Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Pleasure of the Tangible

No matter how smart we are, there are certain perceptual biases which affect us.  Something not being "real" makes us treat it in a more casual, flippant manner.

Casinos know this.  So they give you plastic chips to gamble with.  It has long been known that people gamble more recklessly with plastic chips than with real currency or coins.

It is also generally accepted that people are apt to spend more if they use plastic money: debit or credit cards.  Despite the convenience of these cards, many prefer to use cash.  They are, perhaps by experience, apprehensive that they will overspend with a card.

Taking a leap of thought, it occurred to me that I do not enjoy downloaded music or virtual books as much as I enjoyed playing a cassette tape or reading the musty, browned pages of a printed book.  My local library offers an almost unlimited selection of all the magazines delivered to my e-book-reader, but I have no interest.  I have more books than I can count in electronic form on my Kindle or on my computer, but they sit there, in their digital form, unread.

Any song or piece of music or film that we can think of is instantly available to us via the internet.  But I can't remember too many films, available via streaming, that I have enjoyed re-watching.  The streaming providers encourage you to "binge watch" instead of "depth watch": To watch something and to reflect on it and to discuss it.  No sir, just move on to the next episode.  Whereas I distinctly remember almost running to ruin the VHS tapes that we possessed during the non-internet years.

Of course one might be tempted to think that even books and recorded music must have felt "virtual" to those who were used to scrolls, hand-written texts, and only live music.  Is it just nostalgia, or is there something to the fact that the more easily accessible and "portable" something becomes, its artistic value becomes less in some far depth of our consciousness?  I don't think just calling someone Luddite settles it.

Can ease of access lead to a perceived diminution in value, and thereby a lowering of enjoyment?  I do think so.

Imagine you have been looking for a book.  It is out of print.  You find a used-books-store and are delighted at finding a 1967 print of that very book.  You snuggle in bed and lovingly turn each page, smelling the decades-old pages, enjoying the dated type of the letters, and taking care not to damage the binding as you turn the pages.

Compare that experience with the book being instantly delivered to your kindle.  You have it, and you will be mighty pleased to have it, but you have spent almost no effort in getting it into your hands.  If in future the books can be streamed directly to your brain, it will be even more convenient, and the actual content even less valued.

There are people who collect vinyl records to this day.  They say that the fidelity is better, but I think a deeper reason is the tangibility of it.  You show the large cover to your friends, you take out the big black disc and see and hear the pin of the player scratch its outer diameter as the music begins.

It is also true that in the age of CDs and cassettes, one listened to all the songs in an album, and not just a chart topper.  Not any more.  This is the age of the "single".  Who even knows the names of recently released albums anymore?  Everybody only knows the names of individual songs.

Consider a "digital" magazine or newspaper versus its print counterpart.  Can you not honestly say that no matter how nice the resolution of your tablet, there is a distinct pleasure of reading the broadsheet or turning the pages of the magazine and reading every little word on the page?

As more and more of our world gets mediated by the black mirrored devices, is it not true that the depth of engagement is lessening?  Of course there are other factors too.  Distraction, for example.  But that is also a consequence of the easy access.  There is too much available too easily for us to remain focused on something for a while.

As an experiment, browse to a web page or a news article and turn off the internet on your phone or computer.  Even though there are links on that page, you cannot navigate to them.  There is no choice - and in quite a few cases this lack of choice is a good thing - but for you to pay more attention to the content at hand.

This is even more true with a book or a cassette or vinyl record.  There is no easy way to "skip" to a different track when you are temporarily bored.  And so you listen to all the songs, turn by turn.

A core insight is: Depth of one's relationship with anything or anyone is contingent on there being periods of non-stimulation.  Or in other words, on Patience.  Convenience makes patience unnecessary, and that can also be a curse.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Human relationships are infinitely meaningful only when they are based on intangible Values like Mutual respect,honesty,peace and coexistence. The reservoir of these intangibles lies within so accessibility is not factor. This is why one's relationship with near kith and kin often lasts even after the person has died.

A material world is about the pursuit of the tangible.A tangible thing derives its value on how hard it is to obtain. Easy accessibility of the tangible leads to it's devaluation.

Basing human relationships on tangibles is called "objectification". It will of course lead to devaluation if accessibility becomes easy.