Now and then, I see one of those memes asking parents to name something from their youth that their kids wouldn’t recognize or understand. There are plenty of obvious answers to this, but one occurred to me recently as I listened to my kids ask Alexa to play various songs for them (many of them from the Descendants franchise).
The ability to ask for and instantly hear any of several million songs is something that I couldn’t do at my kids’ age. Indeed, to listen to music, I listened (mostly) to the radio. If there was a song that I really liked, waiting and waiting, hoping with each fade out that the next song (after the inevitable commercial break) would be the one that I was waiting for was my only real tool. I can remember daydreaming about the ability to listen to any song I wanted to, any time. The closest I came, as a kid, was by stalking the music like some game hunter sitting patiently in a blind, finger poised over the trigger of the “record” button on the radio/tape player I had, waiting for the desired song to play.
Even that was imperfect. Often, I was surprised and caught off-guard, and I’d cut off the first few bars of the song. Or, the D.J. would jabber into the first part of the song and so the recording would be corrupted by his banter. Even when I did manage to catch the song perfectly, it was often buried in the middle of a tape, and I’d have to hunt around for minutes trying to find it. So much better was record album in which I could simply drop a needle in the appropriate groove.
Now, none of that matters. It is not even quaint; it is an extinct activity. If I want to hear a song, I have only to ask for it to be played. I get a perfect digital version, far better quality that what the radio played, or what I managed to capture on tape. To my kids, the thought of stalking the music is inconceivable.
And yet, there is something of a letdown to the ability to hear a song whenever you want. Perhaps it is the spontaneity of the radio, or eager anticipation, but asking Alexa (or Siri) to play a song for me diminishes the experience in some small, intangible way. The exceptions prove the rule. Occasionally, there is a song that is not available from Apple Music, and when that happens, it seems, my need to hear the songs grows desperate. It is a rare throwback to the days I spent stalking the music with a radio and tape player.