These days, when you lament for the past you are not looking all that far back. Change happens so quickly that the latest thing becomes the previous thing in no time flat.
DVD players came about 15 years ago. Five years after that they became dominant and people stopped renting videotapes. Now it’s next to impossible to rent a DVD. That’s fast. And don’t bet the mortgage on the next thing lasting all that long either.
Think of how long radio was dominant before television took over. Think of how long phonograph records lasted before CDs came along. Decades and decades. Now within a single decade we see new systems emerge, disappear and be replaced by others which then disappear too.
If you feel too lazy to try to keep up, join the club.
Last week Sam Sniderman died at 92. He was the founder of the record store Sam the Record Man. Located on Yonge Street in Toronto it was the place to go for fans of all kinds of music, especially the less popular kinds.
Eventually there were more than 100 Sam’s across Canada, including several here. There was a pretty good one at Carlingwood and a really good one at Bayshore, with the jazz and classical music in a special glassed-in section of the store. Anywhere in Canada, if you wanted a wide selection of classical music or jazz or folk music, Sam’s was where you went.
Where do you go now? You go online.
And who is there? No one, except you. Some of the comment on the death of Sam has stressed that point - that there was always someone knowledgeable around the store to consult if you wanted to know about the latest Miles Davis reissue. But, actually, there is no shortage of opinion available today, expert and otherwise. If you want to buy the latest Miles reissue you can scan the web and find out what everyone thinks about it. You can probably sample a track. Even though there is no one to talk to in a store, you can find what you need to know.
So it’s not the absence of expertise that makes the passing of the record (later CD) store lamentable. Nor is it that there is less music available. There is more. Those of us who grew up desperately searching for jazz in small-town record stores and on the radio find ourselves facing riches beyond belief on the Internet.
So why do we miss the record store? Why, for that matter, will we miss the book store. There is no shortage of ways to get books online and no shortage of books either.
Maybe it’s because we feel we are at the mercy of technology. A record (or a CD) is a tangible thing. It is always there. Music on the Internet depends on your Internet connection; music on your computer depends on your hard drive not packing it in. It feels tenuous and temporary.
Not to everyone, of course. It is not unusual to find people whose entire music collection is stored on a device smaller than, say, a DVD box. Their total embrace of the new technology is what has sparked the tremendous growth in online music and the death of the record store.
To be fair, the record, or CD store, still exists. They are fewer and often drastically scaled-down. But a few stores, like Compact Music and CD Warehouse in Ottawa, are still fighting the good fight.
In response to Sam Sniderman’s death, there has been comment on the feeling of community in the store and the loss of that community since it closed. There is, of course, a new community - it is online and it will take some getting used to.
When Marshall McLuhan talked about the Global Village, he didn’t know the villagers would be solitary people at their computer screens.