Commentary by Terry Anker
Walking across the lush grounds of any college campus, one is struck by the silence of the students as they pass. The teeming masses slip by quietly, ears filled with tiny buds delivering music, podcasts or other noise directly into the brain of the would-be scholar. Without looking up, they stare blankly into the phone or other device controlling the flow of bits and bytes into their gray matter.
But is it the same to listen to music in one’s ear as it is to hear it in a crowd? As we become more isolated in our opinions – and our sources of information – we rarely share communion with our fellow humans in its receipt. Is music, and so many other things, better if it’s experienced collectively? Do we become trapped in our own thinking as we restrict our sources? To be sure, we are often best-advised to stand on our own. Peer pressure and the lemming-effect have ruined any number of young and promising lives. We must stand for our own sense of right and fight for those unable to defend themselves.
Yet, if we hear only our own music can we hope to understand the perspectives of others? In our family, we pass links of funny YouTube videos – but it is in watching the videos together crowding around the same tiny screen that we find the most joy. What is funny? What is moving? What is tragic? Don’t we come to know these answers each in context with others? In retreating into our own ever-more personalized and shrinking minorities, do we ensure our own isolation even as we imagine that we are simply living a life of our own design? Can we hope to understand the music of others if we never have occasion to hear it?