A concept album in music is like a book or a movie – a story which develops and unfolds over a longer period of time. The modern world is abandoning the traditional narrative en masse because it has been excessively been misused by marketing and advertising. Where once upon a time we would gather around the campfire to listen to an elder tell a tale of struggle and victory, with embedded values meant to be passed on to the young of the clan, the modern advertising engine has misused that to sell products and inflict values on us that benefit their bottom line rather than make us grow to become better persons.
In the age of reality TV, 140-character tweets and algorithmic trading, the goal seems to be to be able to compress as much as possible into a single moment of present as if there was nothing before or after that moment. Modern sitcoms have no story or progress, you can miss a whole season and nothing has changed with the characters – as if frozen in time, they are unchanging. But are they even alive? Only objects which grow or progress are considered to be alive; that which doesn’t grow and remains stuck in a fixed place is therefore not alive.
Growth and value of any kind can only be expressed in relation to passing time, as they cannot exist without the before and after – yet the modern world seems to be interested in only the present – what’s the next joke on the sitcom, next Facebook update or what kind of trade can I make in the next few minutes (or milliseconds in case of algorithm trading) – rather than how does the movie end, what values does this book communicate and where is that company going to be in five years.
Because the now has no temporal dimension and thus no inherent values or growth in itself, we have resorted to borrowing value from the future at ever-increasing amounts and compressing it into the now. Instead of building value over time, we get it all from the future in one big chunk and then pay for it with interest over time. Mortgages, personal loans, derivate financial instruments – all designed to bypass the traditional narrative of struggle and growth and walking the path towards some goals and having the satisfaction of progress. Instead, you get it all immediately in a big chunk – without having done anything to get it – and then pay for it later.
Yet can you really appreciate something that you haven’t spent an effort to achieve or acquire? A factory worker who saved money for two decades to purchase that motorbike will surely value it more than the 18-year old who leased it and pays for it in the future. That which comes easily is never valued; that which required time and dedication to achieve offers much deeper level of satisfaction and higher perceived value.
Perhaps I’m being naïve and old-fashioned by holding onto traditional values such as storytelling and values that are built over time, but I still want to believe that people are able to connect with ideas expressed over time, real values. Long-term investments in companies which produce something of value, relationships built over time instead of weekend hookups, concept albums encompassing more depth than ten catchy songs that have no deeper meaning or even relation to each other.
However, one must be mindful of the modern public whose attention span as of 2012 is officially below that of a goldfish – at 8 seconds [ The Associated Press, 4/28/2013 ] – down from 12 seconds in 2000. The direction we’re heading is clear and unless one wants to limit their audience to the goldfish, the challenge becomes engaging the listener with ideas that fit within their attention span while developing longer themes over time.
A traditional concept album would develop over a long time without offering a short-term fix, and thus is easily discarded by the modern audience as it only starts to make sense when viewed from a higher altitude. A modern concept album must be composed of ideas which stand on their own as catchy and recognizable up close and in the now while relating to and developing the greater whole – series of action-packed moments with links to the before and after which may be understood over time. Like a sitcom or reality TV show with a storyline which the listener may ignore and still have a positive experience on a moment-to-moment basis, yet offering those who stick around rewarding additional layers and concepts which only exist in the temporal context of the material.
A similar approach may be applied to a number of aspects of life and work. Offering your website visitors immediate rewards and results during their visit keeps them hooked long enough to start discovering deeper layers and additional features of your site. Making your workouts or study sessions fun and entertaining can help make progress over longer periods of time. Developing relationships by offering immediate positive feelings and engaging present goes a long way towards building a longer sustained connection during which deeper values may be discovered or important business may be conducted.
Inspired by Douglas Rushkoff’s book “The Present Shock” (2013)