“I changed the music industry for better and for always,” Aaron Sorkin’s Sean Parker says in “The Social Network.”
I remember when Napster came out. I had just gotten my first CD for my 10th birthday, and was more than happy to play my prized “Baby One More Time” album on my family’s old stereo. I don’t think I even had my first AOL screen name at that point, so the idea of file sharing was totally lost on me.
Times have changed. Little did I know that I would be among the last generation of teenyboppers to experience the thrill of owning one’s first CD, all because of a software that had seemed so foreign and unnecessary to me.
Younger generations have not necessarily been defined by the music they listen to, as has been the case in previous decades, — but rather by the way that they listen to that music. The digitization of music has created a totally new culture of listening. Instead of sitting around a record player, or even bopping around with a one-CD Walkman like I used to do, teens can have tens of thousands of sounds at their fingertips. A study by The Nielsen Company found that 39 percent of teens globally say MP3 players are their primary method of listening to music, with another 33 percent reporting that their home computers are their main source.
This ease of access has shifted consumption habits as well. The same Nielsen study reported that 45 percent of teens listen to five or more hours of music per week on their computer; 12 percent listen to 20 hours or more.
This is just with teens, and I would venture to say that we college students are just as guilty of such passive, mass consumption. Even as I write this column, I have my earbuds plugged in to one of my many Pandora stations; I barely notice when the music stops playing and the “Are you still listening?” button pops up. Because of this evolution, it makes it so much harder for there to be culture-defining chart toppers such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson or Madonna. Radio hasn’t disappeared altogether yet, but who is to say what the top 40 hits really are when our digital playlists — where we get most of our music — are being infiltrated by Rebecca Black and The Lonely Island.
With the book publishing industry taking an eerily similar route, the question of how this shift in consumption trends will affect literature remains. Digitization of books, unlike music, requires more than CD-ripping software, and it’s not as easy or convenient to read a book on your laptop as on an eReader. Publishers have been able to control the move toward digitization, whereas record labels might have to watch their bottom lines plummet.
They say that our generation barely reads and younger generations are even worse. But will this digitization do for books what it did for music? Is that necessarily a good thing?
I’m not sure that it’s even possible to passively consume a book the way that we now passively consume music, but there is certainly something to be said about the ease of access. I hate hardcover books and refuse to buy them — they’re heavy and they don’t stay open. Just like the convenience of my iPod wins over my clumsy Walkman and CD case that I used to bring on vacation, I would much rather read off of a light, simple device. Perhaps this ease of access would lead to me opening my books more often, be it while waiting for the subway, in the hall before class starts or during a commercial break.
But just like the YouTube sensations of the digitized music industry, there is now the possibility for self-published authors, and the range of quality has increased. So if we do see an increase of book consumption, will we be consuming the literary equivalent of a balanced diet with a healthy mix of classics, nonfiction and contemporary bestsellers — or will we rather develop a literary diet of Ramen noodles and Hot Pockets?
Marissa Amendolia is a senior in the College and a former editor-in-chief of The Hoya. She can be reached at [email protected]. BYTE THE BULLET appears every other Friday.