I’ve been on a Netflix binge lately and it’s not just TV shows but also ALL Netflix media. This past Saturday while my wife was on a trip, my boys were being full-blown jagoffs. Since I wasn’t going to have my day ruined while waiting for her to return, I decided to get creative. I fired up Netflix and made them sit through 2 episodes of Ken Burns 18 1/2hr series “Baseball”. I enjoyed it being taken back to the early gritty days of my favorite sport. The kids were bored to death and took a nap. Life was good.
Over the weekend I ended up watching several documentaries but one really sucked me in. It was one I felt I was a part of because like many college kids at the time, we were all users. It was Downloaded, the story of Napster.
The movie touched on the founding of Napster, the people behind the scenes you never heard about, the rise and fall of one of the most popular internet companies of all time, and how they reshaped the way we consume music today.
If I had known then what I know now (Pearl Jam – Red Mosquito)
The summer after I moved to Pittsburgh is when I learned about Napster. I moved here to work at a big tech company and every day I would come home to my small 1BR apartment with a box of wine or cheap case of beer to meet my best friend. We would spend the rest of the night writing code, geeking out, hanging in MUDs and IRC, playing with webcams, building computers, fixing what we broke and downloading as much as my 56K modem could handle. I was in the butter zone baby!
It was a great time to be alive and online. We knew something big was about to happen with the Internet and we crammed as much knowledge as we could into our heads in order to be ready for it. We could see the future in online media and had the vision but couldn’t get over the hump to make it happen. We were poor college kids living off ramen noodle & cheap booze, there was no way we were starting a business. My generation thrived on bootleg CDs and tapes so it made perfect sense that we would be the ones leading the online music revolution.
What amazed me with the story of Napster was how fast everything came together and also crashed. Thinking about how close in age Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker were to me when it happened blew my mind. I know at that age I was in no mental position to run a company, let alone deal with the music monsters wanting my head, yet they kept going until the end.
Watching the artists freak out over downloading digital music for free seems pretty extreme today given how many resources we have to listen to the music we want and when we want it (I’m listening to Pearl Jam on Spotify as I’m writing this.). We didn’t have mp3 players and smart phones like we do now. We’d still have to burn CDs and store music on computers so while we obtained music for free, enjoying those tunes was a pain in the ass.
Fast forward to 2014 and the way I consume music has changed. I barely have any mp3 files that aren’t digital downloads of concerts and I’ve never paid for music on iTunes. The only music I listen to is from streaming services and honestly I still have hundreds of CDs and some vinyl. When my work time drives were longer I subscribed to Sirius/XM and today I listen to podcasts or local radio.
Looking back on my 20s I don’t know if I would have the same curiosity and excitement as a student today as I did then. There was something special about creating for the future and now the pursuit of innovation has been replaced with a culture of Mean Girls and glorified high school experiences.