Maximizing Your Music Experience (Part 1)

Paradox Of Choice
n part one of his three part essay, our resident music industry philosopher Kyle Bylin was inspired by Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. (Read Part 2 and Part 3)

In recent years the coming of age for a music fan has been a fundamentally different experience than it was for the previous generation.  Technology has given the digital natives access to abilities that they have since embraced and claimed as their 'birth right.'  These social trends that they display have casted the generational gap far wider than ever before.  Because, not only does the music that they listen to drive their parents crazy, but the way in which they choose what to listen to tends to have the same effect.  Its the difference between their decision-making strategies that further ingrains the impression that natives have the tendency to be both irrational and impatient when it comes down to deciding what song they actually want to hear.

A Digital Native and His Father

My father is a satisficer, meaning that he's willing to stop searching for a radio station once he finds something that's good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might have been something better.  But the willingness to stick with his current decision would soon be tested and the satisfaction derived from the experience would be short lived.  With each passing year, I became more readily prepared to make sure that my opinion was heard.

At this point time, he must have realized that giving into what music I wanted to hear was far easier in contrast to the fight I was willing to put up in order to get my way.  Having just picked me up, he asked me about my day, and it was 'good.'  Our drive home began and without another word to be said.  The reason being of course that the tape in the player was already set to my default:  Toby Keith's debut album.  But, even that wasn't enough because the only song that I ever wanted to hear was 'Should've Been A Cowboy.'  Upon its completion, my demands ensued, and it played again.  Soon enough, my father had mastered these five seconds of rewinding and unbenounced to his sanity, this routine would continue for years. 

In distinguishing between my father and I, the apparent conflict of interest revealed is that he is a satisficer and I'm a maximizer.  This alternative method of decision-making is one of which everyone has felt the presence.  When listening to the radio in the car, whether or not they're in control of what's selected, they often want to continue to checking other stations to see if something better is playing.  It doesn't matter if they're relatively satisfied with what's currently on, they want to hear 'the best song.'  Often times, refusing to settle for something that's good enough.  They need to check out all of the alternative options, and by doing this, they get the assurance that what's playing is the best choice that could have been made.  But, do they actually know if any given option is absolutely the best possible?  Probably not.  However, they have very high standards that they do expect to meet and their compulsions lead them to check out all possibilities before making a decision.

Experience Maximization

Selecting a CD isn't as easy as hitting the seek button on your stereo.  That same person may feel discouraged if a large array of options is present, because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making a decision.  Nonetheless, sifting through the pages of possible choices, the bets are placed on the discs containing the highest amount of desirable songs.  Yet, these tried and true methods can lead to more moments of frustration once a selection has been made, because they sit there, listening, and can't seem to enjoy their choice.  The abundance of music in the CD case diminishes the attractiveness from what they actually chose.  Meanwhile, their current selection is playing and they continue to scan the available titles.  Imagining how happy hearing a certain song will make them.  Ejecting the disc and replacing it.  Moments pass, wrong again.  The reason being that not only do people make mistakes when imagining what will make them happy, they often repeat the same errors.  Finally, their compulsion of checking out almost every available option has run its course, they are able to settle, and they've found the 'best song' to fit their mood.

Read Part 2 and Part 3

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1 Comment

  1. Great piece Kyle! I can totally relate to the discourse between father and son growing up. The growing differences with what we generationally deem as ‘acceptable’ or ‘expectations’ when it comes to art/music appreciation. It’s really interesting though how you address it with respect to the growing overlap between art and technology, especially alluding in your intro the the way that music is becoming a much more listener/consumer involved process with digital media. Definitely looking forward to more insight and observation from you!
    -Brian (the random UST MBA student you met last wknd)

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