Sometimes I worry about my attention span. As our society progresses technologically and we get more and more accustomed to quick fixes and instant gratification, our culture also becomes more disposable. I am certainly a victim of the laziness that comes from having things too easy.
Music is a good example. Once upon a time, I listened to cassettes. Usually, I would listen to specific albums all the way through, and if I wanted to hear a particular track, I had to patiently fast forward or rewind to the right place. Then CD's came along and, after much resistance, I started buying them. As begrudging as I was about the newer technology, I did like the convenience of being able to skip over undesirable tracks and the more streamlined appearance of the compact disc, which was neat and slim to its chunkier cassette counterpart. I swore CD's would be it for me, and gradually upgraded my collection, which today still has gaps in it (the fact that I have Nine Inch Nails' first album on tape only is a travesty).
Then Napster came along. Regardless of the legality/morality of downloading songs, five or six years ago I started doing it. I still do it once in a rare while (and I really don't want this to turn into an ethics discussion, because most of what I download are isolated songs I would never pay for or albums I end up buying down the road--plus, I go to lots of concerts to support bands I love, which is where they make more of their money, anyway). MP3's made music even more disposable. Don't like a song? No need to skip over it; delete it! There was no more fuss with going to record stores and fumbling with jewel cases and queing up CD's; any desired song was a few mouse clicks away.
It took two wiped out hard drives full of tons of downloaded songs for me to value my CD's again.
Until the iPod.
Once again, I resisted. I would not become one of those zombies on the subways with the pale wires flowing out of their ears. I would not be immune to my surroundings by plugging into a machine the size of my palm that contained thousands of songs. Hang on a second. A machine the size of my palm that could fit thousands of songs? That sure was a lot more convenient than dealing with my discman. Plus, I had an hour commute to and from work every day, which made it a justifiable investment. Then, a couple of years ago, I was due for a hefty tax return and splurged on my own 40G toy. This also changed the way I listened to music, because for a while, I had it set to shuffle all songs. Which turned my audio collection into a randomized jukebox and hurt my ability to enjoy a full album for a while. Why bother, when I could hear the best songs any time I wanted to? Why be patient with tracks that take many listens to build and develop an appreciation for when I can skip right over them?
I did regain my love for albums and more patience with less desirable tracks, but then, several months ago, my iPod battery started dying a slow death. It still has some life in it, but I haven't touched the thing in over a month because I am in denial and reason with myself as long as I don't listen to it the gadget is still functional. My main source of music has been Pandora.com, a great site (part of the intriguing "music genome project") where you can customize radio stations based on song and artist preferences. This has been a terrific source of new music, but not so great for my musical attention span. It has gotten to the point where listening to an entire Tom Waits album, which I'm doing as I type this, has become a novelty. I keep experiencing a certain amount of surprise at the consistency of mood and style of the music playing in the background.
I may be stretching the point here, but the reason why all of the above concerns me is because it seems like there are all of these different elements in society (technology being only one of them) that conspire to make us lazier and less patient. I get suckered in along everybody else and absolutely love convenience, but I also know that it sometimes makes for less satisfying experiences when things come to easily. Also, how long is it before the disposable mentality spills over into more important areas. Don't like your new friends? Dump them and get some new ones. Same with that boyfriend. And job. Right now we shuffle through songs and stations, but how long is it before we shuffle through people and experiences?
Or maybe we're already there?