Which would you rather listen to? Radio, or a CD? Sounds like an easy question, but it’s not. Like all questions of preference, nuance and reason are more important than answer.
Way back when the iPod Shuffle came out, some colleagues and I were trying to figure out who would buy them. No screen, limited space, limited controls. Five generations of iPod and they’re still around, as are any other number of cutrate mp3 players and digital audio devices. But who buys them?
It comes down to Albums versus Radio.
We figured that there’s an element of build-in serendipity with Shuffles and other screenless players that’s very like the radio. You hit play, it shuffles, and there’s something new every time. You hand over control to the machine and go from there.
Screened audio players have the same function, but we noticed it got used a lot less often. This is why we figured album people liked them – when you buy a CD, you get the track list, there are liner notes. You’re in control of what you hear and when, because you can navigate. It’s not a rejection of serendipity, but it is to an extent an exertion of control over a set medium.
Sort of an interesting correlation, I think. Lots of people make the choice to allow for more or less serendipity and surprise in their lives. Why should music be any exception to the rule?
Which do you figure you are? An album, or a radio person?