Several years ago I “rescued” some of my parents’ old music LPs from certain death. Since then I have often wanted to listen to them, with one main issue standing in the way: I had no phonograph player. I kept my eyes open, but the cost of a new one here in Brazil was always beyond what this missionary’s budget would allow.
Then one day I mentioned to a colleague here in Brazil how much I would like to play my vinyl, and he told me that he had an old record player I could have, if I could get it running again. It just so happens that I have “a guy” nearby who can fix anything electric, and between him and some google searches I had a working turntable for roughly forty bucks.
All of that is backstory for my main point. You see, as I began to enjoy the records, I naturally wanted to augment my tiny collection. Fortunately for me there are several used bookstores here in town which also resell used LPs. So when I found myself downtown with some time to spare I would duck into one of these establishments and look for some worthy additions to my music library.
As old records are not a high-selling item they are usually found in an out-of-the-way section of the establishment. To find one record that I knew I would enjoy and had to flip through dozens and dozens of dusty jackets bearing some truly bizarre titles.
The World’s Most Romantic Tangos… Nope
Julio Iglesia’s Greatest Hits… Yo no quiero
Li’l Richard and his Polka Band… Whaaa?
The Best of Al Hirt… Eureka!
And so it went until I had found a grand total of three new records.
It was as I drove home, my new found treasures on the seat next to me, anxious to give them a spin, that it dawned on me that technology has robbed us of something very precious. You see, back in the halcyon days of the ’80s and ’90s, if I wanted to play music at home, I had to go through the process I just described. Oh the venue was different, of course. It was Sam Goody’s at the Arnot Mall, not a dingy used book store in São Luís, Brazil. But I still had to make the trip, then flip through dozens of options before finding what I wanted.
It’s at this point of the story that my kids, both of whom have no memory of such primitive ways, will ask me why I don’t just use Spotify.
Well, I do use Spotify. A lot. But there is something that Spotify has robbed us of…something that I think it is worthwhile to make an effort to get back. That “something” is the joy of discovery.
As I was on my knees sorting through piles of records whose one organizational principle was chaos, a tension was building. Would I find anything worthwhile? Would I go home disappointed? Would I develop respiratory problems from inhaling all that dust? Then, I found it! An early Kenny G recording! Or a record by Brazilian pianist Pedrinho Mattar with songs I had never heard before!
I could have had every single one of those tracks with a few clicks on Spotify, but without the joy of the hunt and the rush of discovery. And I would have missed out.
And it’s not just the music streaming services that have taken from us all need to dig up our treasures. I’m currently reading a book by Humberto Eco (yes, that Umberto Eco) about how to write a proper thesis paper. And as the book was written in the ’70s it is full of references to libraries and card catalogues and the like. And of course the memories flood back of trips to the Corning Library, where I would open up the drawer and flick through hundreds of index cards until I found something that looked like it might be relevant, at which point I would write it down in a pad and hope that it was in stock, and that it was actually what I was looking for.
Of course the great irony is that I am reading Eco’s book on my Kindle.
And this brings me to a necessary disclaimer. As I mentioned before, I use Spotify. I carry my Kindle with me everywhere. I’m thankful I can get information quickly on Google. In a few days I’m going to be posting about how missionaries can harness information technology for language training. The information revolution has made my life, and the life of countless others, a lot better.
But it has also robbed us. We no longer have to hunt. There is no longer any doubt whether or not we will be able to find that which we seek. And this means that we no longer experience the pleasure of discovery. If seeking is no longer difficult, finding is no longer a victory.
And my experience in that dusty used book store made me think that perhaps the joy of discovery is worth occasionally going back and doing it the old way.
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