With the end of a decade comes the flood of lists – best movies, best CDs, biggest changes of the decade, man and women of the decade. etc. Pundits are racing to label this first decade of the 21st century – depending on whether you are a glass half empty person or glass half full, you could say that this has been the decade (00) of the ‘naughts’ or the ‘oughts’ (as in ‘ought 5’, ‘ought 6’). While those who have read my musings both here and elsewhere would say that I lean toward the cynic repose, I will say that the past 10 years deserve to be seen as the decade of the ‘ought’: whether framed by the stunning political upheavals in the Presidential race with the election of Barak Obama – a relative unknown at the beginning of the new century who sits in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as Commander and Chief today, or the economic upheavals of the end of this decade where people are scrambling to make sense of a consumer culture without the means to sustain consumerism resulting in not only a loss of jobs, homes, and lifestyle – but a serious crisis of identity as well (“if I can’t spend… who am I?”). One of the greatest shifts of this decade has been the full-on embrace of what has been termed as “The Long Tail” phenomena. The term was framed in the middle of the decade by Chris Anderson, an editor at Wired magazine, who essentially argued that where much of consumer choice was framed by access to goods found in traditional ‘brick and mortar’ shops which were limited to inventory and therefore shops were driven only to stock items that were deemed the most popular and generally appealing – the ‘oughts’ have fully realized the shift to online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes and as such have essentially endless ‘shelf space’ (a phrase that will quaint to my children in the years to come). Anderson puts it this way in his 2004 Wired article cited above:
You can find everything out there on the Long Tail. There’s the back catalog, older albums still fondly remembered by longtime fans or rediscovered by new ones. There are live tracks, B-sides, remixes, even (gasp) covers. There are niches by the thousands, genre within genre within genre: Imagine an entire Tower Records devoted to ’80s hair bands or ambient dub. There are foreign bands, once priced out of reach in the Import aisle, and obscure bands on even more obscure labels, many of which don’t have the distribution clout to get into Tower [Records] at all.
There is perhaps no greater example of this revolution in economics and seismic lifestyle shift during the ‘oughts’ than the rise of the iPod and iPhone driven by iTunes. Akin to the Facebook explosion where people began reconnecting with people they barely spoke to in high school and now share status update quips with on a daily basis, now with the advent of the digital music player, the ubiquity of laptops and now netbooks, and the move away from server mentality to ‘cloud computing‘, the flow of music and video is no longer restricted by shelf space at the corner Tower Records (R.I.P) or big box Walmart. While iTunes still operates on a purchase model – you buy the 99 cent download and therefore ‘own’ the song on your music device – services like Zune and Rhapsody have a pure ‘cloud’ model where you merely pay a subscription to their library and while you never ‘own’ the music you are listening to, you can listen to it as long as you wish and trade it out when Lady GaGa (who I have to admit frames the mantra of the ‘oughts’ – “I want your everything as long as its free” – in her zeitgeisty song/video “Bad Romance” which will stick in your head for days… so just be warned before listening/viewing 🙂 gets irritating or simply embarrassing to have on your playlist.
What this essentially signals is the end of the CD era as we turn the page on this decade in a matter of weeks and rush face first into 2010. Having lived thus far through rise and fall (and rising again) of various media delivery modes – whether it be vinyl, 8 track, cassette, CD and now digital download and streaming – what is apparent as we enter the next decade is that while we will continue to listen to music, it will be with our head in the proverbial and yet very real ‘cloud’ as much as with our feet on the dance floor.
Stay tuned – Theology Kung Fu will be posting our ‘oughts’ wrap up posting in a couple days…
As the year ended in 2008, I posted my top 8 CDs for the year here on Theology Kung Fu – a list not so much of ‘new music’ but music that was certainly new to me or at least renewed to me via the growing use of digital media. This is what , predicted in his theory called ‘The Long Tail’