Same As It Ever Was

The year was 2116, and the Earth was finally great again.

War, poverty, global warming, starvation, racial inequality—these, among many others, were all trivial, long overcome matters of the past.

Generation ZZZZers glided around in auto-piloted, eco-friendly, space/time ships. They communicated with each other via holographic telekinetic mind messages. (Though there was always the occasional hippie, of course, who'd pull out a vintage, non-functioning wePhone 2000 or whatever technological dinosaur was making a comeback these days. Lame, if you ask me.)

Televisions were 5-dimensional, 360° capable, and 27K resolution, at the very least. Scientists had cured cancer, the common cold, wrinkles, pimples, death, and were nearly on the brink of curing stupidity.

The economy was booming, the art world was booming, the literary (but long paperless) world was booming—heck, the whole world was booming! With the exception of the Baby Boomers, that is.

But more importantly—the delicate art of musical reproduction had taken several gargantuan leaps forward. Vinyl had made its umpteenth comeback and record players were now palm-sized, weightless, and cheaper than ever!

The latest, greatest GadgetGizmo 4.0 had just been released! It was an indestructible waterproof, shockproof, weatherproof, drop-proof, theft-proof magical creation that was futuristic, even for the future. It was the size of a dime (for reference, as actual physical currency had long been eradicated), could hold as many as 8 trillion albums of music, and had a battery that lasted forever. Perfect for tiny hands and even tinier attention spans.

Advertisements for the GadgetGizmo 4.0 had catchy phrases like "8 trillion of your favorite, most listened to tracks, all at the tip of your finger. Just because you can." And "You talked and we listened. Thinner, faster, and better than everything else on the market, because that's what matters."

Sometimes the occasional hippie would pass by the advertisements and ask the GadgetGizmo 4.0's A.I. "What about the quality of the music? Doesn't that matter at all? Am I the only one who cares about that?"

And the A.I. would chuckle and reply, "Poor hippie. That never really mattered to anybody. Don't you see? The world has always and will forever continue to move forward in every other possible way unless more people start caring."

"But how do I stop it? How do I make fidelity matter again?" The hippie desperately begs the A.I. for an answer.

"I don't know. That's for you to figure out."

Eoldschool's picture

all that was so yesterday and old school Jana...ha ha ha ha.
I'm just messing with you. Great little break read and good observance point too.
Yes, I too feel that in some ways even in the high-end audio world caring about sound quality is starting to take more of a back seat. It's not obvious like you depicted in the story, but if one looks deep enough, evidence is there. I blame streaming at least in part. Nothing wrong with having that ability and it certainly has a valued purpose, but I think like what happened with MP3s folks are becoming lulled into the convenience and are not seeing the cost of quality. While the sound quality may further improve someday (although I doubt it) there is the tangible need fulfillment that gets lost in pure digital. We all know the whole 360 degree value in having and playing vinyl records and even CDs, small and somewhat lacking though they may be, but having nothing but vapor data streams to try to hold onto for music just doesn't appeal to me personally.
Just my rambling on the matter.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

"While the sound quality may further improve someday (although I doubt it)..."

It has. It's called MQA. Before that, there was SACD and, then, Pure Audio Blu-ray.

fetuso's picture

SACD, of which I own a bunch, and blue ray audio discs were at best a niche market. The mainstream has no clue that either exist, which is I think the point of Jana's story.

Eoldschool's picture

Ah yes. I'm not sold on MQA although I have only heard it demoed once back in 2015 from Meridian and in an overly controlled environment on faulty gear. I have read up on it and I'm not so sure it isn't just another lossless format, like Flac, etc. I don't discuss it though because I have only had one demo and it was faulty, so that is hardly a basis to make a final judgement.
I'm not a fan of digital for serious listening at all. It's great for research indeed and I do use it for that or for background music, but for listening I much prefer vinyl and/or CD.

doak's picture

CD's are not "digital"???

