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Amazed . . . and Wondering

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, May 31, 2007

I just did something I’ve done many times before. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. I expect many of my readers will be unimpressed, and will wonder why I’m so amazed, and why I’m wondering. So let me try to explain.

Yesterday, while at a friend’s house, I heard the soundtrack from the movie Schindler’s List. Composed by John Williams, and featuring the sublime violin solos of Itzhak Perlman, the music is deeply moving. Hearing it also reminded me of many scenes from the film, which is one of the most emotionally powerful movies I have ever seen.

Ever since I heard the soundtrack, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. So a few minutes ago I sat down at my computer, visited the iTunes website, found and then downloaded the music (for only $9.99). A quick transfer to my iPod, and now I’m listening to this fantastic album. (You can order this album in the “old-fashioned” way by clicking here and getting it from Amazon.)

I’ve done this sort of thing many times before. I’m not a novice when it comes to music downloads. I never did the Napster thing, but I’ve dropped a good chunk of change through iTunes.

So why am I amazed by what I just did? And why am I wondering?

I’m amazed because, for some reason, I was able to step back and see my actions from a bit of a distance. Usually I take for granted the downloading of music. But, for some reason, today I see differently.

For most of human history, people didn’t even have the ability to record sound. The first phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison only 130 years ago (November 21, 1877). Listening to sound recordings became popular in the 1920s, with the invention of vinyl disc records. LPs (long-playing records) came along in the 1930s. The 20s also featured the invention of magnetic tape (reel to reel) for recording and playing back sound. This technology received a huge popular boost in the 1960s because of the invention of the 8-track tape ten years earlier. In 1963 Philips introduced the cassette tape. Two decades later, in late 1982, Philips and Sony released the first music on Compact Disc (CD). As you can see, all of this is fairly recent in human history.

But all of these fine technologies had certain limitations. If you wanted to listen to a song, you had to physically go and purchase it from a store. If the album you were seeking wasn’t current (as in the case of Schindler’s List, which is 14 years old), chances are you wouldn’t find it in most record stores. You might get lucky in a used record store. Or you might have to order it and wait several days. Even ten years ago, if I wanted to own a copy of the Schindler’s List CD, I might have to spend several hours to find it.

Then, in 1999, Napster came along, allowing computer users to download huge amounts of music for free. Naturally, this raised legal challenges, since it amounted to stealing copyrighted material. While the record industry wrung its hands and fought Napster in court, Apple got busy, introducing iTunes in 2001 along with its fantastically popular iPod. As they say, the rest is history. In April of this year Apple announced that it had sold over 100 million iPods. By this time users had downloaded over a billion songs!

Today it took me no more than ten minutes to locate and download the album. That’s why I’m amazed. What a time savings! What a convenience! What a luxury!

Why am I wondering? I’m wondering about how this newfangled expediency will, over time, impact my soul, and our corporate soul. I’m not big on delayed gratification. I want what I want, and I want it now. And when it comes to music, I can pretty much get what I want when I want it. Is this good? It’s surely pleasant and convenient. But is it good? Or is there something ennobling about having to wait, even to purchase a piece of music? Would I appreciate having the Schindler’s List soundtrack more if I had to invest more effort to get it? Or am I morally better off because I have been able to listen to this transcendent recording for the last two hours rather than driving to a record store in what might have been a fruitless search?

As you can see, I’m not preaching here, just wondering. As a lover of technology and convenience, I think iTunes is just swell. And Amazon. And Google. And all of their online friends. Ironically, as I was writing this blog post, my wife wanted me to purchase a couple of CDs for a friend for his birthday. So I did, in about five minutes, thanks to Amazon.) But what happens if we begin to think all of life should be so instantaneous and serviceable. What if we expect our spouses to be like this? Our children? Our churches? Even our God?

So I’m both amazed and wondering. And I’m delighting in the Schindler’s List soundtrack, which I highly recommend, no matter how you choose to get it.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to my “mission of God” series.

Topics: Musings |

13 Responses to “Amazed . . . and Wondering”

  1. Thomas Buck Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 4:29 am

    Yeah, Rev. Roberts, the instant gratification thing is a bit scary. I think that’s what leads people to sometimes take short-cuts they shouldn’t, like crime (sin).

    On the other hand, I’m also an avid iTunes user. I listen to a couple of Christian radio stations, and it’s often easy to find a great song that also has upbuilding lyrics or music quickly on iTunes or on-line mail order stores. So that may also be a spiritual advantage.

    Also, the selection of music is far broader than what we have in our local record outlets (all in large chain stores - our only dedicated music store in this town of 20,000 closed last year).

    Sometimes, buying a song on iTunes doesn’t work out too well, and I’ll buy the CD afterwards anyway. Apple often has to remove something from the tunes in order to make them easily downloadable. It usually works great, but sometimes the difference between the downloaded song and what I’ve heard on radio to too great to accept.

    I’ve been waiting for years for God’s help with certain vices of mine. At times, I become frustrated, but overall, I’m more hopeful than ever about God helping me with my problems (or those of folks around me). Perhaps the instant results society we live in is a detriment to patience, but so far, so good! I know the Lord loves me, even as a sinner.


