Jack White Turns into John McCain

Before his time, Jack White shakes his fists at the clouds. Via The Verge:

“Getting out of your chair at home to experience something in the real world has started to become a rare occurrence,” White says. “Why go to a book store and get a real book? You can just download it. Why talk to other human beings, discuss different authors, writing styles and influences? Just click your mouse.” (None of these qualify as activities in White’s real world.) “Well here’s what they’ll someday learn if they have a soul,” White says. “There’s no romance in a mouse click. There’s no beauty in sitting for hours playing video games . . . “

“We need to re-educate ourselves about human interaction and the difference between downloading a track on a computer and talking to other people in person. The size, shape, smell, texture and sound of a vinyl record; how do you explain that to a teenager who doesn’t know that it’s a more beautiful musical experience than a mouse click?”

I can’t stop rolling me eyes at this.

Why do we get this kind of whining from artists and writers and the like? Why must it always be framed as one medium being somehow morally superior to the other, as though a vinyl record or a dead-tree book or a reel of film possess some kind of ineffable virtue or godliness?

In what way does downloading a track keep one from “talking to other people in person”?

And while we’re at it, what’s so inherently great about the smell and texture of a vinyl record? I thought the thing about vinyl was that it played music As It Was Meant To Be Heard. What if the exact same sound could be produced on a computer? Would that still not count because an MP3 doesn’t have a smell?

Oh, and of course, the Internet allows for no opportunities to “discuss different authors, writing styles and influences.”

Anyway, with this little tantrum (as some kind of official representative of indie record stores, apparently), White joins the ranks of folks like Prince, the Artist Currently Known as the Guy Who Thinks the Internet is a Fad.

But not John McCain, actually, as my title says. He at least tweets.

This has a touch of Schadenfreude for me, as I never actually liked anything I’ve heard from Jack White, save for one song, and mainly because it accompanies this.


23 thoughts on “Jack White Turns into John McCain

  1. This is a bit of a straw man, Paul. Jack White isn’t arguing that digital is morally inferior to material. He’s pretty clearly stating that human interaction is a large part of enjoying an art form, be it music, or literature; that talking to a guy at the record store who pulls out something you might not have listened to otherwise leaves a more lasting impression than pandora saying “You might also like…” I totally agree with this. As a culture, we are definitely becoming more isolated due to technology. Take this blog and comment for example. We’ve tweeted, and messaged, and even been on the same internet radio shows together, but we’ve never met face to face and had a conversation, even though we live in the same city. Isn’t that crazy? Even if you go to a forum, you don’t get the same human experience from a download and reading reviews, or even a back and forth in forums that you get from talking to a person. Up to 93% of communication is nonverbal. What Jack White is arguing is that a necessary part of enjoying art is human interaction, and that it’s alarming that with the spike in technology, people are forgetting how to really communicate with each other. And, although this is just my opinion, I think his music is pretty good.


    • At least as reported, white never allows for nuance. One is superior to the other, full stop. If he’s said otherwise, then your point is of course well taken. If not, though, it’s only a straw man because White himself covered himself with hay.


    • As a culture, we are definitely becoming more isolated due to technology.

      You may be more isolated – but not me. As a result of Internet technology I’ve broadened my musical interests (check out the music reviews & comments at the AVClub), reconnected with people I never could have before, go to more real-world events by learning of them through online notices, joined a (again, real-world, face-to-face) book club, have become active in several community theatre groups, volunteer more — and the list can go on.


      • Agreed completely.
        I’m an introvert, so regular social activities are draining to me. I’m lucky enough to do what I love, and meet people through work who share my interests; but thanks to the internet, I can also find locals who share more esoteric and alternative interests. I’ve attended meetups arranged online with people whom I’ve never met before, travelled to meet online friends, even had a romance or two back at a time where I was feeling particularly unloveable.
        Also, as someone who moves a lot and is not the neatest housekeeper, I am so very done with physical media; the lack of availability, the difficulty of purchase, the inability to sample, and of course, the clutter and difficulty of packing up multiple bookshelves worth of pulped wood and pvc shells.
        We aren’t going to completely abandon traditional media, but I think we’re reaching the point where books and vinyl are no longer utilitarian, but experiential. We’ll buy a book (or print on demand) because we want the weight in our hands, the smell in our nostrils, the sound of rustling pages in our ears, the feel of the paper grain on our fingertips, and the sight of the spines on our shelves. The content itself, however, will be freed from the necessity of physical media to be contained or distributed.


  2. Doubtless there were people decrying vinyl records as losing the soul of a live performance as well. And naysayers complaining about that universal literacy would lead to people preferring to bury their noses in books rather than talk to their fellow man.
    There are always those who look upon the Dark Ages through rose coloured glasses.


