My wonderful wife gifted me a turntable for the holidays. A record player. You know, one of those spinning things that plays scratchy music on an outdated medium.

I love it.

Yes, it’s clunky. It has crackles, pops, and clicks. But with that territory came something unexpected:


Active listening

Music has been an integral part of my life since before I have memories. 

I grew up listening to cassette tapes. Then CDs, and after Napster killed the music industry (not music, just the industry), I went digital like everyone else.

I’d always heard vinyl was the best medium in which music has ever existed, due to the wide dynamic range (variation between the loudest and softest parts of the song) and warm, analog tone. And sure, I’m enjoying the increased dynamics, but that’s not what has me so excited.

For the first time in my life, or at least since I was a little kid, I’m listening to music with intention

Vinyl demands your complete focus. You have to turn the album over every 15-20 minutes or risk drilling a hole through it (my model is full manual). There’s no shuffle, pausing, going back, or skipping around to your favorite bits, so you’ve got to engage if you’re waiting to hear something specific.

The unintended consequence? I feel like I’m hearing these songs for the very first time, songs I’ve listened to dozens if not hundreds of times and believed I knew inside and out.

I’m noticing random harmonies in this chorus, and weird guitar bits in that verse. I find myself grooving to songs that were never my favorites; I can’t skip them, so I may as well find something to enjoy.

Analog communication

There was a time when if you wanted to talk to someone you had to physically show up in person. I remember walking to my friend’s house and knocking on their door to see if they wanted to hang out, having no idea if they were home let alone available. 

Colleagues had to make the journey to each other’s offices or desks. Family had to stay close, or make an effort to visit regularly, in order to stay connected.

Obviously we can’t do that at the moment, but let’s be honest, we weren’t doing that before the pandemic either.

It used to be if someone gave you directions to their house you had to listen really carefully or you would end up getting lost. You had to focus on a great story so you could recount and retell it. The time you spent with loved ones was precious because it was fleeting.

Slowly (and then rapidly) technology enabled us to do the miraculous: communicate from anywhere, with anyone, at any time. But that freedom came at the cost of true connection.

And now the very technology that enables us to stay in contact during a global pandemic superficially looks like connection, but it feels hollow, like trying to quench a deep hunger with potato chips. 

Technology isn’t going anywhere, and I don’t think it should. There are plenty of upsides to a permanently ‘connected’ digital world, the 2020 crisis case-in-point. Let’s just not conflate that with analog connection. It may not be as fast, clean, slick, or convenient. But it’s human, and we need it.

Zoomed Out

The trick, for the time being, is learning how to infuse human connection into a virtual world. 

We begin with the question, “What do we miss about being in person?” And I bet the answer is deeper than we miss being able to poke the other person. There’s a level of closeness associated with in-person interaction. Not physical closeness, but emotional closeness.

So, I’ll leave you with this:

When was the last time on a video chat you asked a deep, meaningful, or difficult question? It’s time to stop exchanging hollow pleasantries like, “How are you?” “Hanging in there!”

Instead, let’s connect with intention. 

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