|"From the Andreas Pavel Stereobelt to the Ear Bud Society" is an excerpt from Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man, by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved. © 2013.
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Music has played an integral role in identifying cultures throughout history, and continues to do so currently. From harvest dances to military anthems, music has been used as a vital communication tool within societies. When technology began to advance at a more rapid rate following the invention of electricity, so did the development of musical technologies, communications technologies and the importance of both on the ever-shrinking global society.
Music itself has been evolving and changing in fits and starts, sometimes independent of the messages contained within it. From the days of Edison’s first phonograph until modern times there have been numerous booms and busts for music trends. It can be pretty confusing to attempt to shackle the social relevance of musical entertainment with a generalization. However, there is no denying the impact that music has had on society as a whole, from its very inception into culture.
Despite the marvelous advances and technological breakthroughs throughout the ages, I can pose the argument that until Andreas Pavel patented his invention, the “Stereobelt,” no other technological evolution has had a bigger impact on the development of musical entertainment, communication and society at the same time.
By 1972, music was clearly an established force within the very bones of society. The way music reached our societies moved quickly through the mediums of vinyl phonograph records, 8-track tapes and then cassettes. A trend which was emerging was the intimacy of music being key to this expression. Music tendencies were morphing toward a more personalized delivery. For instance, electronic engineering methods, such as the transmissions of public AM, and later FM radio stations were becoming more personally adapted, thanks to the modernization of the technologies. As a result, there was a boom of portable transistor radios that lasted from the 1950’s until into the 70s.
In February of 1972, Andreas Pavel completed his device (In Pavel's Words). He had a successful working model of his invention - a mobile, battery operated cassette player with headphones. His mechanism fit in perfectly with the cumulative social desire to personalize music, or so he thought.
For several years, Pavel enjoyed the novelty of his invention, and made attempts to promote it to various corporations and related entities. His efforts were met with smirks and denial. Not to be discouraged, the underdog Andreas Pavel decided to take matters into his own hands. On March 24, 1977, he secured a patent in Italy, where he was living at the time.
In 1978, Andreas Pavel began what became an exhausting lesson about the underdog never giving up. After being denied and scoffed at, Pavel filed for patents in several countries (Initial U.S. Patent Claim (now abandoned), Current U.S. Patent Claim). Unfortunately for Pavel, the patent process proved to be slow and ineffective for him. By 1980, Japan was mass-producing and selling Pavel’s work as the Walkman - and hard-bargaining Pavel for rights and payments. Although Pavel eventually recovered royalties and compensation in a settlement with Sony, it took twenty-three years to do so (Evidence of Pavel's Struggle). In addition, his life became an expensive roller coaster of litigation. In the end, however, Andreas Pavel is generally recognized as having invented the “Stereobelt” that we all know as the Sony Walkman.
In the decade of the 1980s, the entertainment industry was mutating and morphing into an unrecognizable beast. Once again, technology progress belched along, and the transmission of information over coaxial cable networks allowed music and television to mesh. At this point, the niche for the Walkman as a personal entertainment device lie mainly separate from the visual format. In fact, it was not unusual in the 80s to see young people dressed in fashions imitating the new and wild looks of the televised videos while absentmindedly head-bobbing to something on their Walkman. ‘The look’ was the desired expression, preferred over music for awhile. Individuality was still innocent; music still relied on personal social interaction to be an acceptable means of culturizing. Personal contact was still necessary in order for ‘the look’ to register with the social psyche. The music was secondary.
From that time until now, a virtual Renaissance has occurred in the area of digital technology, and in effect, social interaction, communication and music/entertainment. Within the span of 20 to 30 years coaxial cable has come and gone, replaced with fiber optics. Fiber optics have been one-upped by satellite transmissions. Telephones have transmogrified from a simple, specialized, useful device meant to operate within the confines of a minimal location to a Swiss army knife of social and leisurely outlets, allowing the user nearly complete freedom of environment and selection of entertainment. Music no longer stands alone as the desired type of media which can be readily accessible. Indeed, music is more commonly disregarded as secondary in relation to the popularity of videos, pictures, games and social networking as a portable necessity.
