Friday, January 01, 2016

What will life be like for classical music after the internet?

Is it a coincidence that Sinfini Music and On An Overgrown Path are falling silent within days of each other? Cotermination may just be an ironic coincidence, because the two websites have little in common other than shared roots in classical music. But it can be argued that they are both in part, if not wholly, victims, of a technology driven change in the way we consume information. In 2014 conductor sans frontières and longstanding online writer Kenneth Woods wrote how 'Facebook ate my blog'. His post lamented how many of the best and most influential blogs are falling silent, including Gavin Plumley's erudite and informative Entartete Musik which had ceased updating a few months previously. The thrust of Ken's perceptive piece was that, to quote him: "Blogging these days is NOTHING without Facebook and Twitter. Nothing". That is a view I share,, and it is one of the reasons why I am now bowing to the inevitable.

Readers will know I have little empathy for social media, and many will simply say good riddance. But before the simultaneous exit of On An Overgrown Path and Sinfini Music is dismissed as mere coincidence, I would draw attention to an article in the Guardian by Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan which discusses the cost of social media's inexorable rise far more eloquently that I can. Central to Hossein Derakhshan vitally important analysis of the demise of blogging is that the hyperlink - which was the raison d'être of the world wide web - has become almost obsolete in online writing; which means that social media platforms now control the all-important traffic generating linkages. The stream is now the way we consume information, and the content of information streams is controlled by insidious algorithms. Hossein Derakhshan goes on to liken streamed content on platforms such as Facebook to personal television, and given the dismal content of established television channels that is a chilling analogy. The conclusion is quite clear: Facebook and other social media platforms control linkages and therefore audience for online content. And just like television, 95% of Facebook and other social media is crap; so you had better join them by churning out crap, or quit. Which means the Internet now practises a Darwinian form of selection whereby only the crappiest survive.

Hossein Derakhshan accepts the viewpoint that the rise of social media is a function of technological change; but still, quite rightly, he laments the resulting loss of intellectual power and diversity. This loss is not confined to blogs, and an earlier post here described the catastrophic damage that the internet has inflicted on the music industry. Classical music still has its head buried in the sand of the Internet desert, whereas, by contrast, rock musicians have been far more vocal in outlining the dangers of the music industry's digital fixation. Just as Hossein Derakhshan delivers an important message about music journalism, so rock musician and visionary David Byrne delivers an important message about classical music in an article that opens with the words: "What will life be like after the internet? ... I mean, nothing lasts forever, right?"

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Elaine Fine said...

The internet has changed the economy of classical music (how we buy our sheet music, how we buy recordings, and how we advertise and sell concert tickets), but we will still be playing music in rooms all over the world with our friends, and people will figure out ways to find us if the Internet is no longer part of our collective lives. What we call classical music had centuries of fertile heydays before the idea of electricity or indoor plumbing. And we had close friendships and copious correspondence (not to mention tons of journalism) back in the days before everyone had a computer and posted about their activities on Facebook, Twitter, and a whole slew of platforms that people over 50 never use.

John Blackburn said...

Surely you're too gloomy here. Blogs remain impactful, though perhaps less so than once seemed possible. Their reach may be more modest than originally hoped, but that reach remains important.

Perhaps those who favor Facebook were never your target audience at all. Perhaps, in the earlier days of the web before the rise of social media, they read blogs and commented on them for lack of another outlet, then, when Facebook arrived, they settled comfortably into their preferred outlet after all.

But just because that pre-Facebook time may have presented an illusion of a vast readership doesn't mean a meaningful readership doesn't exist—because that readership does exist. I read your blog, as others do.

You may of course decide that you can no longer justify the investment you make in your site because the size of your readership is too small, or because the level of engagement within your readership has disappointed, but ascribing these failings to social media's insidious influence or to a broader demise of the web's potential misses the mark, I think.

The truth is that yours is a wonderfully erudite blog unlikely to draw the attention of large crowds, and technology however amplifying will not change that. In vast fields of clover yours is a four-leaf clover, only noticed when purposefully sought.

Please know that those who seek out what you generously lay out for them are most grateful, and that your words do make a difference, though the nature of the difference might not be readily apparent.

Dave MacD said...

I'm sorry to see another voice leave the web, but with backwards-thinking posts like this, I'm unsubscribing anyway. Sorry, Bob. I really like a lot of the things you write about here, but the last few weeks and months of anti-tech posts have really pushed me away.

Also, @Elaine, I'm pretty sure that people over 50 are one of the largest user groups for Facebook today, and that number is only growing on Twitter.

Pliable said...

Dave, did you bother to read the sources before dismissing the views here as "backward-thinking"? I very much doubt it, because elsewhere you dismiss the well-reasoned views of Andrew Keen as "facile-minded gibberish" while admitting you haven't even made the effort to read them. If you had extracted your head from the sand of the Internet for just a few minutes to digest Hossein Derakhshan's thoughtful and important Guardian article you would have read the following:

"Minority views are radicalised when they can’t be heard or engaged with. That’s how Isis is recruiting and growing. The stream suppresses other types of unconventional ideas too, with its reliance on our habits. []The prominence of the stream today doesn’t just make vast chunks of the internet biased against quality – it also means a deep betrayal to the diversity that the world wide web had originally envisioned".

The ego-ridden vacuity of the online world is epitomised by you publicly throwing your toys out of your pram and declaring that you are 'unsubscribing'? Do you really think anyone actually cares about that?

A.C. Douglas said...

Saddened to read this, Pliable, but not at all surprised. I've commented several time on S&F about the slow death of the blogosphere due principally to the rise of the likes of Facebook (which I refuse to join) and Twitter (which I did join mostly to link to new entries on S&F) and have toyed with the idea of closing down S&F as well. Instead, I simply post far less there than previously as the blog serves primarily as my personal vehicle for letting off steam as explained in its About entry. Your informed writings on Overgrown Path will be missed by me as well as, I'm certain, by many others.


Pliable said...

ACD, many thanks for that, it is much appreciated. And it seems we are not just lone voices -

What a pity that some of the energy of the social media apologists could not be expended on infinitely more important issues, such as the continuing neglect of musicians of colour. The readership for this post criticising the role of social media now stands at almost three times that for my post about the underrepresentation of musicians of colour on the concert platform.

That disparity in readership says it all.

Elaine Fine said...

I suppose we should all feel proud to have participated in the decade of exciting activity in the musical blogosphere. You have made a major contribution, Bob, and people will continue to refer to your posts and follow your links. I wish you happy times reading and thinking, and, of course, listening. I have found little motivation to make posts when I feel a general lack of interest and engagement. But I'll soldier on for the nonce. And I'll certainly re-read your posts.

Pliable said...

Kenneth Woods explains how 'Only the crappiest survive' -

David Wentzell said...

I humbly add my voice to the chorus of farewells with an echo of the sentiments in John Blackwell's comment above.

Your voice and thoughtful contributions will be missed. I take comfort in the fact that my musical medicine cabinet contains the sulpha drugs composed by Magnard and encapsulated by Sanderling in Malmo.

Thank you for your web legacy of countless hours of meaningful content.

When you select your recessional music I encourage you to reject anything in a minor key. If I may be so bold, I suggest "La rejouissance" from Handel's Feuerweksmusik.

Best wishes for music filled days ahead.

Pliable said...

Another valued blog echoes my sentiments -