This interview at Salon with legal scholar Cass Sunstein is really interesting. It’s not obviously germane to a pop music blog, but bear with me and I’ll try to say why I found it so interesting.
Sunstein has done some suggestive research regarding political culture that shows that media fragmentation in the post-network-news era has a sort of echo chamber effect. Basically his argument is that if people (progressive and conservative alike) hear only political reporting that supports their positions on issues of the day, they move to extreme versions of their positions quickly. So, he says, the blogosphere has the effect of insulating us from opposing views and leads to a more and more deeply divided America.
What might this have to do with contemporary pop music? It’s the slightly elegaic tone he takes regarding the era of network news. The basic point is: at one time we basically all had to hear opinions we didn’t specifically choose to hear because it was what was on, and this was good (for us, for civic life, for civility, etc.) There are some un-unpacked assumptions in this, I think, but in general it seems appealing to me.
More, it makes me think about the issue of gatekeepers in the music industry that I discussed a couple of weeks ago (in a posting I’ve since taken down because it seemed intemperate–no doubt tech savvy folks can hunt it up). The equivalent argument might be something like, back in the day, before internet radio, before pc-based recording, before whatever, there was only so much on the radio, and everyone pretty much had to listen to what was there. A lot of really great music, a lot of the music those of us who love popular music respect deeply, came out of this situation. I think, particularly here, about musicians like Ray Charles, who knew and liked a lot of country music, not necessarily because it was music he identified with, but because when he was growing up, that was what he could get on the radio at night. perhaps having some shared musical culture–tunes _everyone_ has heard–due to limited choice has or had its value. I’ve seen this argument made in the past. And perhaps pop music could be headed for a bad future if the internet facilitated the creation of echo chambers of niche sub-genres.
It’s my impression that this is not the case, though. It’s my impression that young people now listen to a more, not less, diverse array of kinds of music than they/we did 20 or more years ago. But as I said in that last post, I think the key thing is that we need some data. I think I’m going to start putting together some grant applications to actually do some serious, quantitative research on music listening patterns, consumption, and so on among “kids these days.”