One time in New York I was in a drug store looking for something and listening to the music they were playing with some irritation. I didn't want to hear it. I was tempted to ask the manager to shut it off or turn it down (all of the managers I spoke to said they do this when a customer asks). Then I saw a woman in another aisle, dancing and humming to it. I guess she actually did like it.
The pervasiveness of piped-in and piped-out music has bothered me for some time. In part because I am usually no fan of the type music played, and most places play the same choices. In part because I can't turn it off in my head. I hear it, I am aware of it, and honestly I don't want to become unaware of my surroundings. Each time I get out of my car when I arrive home from work I hear the explosion of bird song in the air. That's some music I can live with. I don't want to not hear it.
I have wondered, though, at the effects of this music. Some clerks told me that it "makes the day go faster", it "drowns out other noises", and some said they "don't even hear it any more".
I was listening to Politically Direct this morning, and heard an interview with the actor who played Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck (which movie I have extolled in other entries in this journal). Among the topics of this conversation was the difference in the influence of television anchor people between the fifties and now. Murrow's audience was far larger than any anchor now could ever hope to have. He felt, therefore, a huge responsibility for what he did and said, and crafted his words carefully. I later heard a discussion with Gore Vidal (thank you AirAmerica for these wonderful tastes) on the state of the media. He said that the media is dead. That it has two purposes: to promote the point of view for which it is paid and to distract people from thinking about what's really happening. I couldn't agree more.
It occurred to me that this second purpose, and maybe the first, in a way, is also the result, if not the purpose, of the perpetual sound in our commercial establishments and offices. Although I believe that the store keepers believe they are offering what the public wants and maybe getting them to stay longer and shop longer, I believe the effect of all of this saturation is that people cannot think. It is very hard to focus. The music distracts them, and it is everywhere, and many play it themselves everywhere (I've seen a lot of people wired to their sounds while out hiking), so ultimately their lives are filled with it and there isn't much else. It isn't a conspiracy but it might as well be.
Then, later in the afternoon, I heard one of those little educational minutes xm offers, this one on "health". The person spoke of the use of music as a cure for stress. He cited several studies that show stress levels lowering when the subject is listening to music. And he finished up by saying don't reach for the bottle, turn on the music.
As a person who deeply loves music and seeks out and pays for it, I am not carrying any signs that say "NO MORE MUSIC!" But at times I've been tempted to start a campaign to get it out of the shops, or at least ask to be offered a "sounds-free zone" or some kind of alternative. There are times I cannot do what I came to do because it bothers me so much. And I do wonder about the effect it has on us all, over time.