Some interesting pieces from a recent interview with Trent Reznor:
... I grew up in a little shitty town outside the range of college radio. I had FM radio, I had Rolling Stone, and later, I had a subscription to Village Voice, which seemed like it came from different world. That kind of cultural isolation made discovering music exciting. When I went to college in the early ’80s and discovered independent record shops, it was like, I’ve got so much catching up to do. I’d never heard of XTC, then I’d learn they had six albums for me to listen to. I’d never want to discredit the feelings of the 16-year-old who completely relates to Lorde, but there’s something to be said for not having the ability to just skip to the next song, not having endless playlists, not having unlimited choice, not having to choose music over video games and endless television and looking at mindless humblebragging someone is doing on social media about their awesome life. You used to actually have to decide to spend time with music rather than just idly picking it from a plethora of options.
... I’m not saying mine was a better era, but a lot of the music I ended up really loving was because I spent nine bucks on an album and that meant I had to listen to it and figure it out.
... I’m not saying there aren’t a million great things about streaming music. Being able to have access to every obscure Frank Zappa album is good; I was never going to hear a lot of them as a teenager, because I didn’t have the money to buy all 600 albums he put out. But I don’t think I’m being a crank if I suggest that maybe there’s some drawbacks to the all-access, all-free world we’re living in.
Again and again I come back to that interview with Nile Rodgers where he said much the same thing. When your choices are limited, you have to work that much harder on your own, and you gain from that in ways that aren't readily apparent. When your choices are plentiful, it's intoxicating, but it's also hard to tell what you're missing, because what you're missing isn't choices.
In my hometown there were three ways to feed a reading habit. There was a public library; a big, albeit independently run, bookstore; and a little tiny used bookstore. My schools also had good libraries — in fact, my high school apparently ended up with a copy of Naked Lunch in the stacks, and I made the most of it until a sharp-eyed teacher spotted it and yanked it from the collection. (Irony of ironies: I found another copy in the town library.)
My brother and I wrung the most from the little bookstore. They had a science fiction section that took up a good fifth of the store's (very awkwardly shaped) floorspace, with more eclectic choices than was available in the library. You could trade in any book for store credit, and everything was dirt cheap to begin with. When you only had a buck in your pocket to spend, or none at all, your choices were necessarily constrained.
I don't think the lesson to take away from this phenomenon, in all the forms I keep encountering it, is that fewer choices are better. I think the lesson is that without some equivalent to the discipline that comes from having fewer choices at the outset, we will founder. The question isn't, "How do we go back to those days of yore when everything seemed so simple?", but "How do we develop the same kind of discipline here and now, when we're surrounded by choice?"
Because let's face it, there is no going back. I don't want to go back to a time when the choices were few, far between, and mostly a matter of pot luck. I most definitely do want to live in an era where things that haven't been seen in decades are being restored to print or remastered in 4K. I just don't want to drown, or lose sight of land, and however we can learn not to drown or get lost will be worth it.
The excitement that comes from overcoming cultural isolation is legit. But it's not the only way to get legitimately excited about things.