Coffee Shops, Vinyl and Killing the Instantaneous

Picture by Nadeem Rifai

By Ben Ingegneri

As a student, I am keenly aware of the intricate role that technology plays in the social life, productivity, and lifestyle of our generation. Despite my high admiration for technology, I can’t help but to sometimes feel bitter towards the paradox that it, especially connection technology, embodies. Cell phones are supposed to make it easier for people to connect. Though it seems at some level they are inhibiting people from not only connecting at a deeper level with each other, but also with the greater experience of life. By having instant access to all the information of the world by just saying “Hey Siri”, the innate child-like awe and admiration of life seems to be slipping sneakily out of our grip. What is so special about seeing the Eiffel Tower in person if I can just look it up on my phone? In other words, by witnessing the world through our technology, it is becoming harder to recognize and participate with the beauty of life that the seasons, nature, and culture exudes for humanity to enjoy.

For example, I walked into an adorable little coffee shop in Northampton, Ma a few months ago with my girlfriend. The setting was quaint, unique, and even offered a live musician. It was a perfect place for a couple to go on an Autumn evening to let the wind of the warm night work its innate conversational magic. My senses and my soul were wrapped in a seasonal ecstasy from the whirl wind of the quick plucking of the Spanish guitar and of the aromas of dark roast coffee. Yet in a sad and stark moment, I happened to notice something that separated me from the frenzy which my life participated in. On the opposite wall there were three booths filled with a couple each. Reader, I am not exaggerating when I tell you that all three couples were neither conversing nor looking at each other; back to back to back. Their heads were down. Their eyes were locked into their devices. Each couple was completely unengaged and ignorant of the rather romantic Fall ambiance that was swirling around them trying to penetrate their human experience.

Despite this disheartening representation of how technology has the ability to kill our awareness of life’s beauty, I also really believe it has the power to engage and connect us with life’s beauty as well. In fact, I’m beginning to see a lot of our generation successfully escape the prison that cell phones can so sneakily lock us into. Somewhere inside of the human there is a voice yelling “Something feels wrong. Something is missing. I long for more of an experience than the digital one I am getting now.” While walking around campus, I see the voice’s response to its cry. I see the response in a small box sitting on top of people’s dressers. As I watch a hypnotic spinning wheel releasing its melodies from its thin walls, I feel hope that I am not alone in longing to connect more deeply with life.

There has been an unprecedented reemergence of an unobtrusive old technology that doesn’t inhibit a person from engaging with life, but instead encourages it. Listening to vinyl on a turntable is experiencing the art form of music as it was originally intended. It is an experience of music that involves patience, and demands the listener to strip himself of the instantaneous gratification that Spotify playlists provide.

There is more to music than just the listening of it. With an album, music can be touched, felt, held, and seen. The album is an entire package of carefully selected visual and musical art created from the imagination and emotions of an artist.  When the listener holds an album, admires the artwork, and carefully places the needle on top the turn table to hear the highly anticipated album, the listener becomes involved in the activity of listening. This engagement offers an extreme satisfaction that can never be matched with the tapping of a symbol on a screen to preview a song. With the cultivation of this old art form, our generation is holding on desperately to a near extinct experience of engagement that the modern world rarely pays tribute too.

Ultimately it is my hope that by experiencing the sacred engagement that the old music form cultivates, listeners will then look for activities in other nooks and crannies in life that reflects the same non-instant nourishment. (Polaroid Cameras? Buying books at a book store? Cooking a meal rather than warming up an Annies Mac n’ Cheese?) And because of the reemergence of vinyl, I have faith that our future has the chance to move out of the instantaneous life and back into the deeper experience that was here and perhaps forgotten in the midst of the technological revolution. With iPhones and iPads, iTunes and Spotify playlists, Kindles and microwaves, humanity got a taste of something  instantaneously great. But thank you Humanity for making vinyl hip again so that we now have the opportunity to experience life a little deeper.

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