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iPods Reinforce the Throwaway Society 28 November, 2006

Posted by paralleldivergence in apple, Brad & Phil, education, iPod, Music, My Thoughts.

I sometimes feel sorry for the youth of today. While their world is one full of information, communication, interaction and technology, they are missing out on so much that we had just one generation ago. Although the 70’s and 80’s were only twenty or so years ago, the differences in society are staggering. The biggest change I have noticed is time. Now there is no time for anything. E-mail, voice-mail, cell phones, longer working hours and multi-skilling are the order of the day. The end of the working day and home time have become blurred. Back then, there was plenty of time – to think, to breathe, to listen to and appreciate music – to enjoy life.

Throwaway music...

In the 70’s I cherished the toys I had – I could count them on both hands. Right now, my kids could open a toy shop with all they’ve got. They have so much stuff that they have not had the opportunity to learn to value their possessions. What can you do when they’ve got two sets of grandparents? And it doesn’t help when there’s so much marketing and advertising aimed squarely at the children.

To maintain continuing business for product manufacturers, all of this marketing promotes one thing – the Throwaway Society. And believe it or not, it’s even hit the music industry. Creativity and talent has given way to formula-driven songs and pretty-boy and pretty-girl personalities. This, together with the hype and marketing that accompany these new ‘groups’ ensures high-saturation radio and music video airtime; and that is what influences sales and trends among our young.

Music is a lot more than what record companies want you to believe it is. It takes time to write, compose and produce a song, but a musical artist knows that a single track does not justify the title of artist. The neverending stream of one-hit wonders that record companies churn out is testament to that. The true musical artist produces albums.

Today we’re flooded by a glut of new-releases each week. The single you heard on the radio sounds OK, but you like to collect albums. How many times have you bought an album because of a single heard on the radio only to find that every other song on the album sucked? I hate that. Despite declining CD sales, the record companies know people buy albums and because they cost more, they are a better revenue spinner. Luckily for them, it’s cheap and easy to pad out the rest of the album with filler material. Too bad if the customer doesn’t like it, they’ll always have another hot new pretty act to market to consumers next week. Meanwhile, the unsatisfied customer is eagerly awaiting that next “must-have” release.

To make matters worse, the iPod revolution is slowly killing the whole concept of the album. Once the CD stores are gone (and they will go), why would any musical artist or group ever bother with all the difficulties of constructing a credible album of quality music when customers now only ever bother to part with 99 cents for individual tracks? Individual tracks that the record companies and radio stations program them into buying? Tracks that eventually get lost among thousands of others hoping to be one day selected by the shuffle robot claw and then praying not to suffer the indignant humiliation of the skip button on the almighty iPod. Yes, today, even music is at the mercy of attention-deficit disorder.

There are many tracks and albums from the 70’s and 80’s that are considered classics – they set standards for their time and continue to sound fresh today. How many songs from the late-90’s and today could you name as likely to be classics in twenty years’ time? There are possibly a few, but they are certainly very far between. Just look at the top selling songs of each of the past few years and you’ll see I’m right. Sadly, the 2000’s will be the decade that music forgot – not through a total lack of quality music, but through an overwhelming abundance of crap being shovelled into consumers’ ears.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s the classic albums of real musical artists were released on vinyl. People had to have talent back then to be credible – looks didn’t matter. Fortunately, the powers that be have re-released many great titles on CD – some totally remastered. Today’s youth now has the opportunity to hear something completely different – quality in music and lyrics. Musical craftsmanship rather than mass-production. And these artists, some of whom are still producing fabulous work but struggling to get airplay, deserve a new audience. Our youth need to listen to what music was once all about and learn to value the scarcity of real talent. We need to be the ones to educate them.

My personal taste in music is fairly diverse, however there are some things I really crave in a band – thoughtful lyrics, accomplished musicians, a vocalist with something special, melody and consistency. If an album is compromised by too many flaky tracks, my interest in the band wanes dramatically.

So who and what do I like? In future articles (every so often), I’ll look closely at the works of some of the special groups that made an impact on my life and then make some listening recommendations for those that may be interested in something different to today’s musical quagmire. It’ll be my small way of hopefully influencing the listening habits of young people that really have no clue about the potential power and impact of music on the world. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, feel free to comment, and don’t get sucked in by mass marketing. Musicians are born, not made.

