themselves, and to become more passive participants in their cultural lives.
"Within the context of the iPod, we will try to discover..."
Such insights are quite disheartening and run contrary to the long held beliefs of many, including the viewpoints that Chris Anderson expressed in his book The Long Tail. The focus of this essay turns our attention away from our discussion of choice overload and the effects that it has on fans when they are purchasing music and brings us to the to the topic of how overwhelming choice may distress fans when they are enjoying the music that they already own. Within the context of the iPod, we will try to discover whether or not storing thousands of songs in our pockets has forced us—as fans—to increase the amount of effort that we put into making a decision about what we want to hear and if the consequence of having unlimited options, causes us to enjoy any given song less.
“For many of us, the iPod rekindled our dormant passion for music,” Steven Levy writes in The Perfect Thing. “It made us want to hear more songs, it encouraged us to go out and find new bands to love, it offered a new ways to organize music and take it with us.” As well, the iPod released fans from the constraints of Top 40 radio playlists and, for the first time, gave them complete control over their musical experiences. Prior iterations, such as the Walkman, only allowed fans to play one album at a time, whereas the iPod granted fans the ability to play any song, from any album, at any time. With the social epidemic of file-sharing that occurred alongside the advent of the iPod, the barriers of music consumption fell and the act of collecting music evolved. Those who were born digital, among everyone else, gained access to a plethora of music online and could easily download the thousands of songs required to fill their iPod.
Soon, even fans who previously expressed little interest in the act collecting music, downloaded massive collections of their own, and now, rather than burning single copies of CDs to give to friends, fans either loaded up their iPod full of music or copied and pasted their entire collections to their hard drive. These common practices and newfound social behaviors had the effect of greatly multiplying the number of music choices that many fans faced and left them with the responsibility navigating collections that expanded far beyond their capabilities of doing so—with any measure of certainty.
"there’s so many highly desirable songs,
that picking even one of them is a task..."
When taking into consideration the listening habits of any iPod user that I’ve ever met, it becomes apparent that the girth of their music collections taunt them—most of the time. Either the multitude of songs that they encounter when they turn on their iPod is so great that they constantly browse through songs—some they’ve never even heard—or there’s so many highly desirable songs, that picking even one of them is a task in of itself and all of the choices only serve to discourage them further. In this respect, then, their collections have shifted from being an unalloyed blessing to a burden. What was once the sheer joy of carrying their entire music library in their hand alters into the responsibilities of being a full-time, personal DJ, making selections that best fit their wide variety of moods—the ups and the downs. Feebly, they try to stumble on the particular song that will make them the happiest.
The reason for this, according to Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness, people generally err in imagining what will make them happy and, often times, repeat those same errors. Therefore, happiness is rarely as good as people imagine it to be, and rarely lasts as long as they think it will.
Thought of from the dilemma of someone trying to select the next song on their iPod, they usually blunder in deciding what song best fits their emotional state and make the same mistake, with the same songs, many times. When they do (finally) pick a song, their contentment with it diminishes quickly, causing them to search out the next best song before the one that’s currently playing is halfway through. Part of the logic behind this can also be found with the distinction between satisficers and maximizers—the type of decision maker they are...