Eoldschool's picture

Yes, of course they are. I should have made the distinction of redbook vs streaming or something, my bad. CDs can sound good depending on how the recording is done. I'm talking of recent times, not taking an analog recording from the 70s on back and re-engineering it haphazardly just to throw it on a CD. To me that's the same as CD sourced vinyl, it doesn't work.

jimtavegia's picture

Most will be wishing for the good old days of 2006. I don't see the glass half full anymore.

doak's picture

Getting the very best sound ever with both analog and digital. IMO we're in a "Golden Age" period... an embarrassment of riches and plethora of choices. Don't understand what the fuss is about.
If it's about what "OTHER PEOPLE" are doing, then you (collectively) are beyond help.

Kal Rubinson's picture

We are the tip of the tail of the dog that is mainstream audio. We always have been but, somehow, high quality audio, manufacturers and consumers, have consistently found ways to follow our own goals. We roll with it.

doak's picture

your attitude.

dcrowe's picture

Since the article discusses 2116, let's imagine what high end audio technology could become. Within a century, at least for those who choose the option, speakers may become a thing of the past as audio sources [likely 99+% digital] could be wirelessly transmitted to a nerve interface chip surgically implanted in the head of the listener. This could enable bypassing the ear completely as well, sending signals directly to the brain. Those with ear damage could perceive the same musical quality as anyone else. A few may insist that analog vinyl is still superior to future uncompressed lossless 1024-bit GHz sampled recordings, but their number will likely be very small.

Archimago's picture

In 100 years, with a direct neural feed into the temporal and limbic cortices, we won't be measuring things with bit-depth or samplerates any more.

Vinyl and current digital audio will be perceived with the emotional impact of Edison's "Mary Had A Little Lamb".

dalethorn's picture

The problem with all of that "War, poverty, global warming, starvation, racial inequality...." etc. is people being led by false prophets of a Utopia that never existed and never will. Species of life come and go, and so will we, soon enough. Instead of looking down the barrel of negative ideas, focus on what positive things have been accomplished by hard work and inventiveness. On the one hand, I've seen my society become far more sophisticated and less violent in 50-plus years, and with computers advancing at amazing speed, every device from cameras to phones to music players has greatly improved the quality of my life. Go to a factory town in emerging societies in China or Mexico (used to be Detroit or Pittsburgh) and be prepared for violence and vice on a level you may never have experienced, then go to a small town with lots of open space and beautiful scenery in Ohio or Indiana etc., and you can feel joy and happiness all around. Just know that the future is very bright for those who get on with it, and very dark for those who fall into the trap of negativity. There are solutions to the world's problems, but the usual human fear, paranoia, and greed will drive the masses to non-solutions. Don't be driven that way.

BTW, the iPhone 6s-plus in my pocket contains 2600 music tracks, 2400 video clips, 1000 documents of all kinds, extremely useful apps, not to mention a phone that talks free to every location in the U.S. Extend that out another 20 years at the current rate of progress, and imagine. Consider also that many people who live in poverty today can enjoy something close to what I have in that phone, with a minimal and realistic investment in monthly service fees for the phone itself. Free wi-fi in many cities. The future is very bright.

Archimago's picture

Digital technology is being embraced at breath-taking rates.

I'm posting this from Beijing. As I ride the subways here and the southern city of Guangzhou, those benefits you mention about free WiFi throughout the city, a smart phone in hand with all the music, videos, and other media one would ever wish to access is already available to the developing world with capabilities superior in many ways to what I have seen in North America already. Prices for luxury brands like Apple remain high but to be honest, the domestic brands are already impressive with their Android variants.

Concerns around environmental issues are being addressed and I am impressed by what China has accomplished in the last 2 decades.

Despite the ups and downs in the short term, I do agree, the future is bright longterm for those who take on their part and make it a better place.

BTW: Barely an LP in sight in this part of the world. And nobody I talked to seem to be missing them...

