Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Good Enuf Is Great

A selection from NYT's 12/13/2009 Sunday Magazine article, The 9th Annual Year in Ideas (yes…I’m a tad behind on the required reading list).

Good Enough is the Next Great
by Robert Mackey
"Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere," Robert Capps of Wired magazine wrote this (2009) summer in an essay entitled, "The Good Enough Revolution."

"Companies that have focused mainly on improving the technical quality of their products have started to notice that, for many consumers, "ease of use, continuous and low price" are more important.

High-definition televisions have turned every living room into a home cinema, yet millions of us choose to watch small, blurry videos on our computers and our mobile devices. Cameras capture images in a dozen megapixels, yet Flickr is filled with snapshots taken with phone cameras that we can neither focus nor zoom. And at war, a country that has a fleet of F-16 fighter jets than can cover 1,500 miles an hour is using more and more remote-controlled Predator drones that are powered by snowmobile engines.
Lo-fi solutions are now available for a range of problems that couldn’t be solved with high-tech tools. Music played from a compact disc is of higher quality than what comes out of an iPod – but you can't easily carry 4,000 CD's with you on the subway or to the gym. Similarly, a professional television camera will produce a higher-quality image than a phone, but when something important happens, from the landing of a jet on the Hudson River to the murder of an Iranian protester, and there are no TV cameras around, images recorded on phones are good enough.

In February, a music professor at Stanford, Jonathan Berger, revealed that he has found evidence that younger listeners have come to prefer lo-fi versions of rock songs to hi-fi ones. For six years, Berger played different versions of the same rock songs to his students and asked them to say which ones they liked best. Each year, more students said that they liked what they heard from the MP3s better than what came from CDs. To a new generation of iPOd listeners, rock music is supposed to sound lo-fi. Good enough is now better than great.

The death knell of the CD grows ever louder (or clangier if you're listening on lo-fi). Like vinyl, scarcity of recordings will drive prices higher and, unless we CD-lovers are stockpiling (attention my lovely Ever-Loving spouse!!) CD-players in some closet, we may be left with a treasure of CD's without an instrument to play it on. This lo-fi stuff is, frankly, beyond my scope of understanding. I remember (Uh,oh, Geezer expostualiton alert) when each year brought some new technological advance that IMPROVED sound quality. Forward was the only direction as far as sound reproduction was concerned. How could this reverse sound improvement be happening and, worse yet, be embraced so quickly and lovingly?

It's a sad state of affairs.

**** Addendum 01/20/2010 ***
In reaction to this post, Whisky Prajer posted this finer entry. I especially liked the tear he went on about that thoroughly moder thoroughly reprehensible Duck Face pose that charming and attractive young ladies (like my very own daughter) take to when asked to pose for a picture. I am raising farm fowl not future young female leaders of the world! Is Quality no longer a guidepost for product/service/behaviour? Is Quality so passe '90's?

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I realized after my first "spin" of Hombre Lobo that I was badly out of touch with just how low the "lo-fi" set was willing to go. These are guys who, thanks to their many Shrek soundtrack contributions, have the bucks to book a studio and a first-class knob-fiddler. Instead they record something that sounds like it was played in the back of their mini-van. Having experienced the transition from 1979-1980 I realize that "immediacy" is still a coveted sensation. But even at the time there were punks who would admit they wanted the self-same studio (and fame) trajectory The Police achieved. You wanted your records to have a big sound, because you wanted the records to get big crowds into enormous venues. Not so much anymore, it seems.
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