Nearly all of my friends and colleagues differ with me on a certain opinion. And it’s rather shocking to me that they could all be wrong, but clearly, that is where the evidence points. You see, I like to listen to music only sometimes (and even then, only music of my choosing). Almost everyone else I know likes to listen to music all the time, and more often than not, they prefer that music to be relatively random (at least within a genre).
I was thinking about this because some of the folks I follow on Twitter were recently discussing big discounts on Sonos gear, the appeal of which baffles me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sonos, it’s a system of gadgets, including wireless speakers and streaming boxes, that enables you to play any sort of music in any room of your house, all controlled with an app on your smartphone or tablet. You can either play audio you own or stream music from subscription services such as Pandora and Spotify.
Technologically speaking, that’s all quite nifty, but it’s a solution to a problem I don’t have. I don’t assume that music should always be playing, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, so I’m not impressed by tools that make it easier to have music everywhere.
I never developed a habit of listening to the radio (or canned music) all the time, or even just in specific environments (such as the car). That’s because I’m normally in either of two modes: thinking or talking. Either way, music is usually a distraction.
At home, I’m either working or spending time with my family; both of these are activities that require most of my attention. When I’m driving alone, I usually prefer silence, except on long, tedious road trips. Sometimes I’ll turn on the radio to listen to traffic reports, but that’s about it. When other people are in the car, I usually want to talk to them. And when I go for a walk, I nearly always want to think, and music would interfere with that.
By contrast, my friends seem to live in a world where constant music is a given. There will always be music playing, whether on a stereo or through headphones or via wireless speakers. Turn on the car, the radio goes on automatically. Walk in any room of the house, music is streaming. Go out for a walk, and music is playing through earbuds. Call me crazy, but that sounds like an addiction. And technology that makes it simpler to have music everywhere, all the time, in endless variety, feeds that addiction.
Don’t get me wrong. I love music. I have many thousands of (legal) tracks in my iTunes library. And I enjoy going to concerts. In fact, my love of music is precisely why I find it so distracting!
When I listen to music, I’m usually alone and doing activities that require no particular concentration but also don’t afford much opportunity for thinking—cleaning, exercising, surfing the web recreationally, that sort of thing.
I also sometimes listen to music—this will blow your mind—as an independent activity. Not listening in the background while I’m doing something else, but only listening to music. Giving it my full attention, because I’m interested in it and want to catch every nuance. I know, that’s just ridiculously old-fashioned, right?
People seem to assume nowadays that multitasking is a given. You’ll never be doing just one thing. You’ll be doing something (or a couple of somethings) while also texting and holding a conversation and listening to music in the background. Maybe my brain is just exceptional, but that kind of thing doesn’t work for me. I want to pay attention to what I’m doing, or to the people I’m with.
And I like choosing my own music, thanks very much. My tastes are ridiculously varied, including everything from Gregorian chants to Spinal Tap, Bach to the B-52s, Enya to (newer) Taylor Swift. (Country music, opera, and rap, not so much. Sorry.) But I broaden my repertoire organically—recommendations from friends, things I run across on Twitter, and so on—for me, listening to the radio (or even curated playlists) all day in the hope of randomly finding the occasional song that strikes my fancy is a waste of time. I’d rather spend the bulk of my music-listening time on stuff I know I like.
So even though technology could enable me to stream any of millions of songs to any room, to my car, or to my phone, at any or all times, I don’t find such technology to be useful. For me, it would create a problem rather than solving one.