On a recent work trip, I mentioned to my Uber driver, a gentleman named Tyrone who was a couple generations older than me, that I love vinyl. And that in fact, when I travel to a new city, I make sure to look up record stores and stop by at least one. It’s a great way to find the eclectic artsy parts of town that I love, and a great way to add to my collection. He turned to me and exclaimed “whatchu know about vinyl?” I’ve gotten used to this reaction, but actually it’s not unusual to find thirty-somethings like me at the record store. But why? Why now, in a world so chock full of devices where you can access every song ever written from the device in your pocket? Millennials (although technically I’m a “Xennial”) are famous for our addictions to technology that we are now passing along to our kids, so this trend seems counter-intuitive. I’m sure that’s why Tyrone was surprised by me!
I grew up with records. They remind me of cleaning the house with my mom when I was a kid. They make me think of venturing out to the Delmar Loop when I first got my driver’s license and was aching to get away from suburban life and seek refuge in Vintage Vinyl and Streetside Records. Technology was (and is) always in a hurry to improve upon itself though. Everything had to be smaller, faster, better, digital, and we all had to do our best to keep up. In my relatively brief life, I’ve seen records turn into 8 tracks, then cassettes, CD’s, mp3 players and now Spotify.
What does the medium (in this case, records) tell us about our media consumption? How does the medium change how we feel about the message? After all, I can download an album for free with my Spotify subscription, but I have to make it a point to seek out vinyl, and I can only play it at home.
If you’re a media literacy nerd like me you already know that Marshall McLuhan famously said “The medium is the message.” So what message does a record offer? When I play a record, I have an affective (i.e. emotional) response. It makes me feel nostalgic, and it makes my house feel like a home. I’ve shown many children the first record they’ve ever seen, and they get a kick out of the visceral feeling of physically changing the record. They’re proud of the music selection they’ve chosen. The images on the cover of the record come to life, and something about the record player and the crates themselves bring everyone together into the same room. It’s just so much more rewarding, so much more personal, than hitting a button on the phone. In short, it feels good to play a record.
Millennials and Xennials like me are also starting to buy up old typewriters and rotary phones from flea markets, and a new version of Polaroid cameras with REAL film are all the rage. So, maybe analog isn’t dead. Or maybe it was dead, but we’re making an effort as a generation to resurrect it. Because deep down, we miss and love those affective responses that we just don’t seem to be getting from likes and retweets.