Brad & Phil #10



1. tobeme - 29 November, 2006

I agree, we are living in a throw away society which is perpetuated by Marketing. I would like to you remind you the 70’s and 80’s were not without popular music fault, one word – Disco …

2. paralleldivergence - 29 November, 2006

“Disco”. Hilarious!

Every era has bad music and sadly enough it always seems to top the charts. Record companies have a lot to answer for! 🙂

3. jbiz - 29 November, 2006

Except for the fact that more good music is being made and distribute now than ever, I agree with you.

The thing is, you need to look below the radar, and away from the pablua that corporate media churns out for the masses via network television, radio and itune’s front page. The proliferation of cheap technology has made recording and distribution easier than ever. Check out a few of the better independent podcasts, like creotradio, and fake science.

4. Svenyboy - 29 November, 2006

This is an “all this used to be fields” argument disguised as social commentary. I do agree that times, they are a-changin’, but children nowadays don’t need pity: there has never been a generation with more opportunities. Yes, there are challenges too, but the state of popular music is not one of them. Children ,when they grow up, will develop their own tastes and the one-hit-wonders of the world will inherit their children and so it goes on.

History is a great arbiter of talent. All the dross from the seventies and eighties is largely forgotten whilst the good stuff survives and gets re-mastered. The same will happen to the American Idol brigade in the fullness of time. Listen to what you like, and trust your children to do the same.

5. paralleldivergence - 29 November, 2006

What a great comment Svenyboy! Thanks for adding the younger perspective. All eras definitely have their fair share of crap. I tried not to make it a nostalgia piece – that wasn’t the intention and sorry if you interpreted it that way. It is a piece on a blog, so yes, there will be personal commentary in there, but that’s only intended to clearly identify it as personal viewpoint. I agree with you, there’s plenty of brilliant tracks being produced now, but the difference between now and the 70’s is that through the glut of releases now, those new “future-classics” never get the same level of airing that their forebearers received. As a result, they will find it harder to survive into the future. That’s my observation of it anyway.

As for opportunity today for the youth, you’re absolutely right. I did say I “sometimes” feel sorry for the youth of today in the intro. They have so much more than we ever did in almost every other aspect. My son’s cartoons and comics and videos and websites scream that out to me everyday. So if I only have one avenue to gloat, please allow me that. 😉

6. Svenyboy - 30 November, 2006

Oh, I don’t begrudge your gloating: you go for it. Blogs are all about the conversation though, and I just disagreed this time. A teacher of mine used to say that “as much as a generation gains, they lose”. That’s life, I guess!

7. adam - 30 November, 2006

Great post!

I agree with you that our culture does encourage a “disposable” mentality, (though Svenyboy makes a good point, too). It’s not just music, either. It’s movies, games, clothes, even culture, itself. These things (what is “fashionable) change at break-neck speeds. The result is that a trendy person ends up buying a new wardrobe every season, chunking old entertainment vehicles (everything from gaming systems to music) and exchanging “out dated” philosophies (even theologies) every season in exchange for the new and improved whatever.

A book that came out two years ago is ancient. (Like anyone still reads books!) A five-year-old movie is a classic. Music from last spring is hardly heard on the radio–DJ’s are too busy bombarding us with today’s fodder, which we will have forgotten all about in 6 months.

This pains me on a practical level. (Are my clothes from last year, which are still perfectly good, just not cool enough to wear anymore? Am I that vain?) It pains me on an artistic level. (Aren’t good songs/movies/books good in a timeless way anymore?) It pains me spiritually. (What are we saying about the nature of what’s good, what’s really worth when we so easily, so flipantly throw out what we “couldn’t live without” yesterday for what we “have to have” today?)

I don’t know that this is a new development, really, but (and this is going to make me sound much older than I am) things change so much faster today. Everything is so quick. How do we slow down while the world keeps right on speeding up?

(And for the record, I love my (4 day old) iPod. It’s not iPod’s fault!)