  3. Call me a Luddite or too old-fashioned if you like but I kind of agree with Jack White on at least some of what he says and his sentiments.
    I’m NOT saying the internet is just a fad, there’s no way I’d go anywhere near as far as White takes it, but personally I do love proper hard copy books and the pre-net forms and options and consider them more reliable (if never quite as up to date) better in many ways to stuff online in what is still freqently termed the virtual not real world.
    I use the computer a lot, spend a lot of my free time on it, but I’m not all that great with it or computer literate and I really don’t entirely trust it.
    Computers crash, get viruses, get upgrades, are virtual worlds with links may or may not work or may be blocked by paywalls, government & corporate censorship (eg. China, yahoo) or virus warnings or get hacked and altered. They can be infuriatingly frustrating and unpredictable machines. A toaster never crashes nor does a kettle. I can turn them on in a thunderstorm without worrying too much about possible damage -especially on a gas oven.
    Cars can’t (yet?) be hacked while you’re driving along or become so obsolete and slow as newer models are introduced that in decades they are virtually useless. A model T will still get you from A to B. An old computer from the dawn of its technology, not so much.
    The virtual world is electrons and electrons are ghostly, quantum level particles. Electricity is, aside from lightning, mostly intangible, mysterious, not entirely trustworthy and gone in a power outage. I don’t turn my computer on in thunderstorms.
    If a document is important I’ll always print out a hard copy.
    Yeah, paper is dead trees – but can be recycled and reused, I write on scrap paper, notepads and use the removable ads inside magazines as handy coasters, blotting paper for spills of tea and beer and for jotting down notes as well.
    Electricity is created *mostly* by burning fossil fuels and cannot be reused. (Can it?) It can’t be safely physically held in your hands, piled on your (actual!) desk tops and table and used for soaking up spills, written upon, turned into paper planes or spitballs! And just try wrapping fish’n’chips in electricity! (Er, don’t.)
    Human interaction matters. Portability*, independence from shifting vulnerable power supplies and computer viruses and hacker attacks and tangible permanence matter. Leastaways to me they do.
    I prefer books and magazines, newspapers in printed form. Physical, tangible, reliable, trustworthy. In ways the virtual equivalents just aren’t.
    I also love the internet for the blogs, the news sites, the whole smorgasboard of different sites, options and opportunities it provides.
    It isn’t either / or. It isn’t necessarily that either medium – real paper or virtual worldwide web is ethically better. There’s a place for both. For sure there is. The net ain’t going away and nor are all the mobiles, i-Whatsmajiggities, et cetera. They’re important and play a big part in many folks lives incl. mine. (Although not so much personally the last ones there. Don’t have a mobile currently or for most of my life. Never had a i-Thingamajig.)
    But, I guess, my preference like many folks still including Jack White’s is for the solid form rather than the electronic. I know that others Mileage (now there’s another anachronism for y’all!) May Vary. I’m okay with that too.
    * Yeah, there are laptops and things like the iPad etc… I don’t have ’em, never have. Too costly, not really my thing although pretty impressive capabilities and works I know. I read books on the trains and buses, always have one or two in my backpack wherever I go. That way I can always be happy.


    • Human interaction matters. Portability*, independence from shifting vulnerable power supplies and computer viruses and hacker attacks and tangible permanence matter. Leastaways to me they do.
      I prefer books and magazines, newspapers in printed form. Physical, tangible, reliable, trustworthy. In ways the virtual equivalents just aren’t.

      I thought I’d respond to this because I prefer electronic for the exact same reasons. Oddly enough.
      Human interaction? My best friends and my family don’t even live in the same state as me. Hundreds of miles away. If it weren’t for electronic communications, I’d probably only interact with them … two, three times a year.
      Portability? I have shelf space for … maybe 100 books. I have a couple hundred books at home. The cost and the effort of moving them here would be non-trivial. I have an electronic library of 1000+ books that probably exists on at least three different computers.
      Independence and reliability? My electronic library is vulnerable to loss of power, which limits access, and to a simultaneous loss of at least three different, widely separated computers. My physical library is vulnerable to loss of power (I do most of my reading at night – no power, no reading), and to physical damage of the actual books. If my room burns down, I lose my physical library, but only a copy of my electronic library.
      Trustworthy? I have books that just haven’t survived multiple rereadings – okay, I’ve gotten better about reading paperbacks, but still, they’re physical objects and flat out vulnerable. My electronic books? Have survived multiple computer moves. Some of them have lasted longer than actual physical books that I’ve owned that have fallen apart.
      I prefer reading an actual paper book, but I have no illusions that maintaining a physical library requires far more effort and is far more vulnerable to loss than my electronic library.


  4. PS. Yes I’m well aware of the irony of posting my above comment on a blog via computer and the electronic virtual net.


  5. .. and of sharing this on Facebook too.
    Life is complicated and sometimes contradictory.


