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I gave up on Big Love after getting halfway through the second season. The wife still watches it, however, and a few nights ago she pulled me into the living room to have me listen to the song that replaces "Good Vibrations" in the opening credits after the third season. Intrigued, I did a little research on Wikipedia, and learned that the song is called "Home" and was written by a British band called Engineers. I'm old and out of touch I had never heard of Engineers (or The Beach Boys), but thanks to the miracle of the world wide internet web, I now have the CD on which "Home" appears. It's pretty engaging. Wikipedia describes them as a "dream pop" band, as if it that were a genre I'm supposed to be familiar with. ("Ah yes, Dream Pop. As differentiated from Fantasy Pop, Half Awake But Not Fully Asleep Pop, and, of course, the dreaded Nightmare Pop.")
The sort-of point of this sort-of story is to do with the way I ended up driving around yesterday with an Engineers CD in my car. 1) I heard a song on a tv show. 2) I looked up the song on the Web. 3) I read about the band on itunes and then 4) I paid to download the CD. It all took ten minutes. Five years ago, none of that would have happened. I might have been curious about the song, but without any efficient mechanism to find out who wrote it, and not caring enough to sit through the end of an episode of Big Love and read the small print credits, I would have let the whole matter drop. But now, thanks to the web, slight curiosity, slight interest, can be immediately acted on. The point is not just to make everything easier, but to significantly lower the barrier of caring that it takes to get something done. Twenty-five years ago, you might have to had write a letter to a record label to enable yourself to listen to an album by a semi-obscure English band. Fifteen years ago, you would have had to care enough to drive to a CD store. Ten years ago, you could have gotten it from Amazon, but not immediately. Now you can satisfy what is at best a passing interest with only the slightest effort. Ease of access is probably an overall good thing; if you're a band it's probably to your benefit that people who don't care all that much about your music can acquire it very easily. The downside though is that fandom becomes a less commitment-requiring, and thus in some ways, fulfilling experience. Nothing anymore is hard to find, nothing is obscure; it's all equally available. That means it's impossible to be the only one in your class who's got the rare B-side of whatever band, or, on a larger scale, to be the whole one in middle school who's heard of, say, The Smiths. It's all right there. In an article I read recently, Brian Eno talks about how it's no longer possible, in some profound sense, to be 'cool.' I think this is part of what he means. In some way, being cool has to do with being in on stuff that others aren't. It used to require effort and knowing the right people; how else were you going to get the 'cool' music or know about the 'cool' writer, artist, whatever? But nothing's really hard to access anymore and that means coolness no longer means what it once did.
By the way, the CD on which "Home" appears is the Engineers' eponymous debut (which I recommend); the image above is of a different album. It's all I could find on Google images.