Unlike an increasing number of people, I don’t subscribe to any streaming music services. I’ve tried them from time to time, but the idea of paying for music I don’t get to keep does not appeal to me in the slightest. If I wanted to be a freeloader and listen to ads between songs, I’d just tune in to any streaming terrestrial radio station I can get online. It’s going to sound better than turning on any of the crappy AM/FM radios around me. Still, so many people I know, passionate music lovers, are streaming for most of their music listening. Buying albums (even digital albums) is feeling somewhat anacronistic.
Talk of shitty streaming royalties aside, it’s that streaming doesn’t fit with my music consumption habits. I’m the sort of music fan who, nine times out of ten, would prefer to listen to an album in full, rather than just disparate songs. While you can listen to full albums with many streaming services, it’s clear that they’re geared more for a casual, radio-like method of music consumption. I’d rather spend time in iTunes, making sure I have the right albums on my phone than burn through a data plan, or hog the wifi at the office. Besides, streaming doesn’t help me when I’m on the subway and can’t get a signal anyway. Sure, you could download stuff if you think to do it ahead of time, but it’s a kludge.
Ownership of my music library, is important to me. It gives me control. Even the digital files that comprise the vast, and growing, majority of my music collection are my files. Apple can’t take away all the music I’ve bought, at least not since dropping DRM for music in 2009. I could still lose my files in a hard drive crash, fire, or other disaster, but they’re no more fragile than LPs or CDs. They’re certainly less fragile than cassette tapes. And I back up my digital music library religiously. I’d probably save money, since I’ve been known to buy anywhere from $20 to $50 worth of iTunes music per month, but I feel like I’d get less for my money.
What are people seeing that I’m not? I’ve discussed the issue with Andrew Marvin on multiple episodes of Crush On Radio. For him, streaming is convenient and a great way to discover new music. I’ve already outlined how the convenience of streaming is inconvenient for me, but discovery is an interesting problem. I tend to find new music through either seeing bands open at shows, browsing music review sites, or hearing about it directly from friends. Streaming might make life easier.
Problem is, when I last experimented with streaming music, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the discovery aspect. This was because discovering new music relied on using streaming like a radio station or jukebox, and not in the album-oriented way I listen to music. A streaming service could be a good backup for when I’m bored of what’s on my phone, or interested in dipping my toe into a new artist without putting out the cost of an album. I just don’t see that happening terribly often, and if I was going to stream with this use case in mind, iTunes Radio would be all I need.
I’m certain that I’m an outlier in how I get my music. Streaming music services fit the consumption patterns of the majority. That’s their strength, but their weaknesses overlap neatly with how I choose to listen to music. I’ll stick with paying $9.99 or so for albums of digital files, scrounging through the stacks at used record stores, and spending hours rebuilding the playlists on my iPhone so I have a regular selection of fresh music and evergreen favorites to choose from when I need something to listen to. So be it. The kids can have their streams, just keep them off my lawn.
Though I’m a man, I can’t say I’m a fan of the push towards some modern idealized sense of “manliness.” Part of this is that “manliness” often both a parody of itself and a new form of consumerism. What irks me most about the new masculinity movement, however, s the prominent undercurrent of regression that flows just under its surface. For every article about how to properly dress and shave, how to take up manly hobbies, or learn to be a better father or husband, there’s a forum posting about wanting women to take up equally “traditional” roles as homemaker and sex object, being afraid of gays and transmen, or espousing political views just to the right of the John Birch Society.
Far be it for me to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s still a lot of good, practical advice on places like The Art of Manliness, and the most public of these manliness guides tend to keep the seedier aspects of the movement quiet. I’m sure there’s plenty of people, even a majority, who are looking back to traditional manhood for answers of how to handle the modern era without getting sucked up in the regressive aspects, but those regressive ones are the turd in the punchbowl. This is a large part of the reason why I’m more interest in defining myself not as a “man,” but as an adult.
Adulthood is learning how to be in the world and of the world, to take care of yourself and those close to you, and to deal with adversity in constructive ways. It’s about both self-reliance, and knowing when you’re in over your head and to ask for help. Its learning how to accept uncertainty. You can find a lot of stuff about this on manliness websites and communities, but these aren’t concepts that are exclusive to any gender. They’re what we should have learned in school, or from our parents. Maybe we were taught them, but we didn’t listen. It’s certainly not an excuse to hurt others, and act like we’re the rulers of the world simply because we have a Y chromosome.
