Monday, March 4, 2013

Sensation Inflation

Hey folks above 50! Remember being a teenager and starting your record collection? Each purchase dreamed of, saved for, deliberated over, anticipated with eagerness? The browsing at the record store, the moment of purchase, bringing the treasure home, holding the large object in your hand and gently setting it down on the turntable? Reading the liner notes and admiring the artwork? Shelving it next to your other 15 records?

I went through the same process with books and still have a few of those dog-eared paperbacks with their old paper smell. The books that burst my world wide open were few— the old classics Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, Cat’s Cradle,  Walden, Wind in the Willow’s and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass,  Tale of Two Cities and Manchild in a Promised Land. They sat on my growing library shelf with about 20 other companions, each one a door into a larger world.

Things felt more precious way back then, not only because I was 18 and just starting out, but because there were so many fewer things to choose from! Each thing had a character— an album with its cover design, a book with its cover and a special heft and weight—and each had a special meaning because of all the effort required to acquire. Same process for waiting for a movie to come to town or scouring the TV Guide for the moment when a favorite would appear.

Fast forward to the virtual world of today, The choices of what to watch, listen to, read or buy in myriad formats, most with a mere button push, is staggering. Youtube alone apparently can keep you occupied for 600 years. How do I know this? By walking to the library and going through an extensive search in the stacks of the back rooms for the hidden volume containing the sought-after information? No, by an instant button click. And a quick copy and paste:

Total number of YouTube videos -- over 120,000,000

Number of videos uploaded per day -- about 200,000

Time required to see all the videos -- over 600 years

Number of videos watched daily -- over 200,000,000

Music is no longer the precious record/cassette/CD carried home and shelved. For most, it’s floating out in i-Podland. Books read on Kindle all have the same size and weight and smell. The once-coveted Cassette-tape-compilation of favorite songs given as a gift to that special someone is now a playlist merged into the ocean of weightless and colorless information.

Is this bad? Is this good? Would anyone willingly go back to the labor of searching and waiting? Is the earth happier without abandoned plastic disc covers from CD’s? Is this even a discussion worth having?

Don’t ask me. After all, I’m writing it on this virtual blog. But I suspect that there is at least a small loss in human health and happiness when everything is instantly available and stored so abstractly. The amount of sensation available to us humans craving novelties has increased in massive geometric proportions compared to the townfolk a mere 150 years ago waiting for the circus to pass through town. And a sensation inflation brings a corresponding meaning deflation. When amazing things are available to see on Youtube and we see so many of them, I wonder whether each decreases slightly in its effect. With 600 years of viewing ahead of me, I’ll suppose I’ll find out.

 (Question: Has this blog has just decreased the value of my other 474 postings?)

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