In the mid-nineties I sold my records and turntable at a garage sale for a pittance. I wanted them gone. The record collection was large and heavy and I had almost all of the albums on CDs. The turntable hadn't been hooked up for years. The records were in a closet. I sold them knowing we would be moving soon and not wanting to have to pack them in a truck.
The CDs made it easy to let go of the records. The turntable had been a Christmas present from Mom and Dad and the records had come from Spectrum Records and Desert Shore as well as Record Theater and all the crappy mall shops, so I was a bit reluctant but not much. I missed the album art and lyric sheets but traded for ease of play, quality of signal, and reduction of noise. I was happy to never hear crackle and pop.
I moved from analog to digital in a big way and kept going as Napster was born (a gift from the gods) and then died (at the damned hands of Metallica). I ripped my CDs and uploaded them to iTunes. Around then I gave CDs to the library's annual sale. They were taking up space and I hardly ever pulled them down. I hadn't ever loved CDs and so it was easy to let them go.
This all seemed like an upgrade, but while music was available to me anywhere, my interest was diminished. I still loved music, played it all the time, but I enjoyed it less. There were problems, the was finding something to listen to.
A record or CD collection is a delight to browse. I get a bang out of flipping through records or running my eyes across a shelf of CDs. At friends' houses, I look at their books, CDs, and records. It helps me feel close to the person. Hey, look, they listen to Steely Dan too. More and more I get to do this less and less because none of us have these things on shelves.
On the computer and phone I have access to almost every song I could wish to hear, but it's tough to choose. Making a choice out of such a large pool is difficult, but there's just no good way to browse. I can display my music by artist, genre, album, song, or number of plays, but looking at a screen isn't natural or even pleasant. There's no there there. I usually give up and just play what I listened to yesterday.
This bothered me from Napster through iTunes and Google Play Music. No one is interested in making browsing work. It's not part of digital living. The music is arranged for the machine not the listener. I have to know what I want to hear or let the machine pick. It's a bad situation. Still, I've been willing to put up with it because I thought it was just me, that I was the problem. That and the music was so clear, plentiful, and inexpensive I figured there was no point in arguing. This had to be better than records, right?
Damon Krukowski, in The New Analog, talks about signal and noise. Digital media is pure signal without noise. As a kid I wanted better and better equipment to reduce noise and boost signal. The greatest thing about CDs was the absolute lack of noise. It didn't matter if the sound was colder or whatever complaints audiophiles had. I was grateful not to hear a crackle or a pop. Noise was an enemy and if I had to sacrifice browsing to beat it, I was happy to give up records.
It turns out that noise is more than crackle and pop. The digital stream the bad noise as well as the noise of album covers, personnel, liner notes, and so on. It takes away the noise of physical media on the shelf and the noise of shopping for music in a store. It strips away the noise of the friend who went with me to the record store and the person there who said, "you should hear this" before playing something cool. The digital stream is pure signal compressed for earbuds. I miss the noise. Even the crackle and pop.
David Sax, author of The Revenge Of Analog, put it this way:
They lost the noise and signal alone turns out to be less than enough.
I didn't know how much I wanted back into music, signal and noise, until a friend invited me to a vinyl party. He said, "bring an album and play a song for us." Not having a record, I went shopping for one with the friend who had been with me for most of my music shopping over decades. Searching for an album was a revolutionary experience: I came home with a record and an understanding of all I was missing in my music life. It all became clear.
This should have happened sooner. It took only six months to realize my Kindle was garbage. I couldn't use it on the plane until after take off. I had to buy books instead of using the library. No one knew what I was reading so they didn't talk with me about it. I didn't even know what I was reading because I never saw the cover. I couldn't tell how far into the book I was. It didn't fit in my hand how a book does. And I loved how books looked on our shelves. I gave the Kindle away and kept the books.
Last year, after the party, I bought a turntable and began buying records. There are over a hundred on the shelf now. The last few days I've listened to over a dozen records, some with more crackle and pop than others, all picked from the shelf, set on the platter, and spun at 33-1/3 rpm. I have reunited the signal and noise. I have begun to amass the bulk that I shed. I have found, once again, the interest in music I had as a kid. And the happiness too.