I’ve been musing on and off about this topic for years, but now there’s some research to back it up:
“Internet downloading and MP3 players are creating a generation of people who do not seriously appreciate songs or musical performances, British researchers said.” Music downloading creates listener apathy. A combination of forces is at work here, but there are three I’d put at the top of the list:
1) Quantity. Once upon a time, you’d save up your $7.99, buy the LP you had been wanting for weeks, and listen to it dozens of times over. This saturation fostered a personal relationship with a piece of music that I just don’t think people are experiencing today — or at least not as much. When people possess way more music than they can possibly listen to, there’s a tendency to wade through it all in a random fashion (guilty!), and the music has a resulting tendency to become background. This is one of the reasons I’m now trying to put more emphasis on pruning my MP3 collection than on growing it (though I have only been mildly successful, and am in fact currently planning a multi-jigabyte RAID storage solution just for my music; collecting is far easier than pruning).
2) Cost. The bulk of most people’s MP3 collections has come to them for free. When you can download 40 albums overnight rather than purchase one or two or even five a month, the personal investment in the music is further devalued, and you never get around to fully digesting all the new music before yet more arrives.
3) Aesthetics. The visual involvement of the LP cover gave way to the lesser involvement of the CD sleeve. But at least we still had something. When you go all digital, you give up the visual aesthetic accompanying the music altogether (with the possible exception of the tiny album cover thumbnails stored in ID3 tags, which are no replacement). Not to mention all of the extra information you get about an artist by reading liner notes and lyrics, which was always a big part of developing a relationship with an album.
Quantity and flexibility are so seductive. It’s so easy to not notice how much we give up.