What is different is the technological cone of silence that now allows this generational separation to be even more complete, even more isolating than the Manhattan my father poured and the book he went off to another room to find every time I put Jesus Christ Superstar on the record player. At least he had an idea what I was listening to. In the time it took to walk away, he discovered what my music sounded like, and could then make the connection between things I was singing in a too-loud voice in the car and the new-vinyl collection that polluted his Edith Piaf and Barbra Streisand recordings.
That's over. Each generation now lives in a soundproof room consisting of these four walls:
- Ear buds. No more bookshelf speakers for the shared stereo in the living room. The music goes directly into the ear from whatever device. Sure headphones have been around since the '70s, but only in the iPod era of the last 10 years have they become the dominant way to listen.
- The device itself. Even for purchased files, the list is private. My father could see my records. The music my daughter has purchased is all on her iPod, removed from the view of the rest of the family.
- Streaming. Purchases of music have given way to ad-based or subscription services that make any music "collection" ephemeral. At the same time, streaming pushes us into personal listening habits, precluding the opportunity for shared experiences we might have found and making new styles our kids might like seem more and more unfamiliar and exotic.
- Social media. Twitter is the primary billboard for artists. A new song can spread in the time it takes to hit "retweet." But the network is pretty much exclusively friends and the younger you are, the more likely your friends are in the same age group as yourself.
Shut off Pandora for a minute (you know all the words anyway). Hear that? That is the silence of obsolete old age, my friend. Welcome to the nonlinear future of music, you hulking, vinyl-collecting, CD-hoarding, iTunes-purchasing dinosaur. You and all the music choices you take such pride in are in the process of being thrown overboard as the cutting bow of culture speeds on to the end of the decade.
You and I are history. And whatever the future sounds like, we won't know.
Unless . . . we do the unthinkable. You may be wondering how I came to know the artists I mentioned above, the ones not being played on the radio, not available on any list.
Simple. I asked my daughter.
P.S.: Anyone who got the "cone of silence" reference, thank you.
-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park, N.J.