We now live in a world of pads and pods, and electronic media is here to stay. Moore’s Law (Moore's Law Explained) has proven reliable, and now a gadget the size of a deck of cards is able to process more information than rooms full of computers could in the 1970s. Almost as reliably, the personalization of music (and now virtually any kind of entertainment) has finally achieved the event horizon. Regarding social interaction, the power of the people is now shifting to the power of the individual.
The 1950s established the firm ability for society to ascertain power to alter their cultural reality. With the civil rights movements and drastic social welfare reforms, this decade demonstrated that the people, as a society, were able to impact their own destiny. In the 1960s, this new-found power resulted in an overcompensation, and too much freedom caused social backlashes and lessons that we still learn from today. In the 1970s, power of the masses introduced again to the forefront women’s rights, a focus on ethnic achievements, and a desire to challenge the status quo. All three of these decades proved powerful enough to derail social growth in its own way, and yet we seem to have recovered as a society, for the most part. We are now in a stage that I refer to as the “Ear Bud Society,” from which I am afraid we may not be able to fully recover.
Try walking through the food court in any mall, a college campus or an airport on a busy day. Count how many people have their ear buds in, cut off from society. Also include those people so engrossed with texting or gaming on their phone or electronic device that they appear to be unapproachable or detached. Their entertainment is theirs alone, not reliant on the social structure that once helped define music and communication. I have been in social environments where many of the people were engaged in conversation, but it wasn’t with anyone else in the room! Is this truly social? To an objective observer with no knowledge of electronic communications, it would seem that no communication was happening at all, and yet many people were happily interacting with virtual connections. This isn’t social communication, this is pseudo-social communication. It is this facet of the Ear Bud Society that will doom cultural structure in the end; a universally shared belief in an illusion.
Language is changing. It is truncated and interchangeable. ‘Lose’ and ‘loose’ are the same in public forums, and may someday merge into a single word for both meanings. Abbreviations now dominate communication as limits are imposed on text lengths, and time is of the essence. The illusion is that this is a more efficient way to communicate. The reality is that there is now less social motivation to improve language skills. There is a generational acceptance of this behavior to the point where even a discussion along these lines would be considered archaic to the Millennials (What are Millennials?).
As a whole, I fear that the exponential growth of technology and industry will prove to be very demon that fell from grace. What was once hailed as the obvious way to advance as a society has worked so well that now the very technology that created the digital revolution has also created the constricted interactions of people. We believe that we no longer need entertainment to help us define the communication of others. Our faith is in the internet and satellites to deliver our very communication needs to the palm of our hands. Our individual hands. Society defines our entertainment now as blurbs and flashes of information derived from a personal position as opposed to a public position, as was the case in the past. Communication now serves as a type of entertainment as society molds its mentality to LOL, IDK and WTG. The frenzy of revolving entertainment choices has made music a lesser mode of enjoyment. Music has less social impact than before. Many would argue that this has led to a degradation of musical quality in general.
Instead of witnessing the integration of music/entertainment, communication and society, what is happening is worse than the separation of the three. The social acceptance of this separation is the death knell; the blindness that we all share as we ride this modern wave to the very edge of reason. There is little concerted effort by society to acknowledge the necessity for communication to work as a tool to integrate people. Entertainment is a cheap emotional fix and little more. Miniature adrenaline rushes as we get a high score, or engage with some jerk in a social network, or jump at a purposely startling video. All of this excitement is individual, not shared.
Unless we, as a society, reverse our tendency to indulge instead of intellectualize, we will erode and crumble. As the lack of expression and interaction becomes more and more accepted, communication will change in such a way as to be something other than necessary for the development of culture. Instead, culture will be defined by popular bits and bytes of truncated information, designed for the sole purpose of triggering the individual. Entertainment is already not accepted as a viable mode for reliable communication, for the most part. Entertainment is about individual gratification. As this isolation continues, our society will fade, to be replaced with intellectually stunted, automatonic people with no sense of community, entertainment or society as a group. When this happens, we will have crossed the event horizon, with no hope of returning.