Herb Reichert's picture

Today, I cannot watch the Olympics or baseball or even the news unless I pay substantial amounts for cable or MLB streaming. My eyePhone cost $500 and ATT charges me $55/mo to use it, plus another $60/mo for internet. "...people who live in poverty today can enjoy something close to what I have in that phone, with a minimal and realistic investmen." Today, it costs me about $100/mo to call or message my friends and business associates. Before the advent of digital, my NYC phone line cost $7/mo and all telivision was free. Please explain the "current rate of progress" to me again . . . and tell me and all those poor folks - will baseball, news, or the Olympics ever be free again?

volvic's picture

The rate of technological progress has been tied to an exponential increase in costs; $600 for a smartphone and minimum data plan can run you close to $80 per month, possibly for ever (calculate that over your lifetme). Switch from analogue signals to digital cable with specialty channels and channel specialization has reaped tremendous profits for cable companies over the years, no wonder people are now dropping their cable TV subscriptions. Similarly with new audio formats; SACD, DVD-A, MQA new equipment tooling is needed and cost of software is markedly higher than established formats. All these new formats make us junkies to large corporations just like car leases do; pushing us to upgrade to the next big thing that keeps us hooked into their tentacles for ever. My advice, don't believe the hype, be a late adopter, cut the chord, be happy with what you already have and go spend a soothing afternoon at Princeton Record Exchange or Academy Records to get your bearings straight. As someone famously once said, "everything else is gas light".

Archimago's picture

To look for a better deal on the cell phone plan?

I'm only paying about 1/2 of that for voice and data monthly. And I live in Canada where the telecom charges are quite bad...

Thankfully I don't watch much TV. Local programming and HD content can still be had for free over-the-air. The issue is with reception and line-of-sight limitations.

dalethorn's picture

Poor people can get good deals on used phones, or even free in some cases. Poor people in many places where I've been can qualify for steep discounts on their services. Most of those people already know that anyway. But I'm not suggesting a giveaway to the undiscriminating poor who would use most of their features to play Pokemon or other pastimes - I'm suggesting for those who care enough to make a small sacrifice to get themselves into the adventure. To quote Tom Hanks "Some things just take care of themselves."

Bluejimbop's picture

By 2116, "They" will have figured out how to unleash advertising in "Our" dreams and will do so with impunity. This advertising will inform us that we need to purchase the latest sound waves generated by a robot that looks like, I don't know, Miley Cyrus, maybe? I'm gonna go dig out my vinyl copy of "HELP!" now.

Anton's picture

As someone mentioned, it will go all neuro implants, with things like imaging and frequency response automatically adjusted based on neuro-monitoring to provide the listener with his/her more pleasurable 'listening' experience.

There will be performances with titles like, "Symphony for Strolling Sydney," or "Night-time, Venice, Gondola," that will play as a person experiences those environments.

We will be able to set communication defaults that allow different people to hear specific soundtracks as they look at us.

Mood detection will optimize our tunes for major or minor tuning.

There will be sonic accoutrement for meals and beverages, if we desire.

Compression will be a type of undergarment.

Pokémon Go creatures will be interactive and give the impression of solidity.

We will eat to the beat, and walk at the same cadence as Stayin' Alive anytime we want.

Fidelity will vary, yet remain faithful.

heyjay's picture

While direct input to the brain may be a future technology, it seems that we humans enjoy interacting in the tangible realm as seen with book sales continuing. I have found that much of my stereo experience is the disbelief effect of listening to a good system where instruments seem to be present yet unseen and dimensions exceeding my room dimensions seem to be occurring. This reality altering seems to add excitement as I know I am in my home, yet am hearing a soundscape different than my surroundings. Because I perceive floor and skin vibrations, it exceeds headphone listening as I feel my surroundings have changed and am free of an obvious contraption on my head. So I wonder if direct brain input would need some seat vibration transducer to get the full effect. Sharing the experience would be harder direct to brain to as it is an individual realm and I believe we need more direct human interaction and experiences for the healthiest society. I don't know if audiophiles can be made by exposure or are simply born, but more high end demos to more people I believe will help society as 'music tames the savage beast'.

Anton's picture

Great post.

I agree about the human touch.

Solarophile's picture

Jana, since you are starting your writings and posting for Stereophile, do make sure to read Archimago's blog entry the other day about this. It's a good overview that I hope the next generation of audiophile writers think about and hopefully can make things better.