Cassingles, Mix Tapes and Fast Content

My leisure reading recently has taken me in a direction pretty far away from the normal tech, sociology or media books I usually bookworm through. While the current “to read” list has some of those in it, I used a book completely unrelated to that field to help get me through some recent long-distance travel. The book I picked up is a little bit of pop music porn, the brilliantly written memoir by Rob Sheffield on growing up with 80s radio hits, Talking to Girls about Duran Duran.

I had no expectation that this fun read would have any direct relevance to my day job or normal communication activities. I was wrong, because in reading his mix tape of a story, I recognized that there may be more of a direct connection between Tone Loc and Twitter than I could ever even wildly fantasize about. Stay with me, if you can.

One of the more memorable chapters, for me, is Sheffield’s 14-page prayer at the altar of 80s pop cassingles. As Sheffield writes (page 212, for you citation folks):

“The Cassingle was the pop format of the gods. They were ninety-nine cents, the same price as a seven-inch single in the 1970s or an iTunes download in the 2000s, the price that somehow people decided was the maximum they would pay for a hit song without feeling clipped…little loved, not built to last, encased in flimsly little folded-cardboard cases, cassingles were the humble servants of the pop moment, but they were capable of grandeur.”

Maybe you see where I’m beginning to go with this, and it isn’t into a list of the cassingles that are somewhere stored in a box in my parents’ house never to be seen again. Sheffield continued with the point that really nailed it for me:

“Like any pop format worth its salt, then or now, it was designed for kids on the go, an impulse purchase to be spun a few times on a banged-up Walkman, then thrown away and ash-canned forever.”

Through both internal conversations with colleagues and my own perception, I think it’s beginning to become clear that trying to keep up with the river of news is impossible. It moves too quickly, and the biggest mistake of online content may be trying to keep up with it.

The thing that Mr. Sheffield reminded me of is that content that is meant not to last isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has a complete use, and in some instances, can become a culture in and of itself. Look at Tumblr, look at Twitter or the Facebook news feed: no one drinks from the firehose (unless you are Joel Miller). Anyone who says they consume it all is lying. Like the pop music cassingle, a bit of this “fast content” is designed to be devoured by those who catch it, but completely ok to be missed if it hits the trash can before noticed.

The logic on this: if any of this content was built for something more, it’d be on a full album or on someone’s mix tape. As Sheffield also commented, no one got into the music business for a cassingle career. Getting content beyond the speeding river requires that same attitude.

Image cc Flickr user lizstless

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