Millennials, Records, and Mindfulness

Much to my dismay, it turns out I am a Millennial. For years, I thought Millennials were the generation right after me, but apparently my ‘86 birthday is well within the 1982-2004 timeframe. Who knew? One of the points of derision leveled against Millennials is that we don’t pay attention very well. There are probably a myriad of reasons for this, but one that heavily feeds into my own attention problems is my ability to easily skip past things I find unpleasant or uninteresting.

While my parents’ vehicles always had cassette players growing up, in high school I got a portable CD player. Sure, it wouldn’t fit in my pocket, but it had this wonderful and beautiful feature on it called, “Skip.” If I wanted to listen to only the second, fourth, and ninth song on a CD, I was just a few button-presses away from hearing what I wanted.

Soon after, I learned that you could listen to music on the computer. On iTunes, you didn’t even have to purchase a full album! You could cherry-pick your favorite songs and purchase only those you most enjoyed. If there was a particular part of a song you loved, it was easy to mouse over that section and listen to it again and again. (I, for one, have listened to the guitar solo from Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” probably a hundred times more than I’ve heard the full song.)

As time and technology marched on, so did our ability to skip what we don’t like in favor of only listening to our favorites. An age of smartphone apps tailoring music to your preferences has made memories of the old days of rewinding cassettes with a No. 2 pencil fade. It would seem that the virtue that comes with patiently waiting through things we don’t enjoy is gone forever…

Or at least that’s what I thought, until I inherited a record player this Christmas.

“What’s the point of such an archaic music delivery system?” It’s a question I might have posed six months ago. While vinyl junkies might tell you it’s the warmth of the sound, the nostalgia of the album cover art, or the sense of discovery when you find a gem in the $2 used section of your local record store, my favorite thing about owning a record player is that it makes me just a little bit less Millennial.

I saved some Christmas money to spend at The Record Guys, a record store here in Abilene full of nice and helpful people. I left with fifteen albums and a lot of excitement. There were a few that I knew I’d enjoy every track, such as Queen’s “Greatest Hits” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” But most had a few songs I loved and a few I’d never heard. For instance, I snagged three Journey albums (Infinity, Evolution, and Departure) which each had a couple of my favorite songs. But after the needle dropped, I was thrilled to hear some of the band’s lesser known work. It was as if one of my favorite bands had suddenly dropped tons of new music into my lap!

Sure, if I’m feeling super impatient, I could skip from track to track, side A to side B, and from album to album. But something about vinyl whispers to me that there’s a better way. Slip the record out of the sleeve. Set the arm up, let the needle come down, and enjoy this side of the album. Don’t skip through to your favorites. Let all of it, the great and the forgettable, wash over you.

Moments like this make me wonder how often I am too impatient with the people in my life. How often do we brush people aside and try to skip to the part of a conversation to which we are looking forward? What hidden gems could we unearth if we took the time to really listen, instead of cherry-pick what interests us most? What joy can we find when we pursue mindfulness of those around us?

I may not be great at this yet, and my status as a Millennial probably accounts for some of the difficulty I face. But even in small ways, I’m learning to be more mindful. I’m learning to stop skipping past people and conversations. I’m learning to listen.