Defending and the Narrative

Needle on LP If it makes you happy, but don't fool yourself

This photo is a close up view of how a vinyl record provides for the reproduction of sound waves. They are retrieved by the process of dragging a hard rock across the molded vinyl and then amplifying the electromechanical result. If we were to try to invent a way to store and retrieve sound today, this technique would not merit serious consideration. It’s riddled with problems, not the least of which is the severe and rapid degradation of the media holding the information.

Yet there’s a constituency of people who hold that this is still the best sounding music playback mechanism we have. Nobody seriously tries to argue it’s the most accurate, although there is often a subtext that modern digital formats have severe flaws of their own. It’s the subjective joy these listeners seem to find in the sound of their records that’s hard to refute. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they hold that well made records on good equipment can sound better than the best of other formats.

Thus is the power of nostalgia. The vast majority of these enthusiasts are older. People who grew up listening to this format and are comfortable with it. The differences are quantifiable, so it’s pretty easy to prove the accuracy isn’t there. Maybe there is something about the monophonic low frequency reproduction that appeals to them, or any of the varied types of distortion that are introduced. It’s interesting how they will fool themselves and tell stories to validate what is otherwise a nearly indefensible technical position. It mirrors many religious arguments both in its methods and voracity.

There is a significant component of nostalgia, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to give it the legs to carry itself for all these years. No, many of these folks actually convince themselves it’s better and are ready to argue accordingly, sometimes with all sorts of kooky technical mumbo-jumbo. The second largest group of vinyl aficionados are too young to have memories of listening to them in days gone by. They have found appeal in the nostalgia of it (sort of like the recent explosion in the sales of old concert t-shirts), but again seem adept at convincing themselves it’s better sonically. There is also the cool factor – like cigarettes I guess – but I think it’s the narrative behind it that makes one want to be part of the group of people who thinks this is the best format for listening.

All of this is harmless, of course. If these folks find happiness in believing this outdated technique for audio reproduction is better, and are willing to spend the sums of money required to maintain that satisfaction, then who are any of us to try to convince them they are wrong?

Convinced myself, I seek not to convince — Edgar Allan Poe

Are they even wrong? While I can lay down an irrefutable technical case for why properly executed digital schemes are better in every way, I can’t tell someone that what he or she experiences isn’t perfectly valid. And I certainly don’t want to disrupt someone’s ability to find joy in something just because it’s not factually sustainable.

On the other hand, if this force became powerful enough to pose a threat to MY listening preferences I would feel compelled to take actions to expose it for what it is. It is this perception (threat) that makes atheists as hard to get along with as they are. Just like people of religion, they have their own narratives (some of which are very valid) about why religion is often a bad thing for society.

When humans perceive a threat, whether of the more frivolous kind like audio formats, or of the more substantial kind like religion and/or way of life…well…we all see every day what happens. It’s so common we accept the battle as an everyday part of our culture. Differences like these are unlikely to ever be settled. Some may fade in importance, but once people have chosen, they are not likely to be proven wrong, even when the evidence may be overwhelming. Accepting that people will defend their beliefs can inform us of the best ways to engage with them. You can chip away at someone’s perceptions slowly, from the edges, but if you attack head-on you will meet significant resistance.

A force manifests when it meets a resistance. Attacks provoke defense. Bend, without fear of breaking. Listen first with intent to understand. Whisper and you’ll be heard.

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8 Responses to “Defending and the Narrative”


  1. 1 babicka January 6, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Nice analogy and a conclusion that reflects your approach to most everything in your life.

  2. 2 Todd Smith January 6, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Nice piece. Agree with babicka – your balanced objectivity shines through. I thought this post was going to be about analog vs. digital and then you rolled up into human nature. “A force manifests when it meets a resistance.” Boom. Is that a DS original quote?


  1. 1 Black & White | Just a job to do Trackback on May 29, 2015 at 3:23 pm
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