Adulthood isn’t something you can fake by buying nice shoes, putting on a pocket square, and getting your hair cut by a fancy barber for $50. That’s half the problem. This may be why those great resources for being an adult often get wrapped up in some larger, more marketable concept that can be used to sell swag. Productivity stuff often falls into the same trap.
Few of the positive aspects of the manliness movement, if there is such a thing, are inherently masculine. Self-reliance, faith, responsibility, building healthy relationships—romantic and otherwise—are not just for men, nor have they ever been. Adulthood as a concept isn’t wound up in as much nonsense over gender, chromosomes, and what hangs (or doesn’t) between your thighs. Signifiers of gender are meaningless when it comes to defining the kind of person we want to be. Your fitness as a mate, as a parent, as an employee or businessperson, as an artist or craftsperson, none of these come from biological sex or socially defined gender. Tying up these things in gender only makes it harder for people who don’t fit those narrow molds. I’d rather be inclusive in how I choose to better myself. The more people we let in, the more support we all get.
I get an hour for lunch every day at work. That’s more than enough time to walk to one of the many inexpensive lunch places on 7th Avenue, eat in comfort, and take a walk around Chelsea. On a good day, I’ll even get over to Madison Square Park, by the Flatiron Building. It’s important to me to get out and walk around in the middle of the day. It clears my mind of all the stuff I have to do when I’m at my desk. It recharges, provides essential Vitamin D on sunny days, and helps undo the damage I’m doing to my body from sitting for hours on end. I usually do it right in the middle of my 9 to 5 work day.
Lunch is the fulcrum I balance my morning and afternoon work on. A low-tech dividing line (save for my iPhone and Kindle) between hours of HTML, Excel, and reams of emails. It’s easy to establish that sort of dividing line in my work life, mostly because I work a corporate stooge job. Trying to find a balance in my personal life between the things I want to get done, the things I need to get done, and the things I’d rather do (like aimlessly click around Reddit) is trickier. It’s why I hate working from home. The mental shift of being in a different space is enough to mostly silence my distraction-craving lizard brain that keeps me hitting ⌘-Tab every few minutes.
I recently read Ben Hammersley’s Approaching the Future: 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then. I enjoyed it, though it rehashed things I already knew. The last two chapters are the most important: “Just Enough Digital,” and “The Zen of Digital Living.” Both are about the movement among Old School Internet Users to do things in meatspace, establish limits to where and when they’re connected, and find a balance between digital and real life.
Speaking as a member of the second Internet generation, the one that missed out on BBSes and newsgroups, but was there for the late Wild West of the Web, I’ve hit the point where I need to learn how to do the same thing. My (slightly less than) three week social media sabbatical was meant to be part of that process. By spending time away from the stream of “other people’s moments,” I hoped that I could make some of my own. It didn’t work out, unless you count playing SimCity 4 and goofing off on the non-social web as “making moments.” I didn’t even get any good reading done. I didn’t break my dependence, I merely switched from one glowing teat to another. The idea was right, the motivation pure, but I stumbled on the execution.
Finding a balance doesn’t come unplugging from the ’net, or even just getting away from your desk for an hour. It comes from finding your own limits, and your own weaknesses. These are going to be different for everyone. If you’re distractible enough that you can’t get any sustained writing done unless you’re doing it longhand, or on a typewriter, go do that. If you work online, but are constantly tempted by pleasure surfing, install a blocker. And when any of these stop working, notice it, and find a way to fix it—or yourself. We’re only slaves to our technology if we let ourselves be.
It seems like yesterday when I wrote about the passing of Alan Myers, DEVO’s Human Metronome, though it was only eight months ago. Alan’s passing was a shock, but it paled in comparison to the news that broke last week. Bob Casale, better known as “Bob 2,” suddenly died from heart failure. In many ways, Bob 2 is often the forgotten member of the band. He’s not the face of the band like Mark, or the mouthpiece like his brother Jerry. He doesn’t get the spotlight like lead guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh (Bob 1). Yet, he was integral to the DEVO sound, whether creating the iconic, geometric riff to DEVO’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” providing the synth textures in DEVO’s electronic-focused songs, or his occasional vocal roles.
