High Fidelity (2000)
From Kyle Chayka Industries:
I am rearranging my music collection — looking at the album covers, hearing snippets of the songs in my head as I see each one and recall the memories attached to it. There are the albums I listen to all the time and then those I only pick up once in a while so as not to dull their effects. The overall list is something only I could have come up with, a compendium of the music that’s important to me personally.
Actually, it might be more correct to say that my record collection has been rearranged for me: I opened the Spotify app on my laptop a few weeks ago and found that everything I had saved was in disarray. The albums weren’t where I thought they were. I couldn’t flip through them with my usual clicks, the kind of subconscious muscle memory that builds up when you use a piece of software every day, like your thumb going directly to the Instagram app button on your phone screen. Spotify had updated its interface and suddenly I was lost. I couldn’t put on the jazz record by Yusef Lateef that I play every morning when I start writing and I couldn’t figure out where to find the songs I had saved by pressing the heart-shaped like button. The sudden lack of spatial logic was like a form of aphasia, as if someone had moved around all the furniture in my living room and I was still trying to navigate it as I always had. Spotify’s new “Your Library” tab, which implied everything I was looking for, opened up a window of automatically generated playlists that I didn’t recognize. The next tab over offered podcasts, which I never listened to on the app. Nothing made sense.
In the digital era, when everything seems to be a single click away, it’s easy to forget that we have long had physical relationships with the pieces of culture we consume. We store books on bookshelves, mount art on our living-room walls, and keep stacks of vinyl records. When we want to experience something, we seek it out, finding a book by its spine, pulling an album from its case, or opening an app. The way we interact with something — where we store it — also changes the way we consume it, as Spotify’s update made me realize. Where we store something can even outweigh the way we consume it.
In 1931, the German cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called “Unpacking My Library,” describing these relationships with cultural objects. In the essay, Benjamin narrates removing his book collection from dusty crates, untouched for years. The volumes are splayed loose on the floor, “not yet touched by the mild boredom of order,” all set to be rearranged on shelves once more. For Benjamin, the very possession of these books formed his identity as a reader, writer, and human being — even if he hadn’t read all of them. They sat proudly on his shelves as symbols, representing the knowledge that he still aspired to gain or the cities he had traveled, where he encountered a book in a previously unknown shop. Collecting books was his way of interacting with the world, of building a worldview.