  2. Buying Music the Old Way at Ray Fowler .org Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:07 am

    […] Roberts reflects on his blog about how easy it is today to find and purchase music from the comfort of your own home, as opposed to the “old way” of going out and buying it in a store. He has some good […]

  3. Jon Stallings Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:54 am

    Hi Robert,

    It seems to me the instant gratification desire has been around all along. Advances in technology (which I love) just happen to feed it. We often pray and want God to fix the mess we are in right now. However, God works on the time of eternity.

    Oh well, I guess I need to break down and finally by an MP3 player. Just how long does it take to listen to 7000 songs?

  4. Jon Stallings Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:56 am

    I meant buy an MP3 Player, not “by” That is what I get for blogging in the morning.

  5. Richard Zevnik Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 9:50 am

    It seems I’m swimming against the tide, but it also feels as tho’ I’m going in the right direction. In the Fall of 2000, in response to a congreational need, I began singing tenor in our church’s choir, with no prior choral experience, but with long distant past musical training. That led to rediscovery of the violin to which was added the viola. As part of the process, my purchases of jazz CDs dropped sharply, and choral titles increased (of all periods– from medieval, to Tudor, to Renaissance, to baroque and beyond). Due to these tastes, and due to the fact that essentially no retail stores stocked music of this kind, most of my purchases were from Musical Heritage Society, a “record” club not unlike Book of the Month Club in operation. Next, I added to the church choir participation in a local junior college chorale, in which I have now sung for the last four years. And, as of about six months ago, I have rediscovered my turntable, refurbished it with a new and better cartridge a belt, added a new tube pre-amp, and found how much better the sound of LPs is than CDs, especially for those forms of music recorded essentially direct, with no multitracking and mixing. The immediacy of the music is astounding; the depth and breadth of the soundstage compelling. No, you can’t go out and buy LPs anywhere (physically). There are websites where used LPs are sold (and a smattering of new old stock), but there’s no downloading. If you purchase something, there’s the antipation of waiting for it to arrive on your doorstep. There’s the unwrapping of the package, slipping the record out of its sleeve, placing it on the platter, cueing the tone arm, letting the cue lever down, and waiting for the click as the stylus settles into the lead-in groove. And then, the music happens.

    If I’ve tempted anyone, I recommend solo piano, and string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven for starters.

    Sorry, Mark, I’m not with you on this one.

  6. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Richard: Actually, you’re a great example of what gets me wondering. A good friend of mine, owner of tons of CDs, recently refurbished his turntable so he could enjoy his records once again. Your example suggests that there may be a better way, or at least another way we need to explore. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Instantaneous « Semper Reformanda ~ Always Reforming Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    […] Instantaneous 31 05 2007 Mark D. Roberts has a good blog post regarding iTunes specifically and technology in general.  He wonders if the efficiency and speed with which we glut ourselves everyday, whether we are aware of this glutting or not, can be so powerful that it influences the soul in one way or another.  Here’s a small chunk of his thought… I’m not big on delayed gratification. I want what I want, and I want it now. And when it comes to music, I can pretty much get what I want when I want it. Is this good? It’s surely pleasant and convenient. But is it good? Or is there something ennobling about having to wait, even to purchase a piece of music? (source) […]

  8. Blake Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    I still prefer to get a CD much better than getting something on iTunes. I can go to a used CD store and (if I’m lucky) find something I want for half the price of iTunes, AND I will have the CD to put on as many computers as I want, not to mention having the album art and insert. The only problem is, as you said, the waiting and the uncertainty of getting what you want.

  9. Blake Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Oh and also, the fidelity on a CD is better than the sound quality you get on iTunes. It’s almost imperceptible (without expensive speakers or headphones), but still CDs have better, higher fidelity sound.

  10. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    May 31st, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Blake: Yep. The older albums are pretty cheap on iTunes ($9.99). I also like getting the info on the CD enclosure (lyrics, etc.). Of course that isn’t necessary if the CD doesn’t have lyrics.

  11. Amazement at iTunes « Seeking Him Says:
    June 1st, 2007 at 10:39 am

    […] those who have an iPod, you may find this article interesting. Mark Roberts shares some thought-provoking words on the wonder, and danger, of iTunes. I thought he made some great points, and I love the example […]

  12. Slublog Says:
    June 1st, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    As an “instant gratification” sufferer myself, I can sympathize with your essay. I like iTunes quite a bit, because it allows me to purchase one song at a time rather than an entire album. This freedom has allowed me to discover a number of artists or new songs.

    Just today, I re-discovered Kendall Payne and downloaded a song from her new album, “Grown.” If you get a chance, listen to her song “Aslan.” It made me fall in love with the lion (and the Lion he’s based on) all over again.

  13. Rick Says:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 10:11 am

    One of the main reason I started our vegetable garden in the backyard 4 years ago was due to what I perceived to be the “onslaught” of technology. That and a concern that we were loosing an important practical skill.

    Of course I made heavy use of the internet to research gardening! ;-)


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