8. Salt on Everything » Blog Archive » LINK DUMP OF THE GODS - 30 November, 2006

[…] Here’s a cool post by Parallel Divergence that discusses the rise of disposable culture: To maintain continuing business for product manufacturers, all of this marketing promotes one thing – the Throwaway Society. And believe it or not, it’s even hit the music industry. Creativity and talent has given way to formula-driven songs and pretty-boy and pretty-girl personalities. This, together with the hype and marketing that accompany these new ‘groups’ ensures high-saturation radio and music video airtime; and that is what influences sales and trends among our young. […]

9. Daijinryuu - 1 December, 2006

With the exception of Nickelback and a few others like them, most of my fave groups come from the 70s to the mid90s. There is a sign, tho: this may be the decade that independent music breaks out, and the big three – Columbia, BMG, and Universal – finally begin to break.

10. paralleldivergence - 1 December, 2006

I’m not sure if any of the big three will break soon Daijinryuu – not with Apple and Microsoft both deeply in bed with them, protecting their “investments”.

As for Nickelback, not sure if you’ve heard this – but you should – it’s classic stuff:
http://www.thewebshite.net/nickelback.htm 🙂

11. Malachi - 2 December, 2006

First I would like to say that I really enjoy your blog. I am a college student in my 20’s. I do not agree with everything in all of your posts but I enjoy reading different viewpoints and opinions.

I agree that “we” are in a downward spiral of a throwaway society. I believe that IPODs, music downloads, youtube, myspace, and the down fall of complete music albums are just the products of a technology induced attention-deficit disorder. I think technology causes attention-deficit disorder or some variation of it. I think our brains get “information highs” from the massive amounts of stimulation we are getting from IPODs,computers,video games,tv, ect. so that when we are not “hooked-up” to technology we experience attention-deficit disorder symptoms because our brains are searching for the same high level of stimulation we are getting from technology.

Anyone follow me here?

12. paralleldivergence - 2 December, 2006

Hi Malachi,

No one says anyone has to agree with me. I’m just sharing my point of view.

Thanks for elaborating on the “attention-deficit” angle. I touched on it and am thinking of writing a wider article on the subject sometime soon. I believe you are right. The over-stimulation technology can provide must impact on the other parts of peoples’ lives. Remember when you had to dial-up to access the internet? I had a 9600 baud modem the first time I connected. As I said at the start of this article, we used to have time to do things. Now broadband internet is so fast, you have to have multi-tabbed browsers to allow you to access even more sites at the same time. I think it breeds impatience.

Glad you like the blog and thanks for the great comment.

13. GreenLantern - 2 December, 2006

I often wonder if what you said is the truth or if we just don’t understand the upcoming generation.

I remember when my uncle got me and my brother a Nintendo for Christmas one year. This is just something that my dad could not understand. He just kept asking questions like “What is the point of this?”, “What do you benefit from this?”, and “Quit playing that @%&$# game and go outside!”

In my generation video games are perfectly acceptable, but his generation didn’t understand them.

14. Jane Shevtsov - 25 December, 2006

I think MP3s and iPods will improve music, not dumb it down. When people have to buy a $15-20 CD to get one or two songs they like, it’s easy to use a lot of filler, but you can’t get away with that if I’m paying for individual songs.

Whole albums will survive only in cases where this format is truly justified — if there’s a theme, concept or story. (Maybe a playlist would accompany the collection of tracks.) 99% of “albums” sold in record stores do not meet this criterion, but the 1% that do will remain albums.

15. paralleldivergence - 25 December, 2006

Hi Jane, you’re probably right. I guess I’m just rebelling against what the record companies and radio stations tell me I should be listening to.

16. anderlpz - 6 January, 2007

Here’s something to think about:

“Parents reinforce the throw-away society”

Everyone talks about how technology is throwing away society when we forget who has the power to regulate it: Parents.

Children cannot go and buy this $250-350 iPod, but the parents who stick they’re kid in daycare in front of a TV, a gaming system, and buy them an iPod to go along with it should take some responsibility. But it seems no parent wants to do that anymore. The reason why children of the 50’s 60’s and 70’s appreciated what they had is because they had parents from the 30’s and 40’s come from nothing teach them about value. So they were taught the value of knowing what they had, while not actually having it. Now its time for the baby boomer’s to get theirs: the car they always wanted the 4500 sq ft house, the 60″ plasma TV. More this, bigger that. And the cycle of “wants” and “must haves” and “the world owe me’s” continues… I guess we can say “we are what we reinforce”.

17. paralleldivergence - 6 January, 2007

Great perspective anderplz and yes, parents do have a lot to account for!