  6. StevoR – I don’t even disagree with any of that. There’s no accounting for personal taste, and what you are saying (for the most part) is that you prefer books, dislike computer vulnerabilities (all of which are entirely valid objections), and so forth. We’d even agree completely on iPads for example (I have yet to have anyone explain to me why I would prefer an iPad over an actual laptop – it appears that the former is essentially the latter minus a keyboard, which I do not see as a net gain).
    There’s none of the “… we need to re-educate ourselves …” rhetoric in your comments. This is the difference between, say, someone like me (who doesn’t drink or smoke, and wouldn’t recognise any drugs you showed him unless they look exactly like they do in Pulp Fiction) and someone who wants to put marijuana users in jail. Neither me nor that hypothetical someone cares for the habit, but I don’t care if other people do it (and in point of fact I don’t really see why harder drugs are illegal either, but that’s kind of going a bit off the current rails).


  7. Wow,..three cheers for Jack White– such spot-on observations and critiques of the present day superficial, relatively empty (and eminently acceptable among the unquestioning masses) ways and means by which we live, in favor of the depth of real-world, tactile, physical connectedness,….. coming from a typical youth of the 21st century? Sort of makes me almost feel there’s hope…. almost. [ Encouragingly, I occasionally hear the odd comment by an intelligent youth, when asked some question about social media, how they feel so much of it is rather a waste of time (see recent teen contestant on Jeopardy, Teen Tournament) ]


  8. neuralobserver: you forgot “Get off my lawn”. 🙂
    Eh, I get what you’re saying. I’ll be 41 this year; for about as long as I remember I’ve been an avid player of tabletop roleplaying games (like Dungeons and Dragons), and we’ve had the same group coming over to my place every Saturday night for probably close on a decade now. A while back, the soon-to-be-son-in-law of one of my players joined the group for a while.
    20 years old, nice enough kid, didn’t know who the Beatles were. Understand – I’m not saying “didn’t know that such-and-such song was a Beatles song” or even “didn’t know what Sergeant Pepper was”. The phrase “The Beatles” was unknown to him. At first we found this amusing and would pepper our banter with other “prehistorical” artefacts of the 60s. Or 70s. Or distressingly, occasionally even the 80s. But the depth of historical knowledge he lacked eventually turned our sarcasm into sympathy. I believe he hadn’t even heard of the Berlin Wall.
    But I don’t think he was particularly typical, and I do think every generation tends to think that their successors are inferior to their own generation. The world has managed to survive thousands of generations of this so far, I’m fairly sure that Generation Y aren’t going to end it.


  9. There’s no romance in a mouse click.

    There’s no romance in a needle on vinyl, either.
    Or a finger tapping a key.
    Or a vibration of a string.
    Or the rhythmic opening and closing of vocal folds.
    Or the transfer of ink to paper.
    Or, for that matter, electrochemical stimulation from dendrite to dendrite.
    But by all means, Mr. White, continue reducing emergent properties to their most basic components and then complaining that the “romance” isn’t there. It doesn’t nearly make you look like a simpleton.


  10. I think White goes too far. I do miss record stores… the thrill of finding something you’ve been looking for, the possiblity of hearing something on the in-store music you have to have… but I’m not going to sit here and argue that that’s the way it has to be and the “kids today” just don’t get it. It’s just my personal feeling.


  11. If you’re going to talk about the wonders of living in the real world or whatever, he should be demanding live music, not vinyl records. Or, GASP learning to play an instrument! Create something! Don’t just consume!


  12. Yeah, I mean, no one ever interacts with people in meatspace anymore. Meatspace interaction is way down. (This, of course, is the huge lie. Lie big, and make it your foundational assumption that no one is supposed to look at.)
    Also, if you know well the texture of a vinyl record, Ur Doin It Rong.


  13. I can somewhat understand his frustration. I’m a huge jazz fan and I thoroughly dislike modern pop music (even though I’m rather young), so it’s frustrating that my preference is shuffled off to the fringe of culture. However, I mostly realize that this is just my aesthetic preference and I can’t blame others for liking different things. White’s smug superiority is very off-putting. Beyond that, he completely ignores the wealth of new experiences available at the click of a mouse, and the portability and convenience of things like mp3’s and e-books. I sympathize with his frustration, but that statement is just insufferable whining.


  14. l like vinyl, and I have parties where I play weird 7″ records on an old Fisher-Price record player. However, I also realize that, if we weren’t living in a digital age, this wouldn’t be an anachronistic fun activity.
    I’ve also always either lived in urban areas or college towns, where there still are plenty of places to get into interesting talks about music, film, literature or anything else. I think what kills this is the whole idea of this place called a ‘suburb’ – the whole 1 nuclear family unit homes and no real public spaces and no place to go that isn’t a 30 minute drive away. I will admit that some areas are bad for human interaction, but that style of city planning is as old as the 1950s.
    I have to say, a great thing about this new technology is that I can now see youtube footage of live performances of obscure bands that I wasn’t old enough to have seen. So in a way, technology can service a retro-sensibility quite well. Nice to see late 70s punk bands doing shows at CBGBs from before I was born as someone loaded their grainy VHS to the web.


  15. Funny that a guy who plays an electric guitar thinks vinyl is better than digital but doesn’t think acoustic is better than electric. He probably can’t think because of the irritation from that mote in his eye.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s