Published: Tuesday February 12, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday May 8, 2013 MYT 2:02:05 PM

Music and digital technology

WHILE helping clear my room, my sister looked at my shelves of music CDs and asked me to dump them. I clumsily gave her reasons to keep them but the reality set in when she asked me when was the last time I played a music CD.

It was a total reversal of roles – I have always been the proponent of all things digital while she has been the one slow to adopt new technologies.

But she was right. Ever since I could afford an iPod, the only time I touched any of the CDs was to transfer songs to my computer. And I don’t even have to do that now because with online services like Spotify, I can find almost any song I want.

There is no doubt that the consumption of music has changed tremendously over the past 10 years due to digital technology.

Never mind MP3 files replacing physical CDs, these days you can listen to the radio from a smartphone, use apps like Shazam to identify tunes you hear, say, in shopping centres, and make new discoveries via YouTube. Plus, you can also share your favourite tracks with your friends and family through various social networking sites.

Despite digital music’s relatively short history, there have been significant milestones. No doubt, Apple’s iTunes Store played a big part. The company just announced that music lovers have downloaded and purchased over 25 billion songs from its store.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the store which has revolutionised the music industry.

Acknowledging this, Apple’s senior vice-president of Internet software and services Eddy Cue said: “Averaging over 15,000 songs downloaded per minute, the iTunes Store connects music fans with their favourite artists … on a scale we never imagined possible.”

More than music

The iTunes Store has also shaped our consumption of digital media in other areas. With just the click of a button, we can all access a whole range of television shows and movies, as well as podcasts.

It is the latter that proves the wide ranging impact of iTunes. Through its podcast feature, Apple together with some of the most renowned universities in the world, launched iTunes University, which is making a significant impact in the education sector.

In 2009, researchers Dani McKinney, Jennifer Dyck and Elise Luberin published a paper in the Computers and Education journal on their findings that students who took notes while listening to a podcast of a lecture scored significantly higher than when doing the same while listening to an actual lecture.

It is the wonder of digital technology that has made it possible to diversify the use podcasts.

Looking back, when Apple first introduced its store, it received quite a bit of criticism for the way it was impacting traditional business models of the music industry (although, it has since been hailed as the saviour).

Today, it is arguably the store of choice for purchasing digital music, especially since late noughties when Apple removed the DRM (digital rights management) which restricted the songs it sold from being played on other devices.

In the past couple of decades digital technology has impacted and enriched our lives. As with any progress, it has its share of good and bad. Still, resisting change is not only futile but sometimes detrimental — one may find in a situation where he or she may not be able to catch up.

Much of our penchant for holding on to the ways of the past is just that – we are just hanging on for the sake of sentimentality. There is always place for that, of course. I’m not about to send all my CDs for recycling just yet but I’m no longer in denial — I don’t expect to play any music from them any time soon.

The fact is I do not remember the last CD I purchased. And that’s another good thing about digital technology. As to what was the last digital music I purchased? iTunes has made a record of that for me.

Niki is a writer, consultant and speaker on media and digital culture. Connect with him online at or on Twitter via @nikicheong. ReWired will now run fortnightly on Tuesdays in Star2. For topic suggestions or comments, tweet using #Star2ReWired.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Science Technology, Niki Cheong, iTunes, digital music


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