When Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka ordered his engineers to realize his vision for a portable personal music player, he insisted that the first Walkman come with two headphone jacks. He just couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that people might want to seal themselves off from the rest of the world behind a set of headphones, so he demanded that the unit have two jacks so two people could share the listening experience. That lasted exactly one iteration of the Walkman.
Now we’re all zombies, cut off from the rest of the universe in our bubbles of personal sound. And now that we have more control over what music we hear than at anytime in the history of the planet, those bubbles are pretty strong. But is that a good thing? Is this strengthening or weakening the cultural bonds we form over music?
Check out this article written by a high school student for the Burlington County Times.
Ours is a world of instant gratification. We have a message to send, we text; we have photos to share, we post.
The arts are no exception: The music of our generation is in clouds and apps, carried in wires at our convenience. We listen alone, mostly. On subways. Between classes. When we’re bored. When we’re tired of listening to people talk.
Music is more accessible now than ever — and more solitary than ever. In past generations, people have relied on each other to be able to listen to music, gathering in clubs and public spaces. But advances in technology in the last decade or two mean that human interaction is no longer necessary to access music, and the act of listening to music, once shared, has become an isolated event.
In 1970s New York, particularly in the Bronx, music was culture; it had to be culture, because there was no access to music without interaction among musicians, dancers and their audiences. Hip-hop, which popularized “park jams” and dance parties, created human connection that is so rare in today’s online and on-the-go music.
Bom5, former B-Boy and graffiti writer, speaks of the rich hip-hop culture in the 2006 documentary “From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale”: “Everybody started getting these flyers for a party that was being done in Bronx River — it was like come one, come all … So we went. We went through the door, and I was just amazed that when we came in, all you heard was music, right? Well, next thing you know, you see some people dancing … Anyone could go in there, you know … Those jams in the park were the best I ever had in my life.”