My first semester in college there was a required book in common that I recall periodically as “The Map Is Not the Territory” (not the exact title). This seems an easy and obvious concept; yet, it’s worth pointing out and remembering that the symbol (like a word or an object) for a thing is not the reality (item or entity) that the symbol is intended to represent.
Maps used to be mainly on paper, such as the one of Northern California that I carried in my car. When I wasn’t sure how to get where I was going, I’d look at the map to find the dots with city names and the lines representing roads to get there.
Ten months since the Camp Fire consumed my entire collection, my only map comes from the sky. The GPS system in my car and Maps on my cell phone work so well that while I keep meaning to replace my paper map, just in case, I’ve not tried to buy a map at a gas station.
Money is sort of like maps.
Just as maps are not roads, money is not, for example, food. No matter what claims your bank statement says you have to money, it is not the same thing as actual things money might buy. Just because a few people have most of the money in the world, it doesn’t mean that if their money were totally redistributed that everyone could buy commodities like food, land, water, or items they might think they have the money to buy. Scarcity dictates what money is worth. People with the power to do so – a few economists, central bankers, and politicians – create money. They don’t back it up with actual items, they just hope to facilitate production. They have no power, however, over crop failure due to floods, drought, and extreme weather. At some point, and I think soon, we will feel the limit to how many people can live on this planet; no amount of money creation, redistribution, or austere living will change that fact. Meanwhile, population growth continues.
Change, you may have noticed, is speeding up in many ways.
Since humans could sing and play instruments, surely since the emergence of Anatomically Modern Humans some two hundred thousand years ago, audiences heard music live, person to person, with no sound recorded. Cylindrical mechanisms for playing bells date back to the 15th century. The musical comb invented by a Swiss clockmaker in 1796 started a revolution of musical disks and cylinders that entertained people ever since. (I miss my music boxes.)
According to a timeline at the Library of Congress, the recorded sound began in 1857. Twenty years later, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. By the turn of the century, recordings could be played on flat discs. In the first decades of the 1900s, many musicians made records as record players entered the market, and the recording industry took off. This, plus radio and television, was the main way I heard recorded music until high school when the eight-track tape came out.
With my 8-track player, I could pick my own music in my car, and I played my AC/DC tape until it broke. As far as mobile recordings, after a brief battle, cassette tapes (invented in 1964) won over 8-tracks. The Sony Walkman in 1980 clinched the victory. Then in 1983 the CD entered the market and dominated until 1996 when the digital MP3 started circulating, the time when people were becoming connected to the Internet on their personal computers. In 1999 iTunes emerged and began to dominate. As recorded media became invisible in the early 2000s, most recorded music is now “downloaded”. It’s gotten easier and easier to access music of all kinds. Today, we don’t even have to push a button or necessarily buy it, just ask Siri or Alexa to play it. Since then we have a plethora of voice assistants. In summary:
The first couple hundred thousand years of Homo sapiens music was only heard live.
Since 1500 mechanical music = 519 years
Since 1796 music boxes = 223 years
Since 1857 recorded music = 162 years
Since 1900 records on disc = 119 years
Since 1964 cassette tapes = 55 years
Since 1983 compact disc = 36 years
Since 1996 digital media = 23 years
Since 1999 digital music online = 20 years
Since 2011 voice assistants = 8 years
It’s clear that the span of time between significant changes for music is getting shorter and shorter. In many ways, change is speeding up. Thank goodness we still have musicians to play for us. Music is not the media by which we hear it. Money is an illusion. If we as a species can keep up with the rapid changes, it is because we understand that our symbols are not the things they represent.
On Symbols and Change was published in the Paradise Post on September 18, 2019.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.