Friday, September 30, 2011

Is Instantaneous Access to Information Good?

Find the needle in this haystack.
I was driving my “almost five” year old daughter (her words) to school the other day and she asked me to play “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. My first reaction was my daughter is pretty cool.  My second reaction was absolutely – I can do this for you because I have instant access to most everything.  So, I was able to find and play that song on my phone thanks to Spotify and this is a great luxury, right? It probably is. Well, I started to think more about what happened and remembered a time, not that long ago, when I had to wait until an album was officially released before I could get my hands on it. The bike ride to the record store was exhilarating! I miss that anticipation today. Now, I can listen to albums BEFORE they are even officially released thanks to leaks and so forth. For the record, I usually don’t listen to leaked albums from artists I highly respect because I want to listen to it on their terms. Again, that eager anticipation is a strong feeling for me and I wonder if that feeling will be lost with our growing expectancies to have instant access to music, books, film, and other content.  If so, does it matter?

We all know that finding a needle in a haystack can be challenging. In fact, it is probably unlikely that you’ll find the needle unless you have a strong magnet or some special needle-finding tool. Today, it seems that we have very strong magnets to help us, but we are finding thousands of needles. So, I wonder if we have too much content (i.e., music, books, film etc.) instantly accessible to us. Will we become less interested in discovering new content if everything we find isn’t extraordinary? Will the ordinary stuff be ignored? Plus, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, so we may want to throw that magnet away.  Should you throw away your magnet?

Just recently, Tzadik’s collection was removed from Spotify. My instantaneous access to this incredible music catalog is now lost and I need to search for it and acquire it again. For this week at least, MOG has the Tzadik collection and I can rebuild it from scratch. I hope MOG doesn’t lose this collection, but I’ll have to wait and see. So, I have a great collection started at Spotify and I don’t really want to start over, but I probably will. I own close to 2,000 CDs, but they aren’t convenient for me anymore. I’ve slowly started to digitize the ones that won’t be in Spotify and/or within other music services and have donated the others because I can stream any one of them instantly to any device whenever I feel the urge to do so. I am spoiled and get upset when I don’t have instant access to everything. Is this okay?

Most content that we have instant access to never sees the light of day, so is it important to even try to provide consumers with all this stuff? As Bob Lefsetz says regarding music, “it's so hard to find greatness amidst the cacophony” and I can see libraries suffering from this too unless we help to curate our content and give our users multiple opportunities to create something useful with it.

My daughter will grow up not having to wait for anything – digital at least. Sure, if she needs quick medical or safety information and can get it within seconds then that is a good thing, but is it good for everything else? I think it is wonderful that technology is providing us with this luxury, but I wonder if it will cheapen the value of the content and/or if we’ll get so spoiled and lazy that much of this content will get lost amidst the cacophony. I hope not. I hope humanity becomes more intelligent because of the torrent of information instantly accessible to us. We’ll see.  What do you think? Does it matter?


  1. Anonymous5:30 PM

    I agree with you on the spoiled/lazy aspect because we're so used to the immediacy that, if we cannot get the information now, our brains seem more likely to race to some other more important (easier?) priority. Like whatever it was we were interested in or searching for isn't worth any more of our "valuable time." I think this tendency is almost certainly affecting our individual perceptions of what "valuable time" actually is. There used to be (hold for nostalgic moment) a certain savoring of the journey when it came to seeking, and a delight or even triumph in actual discovery. But now if we don't have it in seconds or minutes, it's on to the next thing. Personally, I am trying to check myself when it comes to this. I ask myself (when faced with the necessity of searching longer or waiting), how important is this to me? I remind myself that patience is important and can reap some of the best rewards. I think of the many people throughout history who have achieved or discovered things (writers, artists, musicians). They really knew their subjects inside and out due to curiosity, passion, perseverance and patience. People will always have curiosity and passion because they are timeless, but technological advancement, as incredible as it is, has also diminished our willingness to persevere as well as exercise patience. I do think this affects what people actually create because the creator (author, musician, artist, etc.) is acutely aware that your attention must be grabbed immediately or else it will be lost to another soundbyte, mp3, text message, email notification, IM, etc. So how can content not be affected? How many people will even get past the clincher or the first few seconds of play time? I do hope people become more intelligent as well, but I think our distractability (not only that we're easily distracted but that we're perfectly willing to be) due to information being fired at us all day long (and we naturally feel obliged to fire back), makes many people consider actual mental effort tiresome and unnecessary. It's "easier" to just move on to the next thing. Hopefully, people will be able to moderate all the distractions so that they can use the seemingly limitless access to information to delve into what they are passionate and curious about.


  2. Anonymous6:20 PM

    I was just sent (and actually just blogged about) a great article by Neal Gabler in the NYTimes on this thought about greatness amidst the cacaphony. He discusses information vs. ideas, and writes that before the world of Twitter and Fcebook, "We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas." This idea of apprehending information is so interesting.

  3. Thanks for commenting and I look forward to reading your post (

  4. Thanks to you too Barb!

  5. Well, the Tzadik collection is no longer available via MOG. Less than 3 months after Spotify did it! I think it is so lame that content can be removed from playlists etc. without any notification. Do they think we won't notice? Please consider voting to bring back the Tzadik collection on MOG.

  6. I should add that I own over 100 albums from Tzadik on CD, but loved the convenience of having access to them via streaming. I guess since most subscription services can't negotiate with some indie labels, that it is time to digitize the essential recordings and upload them to the "cloud."