Writing about technology is tricky. The language is hideously undignified (tweet, google, blog, etc) and the landscape shifts by the minute. Many novelists skirt the issue by setting their stories in the near past or distant future. In Orfeo, Richard Powers tackles today’s digital age through the lens of a seventy-year-old classical composer and captures the fractured and jittery gestalt of our times. He writes about how we listen to music today:

“White wires ran from the cuff on her arm into her ears. Jogging and the portable jukebox: the greatest musical match since tape hit the V8. A thousand and one nights of continuous hits, all inside a metal matchbox. When this woman reached his age, mind-controlled players would be sewn into the auditory cortex. And not a moment too soon, because the entire nation would be deaf… Every few dozen steps she condemned the Now Playing to the dustbin of history. Her player must have contained thousands of tracks tagged by artist, year, genre, and user rating. A few menu clicks and she could be the Minister of Culture for her own sovereign state of desire… She was running through her several thousand tunes like random speed-date suitors. Songs were breaking over her in waves of wild accident—the mix-and-match mashup that was her birthright.

She was looking for something, the perfect sonic drug. And the medicine chest was endless: the laughing gas of a forties big band, a highball of brassy show tunes, punk heroin, techno-ecstasy, folk songs like a pack of tobacco, the hashish trance of Pali chanting, a caffeinated Carnatic raga, cocaine-tinged tango… A player filled with her private reserve, and still the random shuffle produced dozens of songs in a row that had to be killed. Or maybe she was streaming on mobile broadband—3 or 4 or 5G, or whatever generation the race had reached by that morning. A server farm on the far side of the planet was piping down one hundred million tracks of recorded music into her blood pressure cuff, and none suited. The job of taste was to thin the insane torrent of human creativity down to manageable levels. But the job of appetite was never to be happy with taste. How many tunes did anyone need? One more. The next new one.”

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