Do you rely too much on technology in your music-making?
by Jon Chappell
A recent New York Times issue devoted its entire Sunday Magazine to "Technology in the Classroom". One article was a photo essay of the history of gizmos and artifacts meant to facilitate learning, including the hand-held slate (those little personal-size chalkboards that look eerily like the new Kindle), pencil and paper, mimeograph machines, laptops, SmartBoards, and the iPad—the last of which is predicted to supplant the bloated and ruinously expensive paper-bound textbook model. (And about time!)
But how about for musicians, who must also study their craft in formal settings? What's the role of technology in the music classroom? You might answer "Pretty indispensable," right? Consider that as individual musicians, we embrace technology more than in any other art form (except perhaps graphic arts). We use technology in our daily lives without even thinking about it—whether it's ripping MP3s from CDs, downloading songs from iTunes to mobile devices, recording on a DAW, or watching YouTube videos of altruistic instructors giving lessons on modes.
But we may in fact be abusing the privilege. It's easy to get sucked into the technology vortex because the tools are often so cool that they distract us from the task at hand. On the forums we even have an acronym for it: GAS (gear-acquisition syndrome). Technology easily blurs the line between work and play. For every lesson on the harmonic-minor scale viewed on YouTube, there are probably 200 for the four-year-old playing the complete version of "Flight of the Bumblebee" on classical guitar.
Yet musicians don't seem to have near the cosmic conflict with technology and the ever-increasing preponderance of gear that educators in a formal setting do. Laptops in the classroom are distrusted because the teacher can't tell if students are dutifully taking notes or updating their Facebook status. Several colleges have universally adopted the directive "Forty-five degrees, people," where the students know to angle their screens downward to 45 degrees, ensuring eye contact with the instructor while he or she imparts a critical, full-attention-commanding piece of information.
Perhaps we musicians can take a lesson from educators and be similarly careful in assimilating technology so readily into the creative process. Just because you need a computer to work doesn't mean you're always working when you're on the computer. Ask yourself whether you're really separating your time to work from your time to play when using whatever technology populates your environment.
Social scientists tell us that we are more productive and efficient when we separate work and play, putting limits on each. (Ever try working outside on the first nice day of the season? It doesn't really work does it?) So draw the lines. Monitor your behavior. If you focus on the work and not the tools, you will finish that song—finally.
And as history proves, the tools will take care of themselves.