Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is Grooveshark Different?

I've been enjoying Grooveshark for a while now. If you haven't heard of it, search for most any song and stream it. Good quality and great selection. Just today, I've gotten (re)acquainted with Sam Cooke, Leonard Cohen*, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Prince Billy, and others. It's an easy way to listen to whatever music you're hankering for.

I gave up illegal music downloading a long ago for ethical reasons, but I have to wonder: is Grooveshark really different? I'm going to argue that it is because of the permanence of downloading mp3's versus the transience of streaming music. When I downloaded a song from Napster, it was mine forever. I probably still have a handful of songs on my iPod today from a free service that ended in 2001. When I listen to a song on Grooveshark, though, I can't take it with me. If I want to be able to listen to a song in my car I go to and get a DRM-free mp3 and put it on my iPod. I would actually go so far as to say that being able to stream music makes me more likely to buy it, particularly in a way that downloading it can't--if I already have an illegal version on my computer, it's just a hassle to delete it and download a carbon copy that I have to pay for.

I could also liken Grooveshark to a high-tech radio station, one that lets me pick the playlist. And radio has been around for a century, and I don't hear too many artists complaining about that medium cutting into their profits. However, this is where it starts to get dicey, because while radio stations give artists a cut (even if it is admittedly miniscule) of advertising revenue, my understanding is that none of the money Grooveshark makes from the advertisements on the right side of its site goes to artists from any of the major labels. So since I don't plan on buying any Kris Kristofferson songs in the near future, have I ripped him off in some way? At least I gave him some free publicity here, right? (Since my blog readership is so vast, that is indeed a Big Deal)

And what about in the future, when we'll conceivably have wireless connections to the internet virtually everywhere, including in our cars? Will I still want to download artists' music when downloading itself will become an inconvenience? I think when that day comes, I'll re-think my position on it, but for now Grooveshark is a great way to hear a few tunes that I haven't heard in a long time but don't necessarily need to hear again for a long time either, or ones that have been vaguely recommended to me but I want to listen to before committing. And when I hear music that I have to queue up more than once, I start to seriously consider buying it--Bonnie Prince Billy's album I See a Darkness is definitely in that category at the moment--so I feel like it supports the music industry overall.

So I'll keep grooving with a clear conscience. I think.

* In my first area on my mission, I heard a song in a store that arrested me. About the only lyrics I could remember, though, were the chorus being something about 'So Long Mary Anne,' which I wrote down to track down after my mission was over. Lo and behold, it was a Leonard Cohen song (and actually the woman referred to's name is Marianne). I've always thought of that experience as a testament to a great song-writer: being able to stop a missionary in his tracks (albeit one who never was able to--nor, truth be told--wanted to, kick the secular music habit completely) means you've got skillz.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Societal Stamp of Approval

I've been thinking recently about what it means for society to "approve" of something. It came up in the context of the arguments about legalizing marijuana. One argument for keeping it illegal, which I am somewhat partial to, is that legalizing it would essentially give our societal "stamp of approval" for recreational marijuana use, whereas now we are officially "against" it. This argument is often used when it's pointed out how ineffective (from a monetary standpoint) it is to wage a war on pot; even if that's true, "stampers" would argue, it's still something we should pursue on principle.

Like I said, I see some merit in that argument. (Perhaps it appeals to my idealistic side--pragmatism be damned, let's strive to live by higher principles!) But then I considered turning that argument around and using it in other situations. Is it moral to earn billions of dollars and not give any away to charities? I think most people would answer no, to hoard every penny you gain when you're richer than God and spend it all on luxury items for yourself and keep the rest locked up is simply immoral. But have we given our societal "stamp of approval" to that? We don't have any laws against it, it's 100% legal. What about saying unkind and hurtful things? Also legal. And if I had to choose between banning tobacco cigarettes or joints, I'd choose the Marlboros in a heartbeat.

You might argue that these examples don't hurt anyone, at least not actively (meaning yes, withholding millions you could donate to children's hospitals does harm, but only indirectly). Well, if that is the case, why is there then so much uproar over proposals to ban trans fats? The research on marijuana, as far as my extremely limited understanding goes, is pretty inconclusive about actual physical harm it causes. Even in the worst case, I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that they're more harmful than really bad junk food that any 9 year old can buy at McDonald's or 7-11. Well maybe you could argue that junk food, while harmful, at least does something positive by feeding you, something necessary to live and function. It's getting pretty arbitrary by this point, though.

So my question is, what does it mean for society to approve of something? How should that approval be enacted into law? In what cases is it rational to withhold our mystical "stamp of approval" from certain activities while giving it to others that are arguable worse? And is it possible to not give societal approval to something but still allow it to be legal? Pornography might fit into this niche; while it's filthy and there should be social pressure to abstain from it, I don't think making it unlawful is productive or right. Could marijuana use fall into that category too? In the end, I'm just not very convinced by this stamp of approval idea. It seems like an arbitrary way to restrict freedoms in cases where we traditionally don't like an idea without having to provide solid arguments.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wrest Hymns

I love "How Great Thou Art," but in my head I can't help but subvert one of the lyrics. When it says that Christ will come "with shout of acclamation," I always like to think that we're singing "with shout of acclimation." People will start out "Oh no, not Jesus!" and then slowly move into "Hey, this isn't so bad" followed eventually by "This is pretty dang good!" and finally getting into the spirit of it as they get used to the idea, shouting "This is awesome!" We figure it out eventually, but we have to acclimate to the idea.