Eclecticism

A while ago I bought a USB turntable to transfer my records from vinyl to MP3. I copied a few across, but gave up in the end when I decided I would be better served by paying for a subscription to Spotify.

When I tell this story to my male friends, their typical reaction is that “Ah! But most of the records I own aren’t available on Spotify.” I can’t help thinking that what they are implying is that they have wider and more discerning taste than me.  This may be true but there’s no need to rub it in.

Marian Keyes (don’t be misled by the chick-lit label, there’s a writer who really knows her craft) often makes jokes in her books about men and their record collections. I don’t know about men, but people do take pride in the breadth of their tastes. Ask someone what sort of books they like to read and they’ll usually reply something like “Mainly Detective Fiction, but I do like other things as well…” Well, yes, but nearly everyone would say the same. It’s rare to meet someone who only reads Detective Fiction, or Romances, or my own genre, SF.  So why mention the fact that you like other things, too?  Just say you like Ghost Stories and have done with it.

I don’t have a problem with being described as an SF writer, or an SF reader for that matter. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in a certain field. Eclecticism is great, but only up to a point. To take an example, every so often the BBC launches yet another radio program comes along which prides itself on its disparate play list. They never work. There needs to be some unifying theme or all you get is a lot of songs.

The human brain likes a just a little bit of order. Too much order and all you get is wallpaper patterns. Too little order and you all you have is randomness. The human brain is very good at picking up just the right amount of order when it looks at patterns. That’s how it can distinguish between a language and random collection of letters.  That’s why it likes music which is at once familiar but with the occasional twist or quirk.  The same goes for stories, by and large.

Of course, you will point out that there are many books and pieces of music out there which aren’t familiar at all, but people listen to and read them with great enjoyment.  This is true, but I would wonder at the path by which people arrived at these books…

2 thoughts on “Eclecticism

  1. The phenomenon that you’re describing is referred to as “ordered complexity” and is similar to the mathematical concept of fractals. I’ve read books about stuff like that, thus implying that I have wider and more discerning tastes than you 😀

    When your friends say “most of the records I own aren’t available on Spotify,” they’re just trying to be hipsters who hate everything that’s popular and run FreeBSD because Linux is too mainstream. Or maybe Spotify sucks and you should use iTunes instead. I have no idea. Regardless, the next time a friend gets snippy with you like that, give him a Rebecca Black album for his birthday… especially if his birthday lands on a Friday that year. Your other friends will quickly get the message and stop boasting about their album collections.

    1. Linux is too mainstream? I’m such a square I use Ubuntu. I even like the unity interface. Nice to see you over here on the new blog!

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