Old technology creates meaningful connections

Thursday evening, as my friend and I drove to the theater to see an opening night 12am screening of “The Simpson’s Movie,” we were forced into an unusual technological corner.

Usually, all the music in my buddy’s car is supplied via his iPod — on which resides an overwhelming list of thousands of songs. But with his iPod somewhat broken (at least, it only supplies sound to the left channel), we opted to dig out his old Sony minidisc player for our traveling music.

As much as his specific model of minidisc player has too-small buttons for my hands, there was something very nice about using it. There is a real connection with older technology that seems lacking with today’s all digital counterparts. Something about holding a disc in your hand, and hearing the mechanical parts whir and click as they load up and eject your music is just satisfying.

But there’s more to it than that. Older technology, like minidisc players, and to an even greater extent compact disc players (which I still use almost exclusively for music that I’m listening to away from my computer), cause you to form stronger connections with the music itself. Not being able to jump around to just your favorite songs by your favorite artists whenever the mood strikes forces you to listen to music you might otherwise skip.

With the iPod, I find myself skipping to a new artist and track after nearly every song, or listening to only pre-made playlists of just my favorites. With my CD player, on the other hand, I more often listen to albums the way the artists intended, start to finish. This sort of connection with the music is encouraged by an older breed of technology and seems to me to be discouraged by newer technologies that put convenience and control over art.

It was enjoyable to discover old music and old technology, still very capable despite having lost its sheen, on the ride up to the theater. And upon reflection, I think that the added connection with both hardware and music that I believe my antiquated CD player gives me, is one of the main reasons why I haven’t owned an MP3 player since I gave away my Rio 600 to a friend back in 2000.

Is there any old technology that you refuse to give up? Why? Am I crazy not to give in and upgrade to an MP3 player? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

6 Responses to “Old technology creates meaningful connections”

  1. David Mackey says:

    I don’t have an iPod or similar device. I’d like to get one someday, but just haven’t been able to justify the expense at this time in my life. So many other items are more important to me right now (e.g. mortgage). Anyways, there is a certain nostalgia associated with older technology – for example, I still remember fondly the Apple II series and the Commodore 64 – both if which handed again I could enjoy. But, on a more practical note there are some things about old technology that are missed because they were useful. For example, I miss when all computers made noises to indicate that the CPU was thinking. It was a good way to tell whether a computer had frozen. I also remember the connection sound of a modem, and how beautiful was and how I could determine whether the connection was healthy or not by its sound.

  2. Mack D. Male says:

    Josh – I think you’re crazy 🙂

    I am not sure I understand what you mean when you say that older technology causes you to form stronger connections with the music itself. How is listening to Justin Timberlake on an MP3 player or computer any different than on a CD or minidisc? Music is music, and I think you can connect with it using any device or medium. Attending a Justin Timberlake concert, on the other hand, could have an impact.

    Some other thoughts: CDs take time to create and burn, digital music can be searched, the random button accomplishes what you want with not skipping music.

  3. Alex Leonard says:

    I can understand what you mean.. but to be honest I have never felt an urge to jump from one artist to the next, nor have I ever felt the need to create play-lists of my favourite tracks.

    I have a 60Gb Mp3 player, which is a pure joy to have on my frequent 2+ hour drives from my country-side life to the big city. At the start of my journey I select a couple of albums that I want to listen to and queue them up. Then I sit back and enjoy the drive.

    Recently I forgot my mp3 player and had to resort to some old tapes I had in the car. I really don’t want to have to do that again. The sound quality was awful, some of the tapes weren’t what they said they were and fast forwarding was painful.

    I have to say that I feel completely connected with the music on my Mp3 player and enjoy it on a regular basis. Since I started purchasing music digitally I find it impossible to buy a couple of tracks from an album – I have to purchase the whole thing. I know countless times over the years I have bought CD’s and dismissed a couple of tracks as being weak, only to discover that that these tracks are the actual gems on an album. In addition I’ve always found other people’s incomplete music collections (usually a result of iTunes) to be extremely frustrating (“What do you mean you only have track 4 from such and such…!?”).

    So I think what it boils down to is how you approach your own technology. You can use it to enhance your own preferences, or you can let it or other people influence the way you do things.

  4. Josh Catone says:

    @Mack: Well, perhaps Justin Timberlake isn’t the best example (though I am only very slightly familiar with his music), but take, for example, Pink Floyd. There is a very specific way that Roger Waters intended for you to listen to his music. For me, I feel like on an iPod I am far more likely to jump in and listen to “Breathe” and then jump to Pearl Jam on the next track. When I have my “Dark Side of the Moon” CD loaded up, I don’t have that luxury (sure I could skip tracks on the CD, but I feel less likely to do that).

    Also, there is something nice about holding a physical CD. It has permanence, and nostalgia, and some sort of “realness” that I find MP3s lacking. (And don’t get me wrong, I have a library of 10,000 songs on my computer that I listen to while I work 😉 — I’m not anti-MP3 (or AAC or WMA or Ogg or whatever floats your boat) by any means).

    I think Alex makes a good point when he says, “it boils down to is how you approach your own technology. You can use it to enhance your own preferences, or you can let it or other people influence the way you do things.”

    Well said. 🙂

    (Then again, I could just be nuts — always a possibility. :D)

  5. David Shen says:

    Old tech I won’t give up? That’s easy.

    PAPER.

    I love reading. But holding a book or magazine in one’s hand is much better than reading with a digital reader or on your PC. The way the text and pictures are displayed via print is much more comfortable to the eyes. And I enjoy carting around a paperback, knowing that I won’t run out of power at some point, or worrying about spilling coffee on it. I can also throw it away if I’m done, so I don’t have to cart it around after I’m done.

    You’re right. Sometimes old tech is better tech, even for someone as immersed in technology as me.

  6. genevieve says:

    Agree with David Shen despite the fact that I read about 50/50 between paper and screen at present (which is why I’m here of course.)
    The book technology is constantly being aped by electronic tech simply because it works so well, users are reluctant to abandon it. The single screen is one of the crucial difficulties electronic readers face, not to mention recharge and format issues…blah blah.

    I know this sounds dumb, but I will use an MP3 player in the car by preference once they sell cars with them installed, with navigational buttons that are high on the dash, instead of on a small object well below windscreen height. Also I wish the one I’m using was bigger and wouldn’t run out of battery every so often…sigh.

    There’s nothing to stop you listening to a whole album as it was ‘intended’ on an MP3 player, and random play is a tremendous brain rattler for people over 45 anyway. Could be a great preventative for Alzheimer’s methinks – I’m always saying to myself, ‘what the hell is this?’ because I fill the player with stuff I SHOULD listen to as well as stuff I love too well. In fact I need an MP3 player that announces the tracks over the speakers.

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