Dec 10

The double-edged sword of simplicity

At an early age, I came to believe that the necessities of life included food, a place to sleep and a massive wall of stereo equipment.

Certainly the old me would be appalled to see what the new me has turned into. I still love music. But that wall of equipment has vanished, replaced by a tiny stereo box that pulls music from my iTunes library. Pretty cool, but not exactly audiophile-grade.

I’m not fooling myself. I totally get that I’ve taken a step back in power and quality. It just makes things simpler.

It’s not like I haven’t seen friends and associates evolve in the same way. A great many are sacrificing some of those traditional indulgences in favor of simplicity — and they’ve never been happier.

It’s a trend that reaches well beyond music. According to a story in The New York Times last week, more and more people are leaving their point-and-shoot cameras at home because it’s just so much easier to carry a single device — a smartphone. They totally get that their photos aren’t as good. It’s a conscious choice. Simplicity matters.

Technically, these people are taking two steps backward. The point-and-shoot camera had already weaned us off the quality of a real camera (SLR). Such is the power of convenience.

So. Is our society going down the sewer? Are we lowering our standards and settling for second-best just because it’s easier? Will our standards continue to crumble? Will high-quality music and photography now go the way of vinyl?

Well, let’s face it. Most people were never really connoisseurs in the first place. They’ve always chosen the cheaper, easier way. For a great many people, what’s simpler today is actually elevating standards and adding a new dimension of fun to their life. For those who are truly sacrificing quality, most are making a conscious decision to simplify their lives in one way so they can improve their lives in other ways — allocating time and money toward more important things.

So I hesitate to forecast mankind’s doom as a result of this trend. People aren’t so much trading power for simplicity as they are validating the fact that there is power in simplicity.

Which is why those who design for this basic human instinct will always come out on top.

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  • One listen to Dark Side Of The Moon in 5.1 surround (not to mention Genesis, Queen, the Beatles’ Love, Dire Straits, etc.) will convince you to trash that boom box and get a decent audio system!

  • arw

    If you ever have a chance to hear a pressing of Dark Side of the Moon in UHQR vinyl (stereo) on a truly audiophile quality system, you will understand why old school remains the benchmark.

  • Let stay in the music thing. I’ve been working in recording studios, and I know what a great sound system sounds like.

    Sadly, in the name of simplicity, I don’t buy music anymore, I just stream it from the web, listen to it on my iPhone with basic headphones. I know the quality is bad, but music has never been so accessible in that way. And I love to discover new artists every day.

    People left vinyl for CD, then for MP3, it’s always been worse in terms of quality, but easier in terms of consumption.

    On a good note, good music will always sound good and bring us all kinds of emotions, whether it’s mono, stereo, over-compressed, whatever its quality.

  • ken segall

    Thanks for mentioning the vinyl-to-CD-to-MP3 thing, because I didn’t think to mention that in the post. We’ve definitely been lowering our standards in music quality for some time. I was also glad to see your comment because you are a perfect example of what I was talking about — someone who truly knows great music, but accepts the lower quality because you gain so much in other ways. In your case, accessibility to new music. We all make the decision based on personal priorities. It took me a while to get over the hump, but I’m glad I did.

    @Scott &@arw:
    Confession: When I need that spine-chilling music experience, I sneak off into the headphones! Long live the Dark Side.

  • AdamC

    Kind of wonder why people are shelling out close to a thousand for great headphones….

    So much for the simplicity argument…

    Or they are just plain stupid.

    And let’s not go into SLR vs point and shoot.

  • Taxi

    The reason I went back to Mac after many years in the Linux hinterlands was because one day – a day I had set aside especially – I sat down to teach myself music notation. But instead, I spent the entire day compiling Linux kernels to try to get the software working. It never worked.

    I was a C systems programmer at the time, but on that day what I really wanted was to play with music, not operating system kernels. I clearly remember that it was the last day of my infatuation with Tux.

    There comes a time when the burden of all the technology starts to detract from the enjoyment of its purpose. For some people the technology is all that matters – but for the rest of us, we get our enjoyment from our pursuits, not from the devices that mediate them.

  • Amen!

    Miss the huge speakers with the best sound…

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