The signs are everywhere. The end is near--the end of the compact disk. My on-line CD store is going out of business, and I cannot resist buying a few at $4.99, shipping included. Borders and Barnes and Noble have drastically reduced their CD selection. Borders no longer has a discrete jazz section for CDs
. I can think of only one Denver-area store with a rich selection of CDs
--Twist and Shout.
What does all this mean for music and culture? Music has been increasingly miniaturized and made more portable in recent decades. It has also dematerialized. The preferred form is the MP3, which is a cluster of data stored in various devices. Now the link of the medium and the music is gone. For many years, album art and liner was as significant as the music. CDs retained this to some extent, but on a smaller scale. With MP3 files, there is no container for the music. It just in--somewhere in cyberspace.
Further, music becomes more de-contextualized. The play list replaces the order of pieces on a recording. We shuffle on through. The idea of a concept album--a coherent body of work establishing and developing a set theme--is nearly dead. (In 2007, Neal Morse created a concept album based on the struggles of Martin Luther, but this is now very rare.)
I am reluctant to go the way of the iPod. I do not favor dematerialization, however economically expedient. I cannot bring myself to think of dematerialized books at the moment.