18. nautilist - 7 January, 2007

interesting read, thanks!

i’d like to offer a (tangential) perspective as someone with experience in the industry..

radio is uniform because it HAS to be – it can’t possibly cater to the niche markets that the ipod has helped foster. quality and talent haven’t changed (there’s *always* a talented artist biting at the bit, fighting to get his/her chance), but the discoverability of talent has.

huge leaps have been made in recent years to allow anyone with a computer and a microphone to produce music on the level of a good studio in the 90s. while empowering, it has also lowered the ‘barrier for entry’, leading to a snowballing glut of poor-quality music. in the past, you couldn’t get a record deal unless certain standards of quality were met, according to the label; now anyone can throw up their homemade tunes on myspace or itunes.

with the proliferation of digital services, labels’ function as a distribution mechanism is largely irrelevant.. out of necessity, they are exclusively focusing on fulfilling their marketing function as a ‘quality filter’, to help people wade through the muck. more interestingly, this role is also being assumed by the various enthusiast communities themselves – check out any number of very genre-specific bulletin boards, and you’ll find great music quite easily.

the net effect of all this?

sure, you’re seeing fewer quality acts making it to the Big Stage (i.e., generating mass appeal). however, it’s much easier for the smaller quality acts to make it within their communities (i.e., mass appeal may no longer be relevant).

in short, the ‘digital revolution’ is evening out the old “5% of artists make 95% of the revenue” model… and i would contend that this is better for everyone in the long run.

19. Marian - 7 January, 2007

> To make matters worse, the iPod revolution is slowly killing the whole concept of the album.

The concept of the album was dead already. You can blame the music labels for that!
The iPod will save the concept of the album, by pushing the music industry to discard its favorite model: put a popular song, maybe two on a CD full of trash.

20. luis - 3 October, 2007

BOO HOO HOO the shitty music industry is blowing away!!

Can anyone here explain to me this shitty post?

21. There's Gold In Them There Archives | PureBlogging - 1 February, 2008

[…] forget about what we’ve missed as if it never existed. It’s just an extension of the throwaway society. There’s always the pressure to be setting the trends or ahead of the game – and yet […]

22. Fadiya ozra - 12 June, 2008

I dont belive the world is going to get any better in the future if the perants dont have any control over their children. It is improtant for perants to know where their children are going at midnight and what are their programs. But instead the goverment laws are against their perants that children can do what ever they want. I think the government is very about this law because the parents are growing thair children,giving them food ,sending them to school and the children must respect their mums and dads. Parents MUST have power over their children or the children will became a very bad example for their in the future!!!!

23. meh - 10 September, 2008

so what if were a more high tech then other generations

we learn

we make

we sell

and so it goes on

its called progress

in the 70s and 80s they where discovering and making new things bet that shocked older generations

24. paralleldivergence - 12 August, 2009

As I predicted in 2006, it has come to be. Radiohead is abandoning the album in favour of individual download-only singles: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/aug/11/thom-yorke-radiohead

25. Chelsea Wise - 6 March, 2010

As a youth in today’s society I have witnessed some of the worst in our so-called Throw Away Society. I will admit that I have unfortunately gone through 4 different types of iPods in the past three years, even though it is great to receive something new and advanced, it has always bothered me that no one even cares to make “quality” work anymore. Do marketers even know what quality means?
And as for music today, I do not buy in to the mainstream aspect of it all, I absolutely despise the pop culture of music and miss when REAL artists produced, wrote, performed their own work. I recently heard a song at a party called “Blah, Blah, Blah” by some little girl named Ke$ha, where she sang those exact words throughout the WHOLE song. Need I say more?

paralleldivergence - 6 March, 2010

Thanks very much for sharing your experience of today’s youth as an “insider”. 🙂 I’m pleased you don’t think I’m an old fogey with my thoughts. 🙂

26. Josh Swenson - 29 April, 2010

I agree that music listeners obsess over the face of “artists” so much more than the actual music. How comfortable you are with your voice or your instrument determines how many people listen to your music. The cooler effects you use, the faster your fingers move, the better your music is. The emotions don’t matter anymore; if the people making the music are cool, the music must be, so you listen to it.

paralleldivergence - 29 April, 2010

It’s sad how superficial we’ve become, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment Josh.

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