Ten years ago this summer will be my anniversary of seeing DEVO in concert for the first time. I considered it to be a lucky break, then—my favorite band on a rare reunion show. Even as old men, they put on a better show than most bands I’d seen before or since, and they only got better with each subsequent show. I saw DEVO six times in all, six more times than I ever expected. At the last two shows: a complete performance of their 1980 album Freedom of Choice, and a show to promote their new album Something for Everybody, Bob 2 had a chance to take the spotlight. In the former show, he delivered the blistering vocal bridge to “Mr. B’s Ballroom,” and in the latter, a solo line in the new song “What We Do.” Each moment was a highlight of the show, but there are more wonderful moments: Bob bouncing in time to Jerry’s bass opening to “Mongoloid,” his speedy switch from keys to guitar in a performance of “Shrivel-Up,” the key change at the end of “Going Under…”
I met Bob 2 briefly after a show in New York City, sheepishly handing him my copy of In The Beginning Was The End, the bizarre pseudoscientific book that was an early influence on DEVO. He was surprised. “Oh, wow! You have the book,” he said, taking my Sharpie and signing an understated “Bob 2” on the reflective cover. On the inside, his brother and his bandmates had each signed their names years before. After he signed, I took the book back, shook his hand, and walked away star-struck to wrap the book back up and put it in my backpack. It’s sitting in a box, in storage, with a scrap of yellow suit from Bob 2’s pant leg that I got ahold of at my second ever DEVO show in 2005.
Though I was at work on that terrible Tuesday, my mind was not. I spent most of the day listening to the DEVO discography, and commiserating with other DEVO fans in various places online. In August, there are plans for a DEVO fan convention in Cleveland, the first one since 2010. I attended in 2008, but in 2009, the organizers brought out Bob 2, who not only did a Q/A session, but was gracious enough to cook lunch for a small army of DEVO fans. How many members of how many bands would cook for their fans?
Jerry mentioned in Bob’s LA Times obituary that DEVO was planning a 40th anniversary Summer tour, performing songs from what fans call the “Hardcore” era, songs written from 1974 to 1977, before DEVO had a record contract. There were other things happening under the DEVO banner too, but all of that might be over now. I’ve lost a hero, a key part of my favorite band, the band that changed my life. More importantly, Mark and Bob 1 have lost a friend and a band-mate. Jerry lost a brother. And all this loss has come too soon. I’m still trying to process it.
Not long after I bought my first iPad, I decided to hand down my much-loved Kindle Keyboard to my girlfriend. The iPad became my book reader of choice. And why not? It has a sharper and easier to read screen. I could read PDFs and ePubs in iBooks, as well as my Kindle books with Amazon’s app. I could also read with Instapaper, and Flipboard, and even read comics! The screen is backlit, so I can even read in the dark. What did I need this Kindle for, anyway?
It didn’t last. The iPad I have is just too bulky to whip out on the subway and read with, so I often used my iPhone. (This had its own set of problems.) I often read in the evenings at home, and the bright blue light of the iPad, even with all my reading apps in white-on-black, was probably messing with my sleep from reading before bed. The amount of reading I did on my iPad, and elsewhere, reduced to a trickle. Instapaper articles piled up, eBooks I bought sat unread, and my brain atrophied just a little. I knew I had to get back into reading, and pronto.
And I love it. It solves all the problems I had with the Kindle Keyboard, and is a far better reading experience than my chunky (yet, beloved) iPad 3. E-Ink displays have generally been extremely readable, but usually on par with newsprint, not real books. The Paperwhite has a 200+ dpi display, which—while no Retina Display—is at least as sharp as a well-printed paper book. Swiping to change pages is much more comfortable than tapping narrow edge buttons, too. The Kindle Paperwhite’s front lighting is great in dark rooms, though I’m not sure if the blue tint will still be great for my sleep. Either way, I keep it turned way down from its default setting, even in the brightest rooms. Finally, the smaller size means it fits neatly in my pants pocket, so I have no excuse not to carry it around with me. 
The iPad still has a role in my life. It’s my portable writing machine, my comic reader, my preferred way to use OmniFocus, and much more. However, for a pure reading experience, it just doesn’t hold up. Sure, an iPad Air or iPad mini would fix the portability issues, but they’re much pricier and still glow in my face at night. I’ve often maintained that I’d prefer something several things that do one thing well to one multi-function device that does a bunch of things poorly. The Kindle can do a bunch of things: browse the web, play rudimentary games, edit some text, but it does these all so poorly that it may as well be a single-purpose device. And I’m glad for it.